Sunday, March 28, 2010
Japanese Exchange Students--Arrival Day
I get to spend this week with 33 teenagers from Japan as a coordinator for CHI--Cultural Homestay International--a non-profit group that places exchange student groups around the world. I've been a coordinator for CHI once before with a group of Korean students. That was a great opportunity and I'm excited to get to know this group.
They arrived yesterday at 9:30 AM with brightly colored suitcases, name tags that had they had decorated with their hobbies and interests, and excited faces, (despite jet-lag and being in a foreign country). The kids range from age 12 to 16.
I was greeted immediately by a girl with a black and white hat and a big smile. She said, "Please, will you help me learn English?"
The students were eager to show me their name badges and share their hobbies. Their hobbies are the same as American teenagers--music, sports, dance, and food. I met the student who will be staying with us for the week, a 13-year-old girl named Mina. She said, "Please teach me your family rules." Mina immediately reminded me of my twelve-year-old daughter. Both are outgoing and surrounded by friends.
As we waited for the bus the Japanese students crowded around and asked me how to pronounce the names in their host families so they could make a good impression.
After the bus arrived, we rode to Chinook Middle School in Lacey, Washington. Chinook will be the students' base for the week that they are here. We piled the suitcases in the corner and sat down for an orientation. The host families came and stood outside the glass doors, excited to meet their students, while we finished our orientation. It took longer than the English version because it was repeated in English and Japanese, but the families were patient.
Finally we let them in and the families met their student. I love that moment--shy smiles, hand shakes, introductions--two cultures coming together, learning that we really aren't that different. Our welcome party included a potluck dinner and clowns (members of one of the host families) to break the ice. Soon we had balloon sword fights between American and Japanese kids, shared flower hats, and various balloon animals floating around the room.
We ate and learned to communicate with varying degrees of English, hand gestures, smiles, and especially laughter. During the meal I learned that Japanese pizzas are a lot smaller than American pizzas and American cookies are very sweet compared to the cookies in Japan. I also learned how quickly teenagers can become friends, even across international boundaries.
In the twenty-four hours that Mina has spent with our family, I have learned that everything in America is big compared to Japan. Besides the pizza, our family is big, our house is big, our yard is big, even the pancake mix and bottle of syrup are big. (Okay, we buy a lot of things at Costco. We'll have to take her on a trip to Costco while she's here.)
Through YouTube Mina introduced us to Full Metal Alchemist, her favorite television show. We introduced her to the Kid's Choice Awards on Nickelodeon (including Taylor Lautner and Justin Bieber--whoa! She did know what Twilight was.) Mina taught us Japanese words and practiced her English. We showed her our swing-set and trampoline. She got to meet our pets, a dog, a hamster, a guinea pig, and a tortoise--she loved all of them, even brought a Japanese doggy sucker for our dog Tosha.
I was touched with a letter that Mina's father had written. He expressed his gratitude to us for taking care of Mina and apologized humbly for his poor grammar and handwriting, although both were exceptional. My sons loved the Pokemon cards and tracing books that Mina brought, my daughter adored a pair of toe-socks, and I was impressed and touched by two pairs of homemade slippers from Mina's grandmother.
Today she went with us to church. She got a little taste of our beliefs and a big taste of what it's like to have a sister and three brothers. (My kids held back the sibling rivalry until about twently minutes after Mina got here.) Luckily, she fits right in, even if she is an only child.
I'm looking forward to a week of learning and friendship as I interact with the Japanese students and the students at Chinook Middle School. It will be so fun to watch the international friendships develop. Twenty-four hours into this, I'm already dreading the moment when we all
have to say good-bye.