Today we welcomed our Japanese Exchange students—26 teens, ranging in age from 13-16 and their Japanese teacher. My life has been busy with book stuff and church stuff and all the activities that my kids are involved in. And insanity of insanity, we chose this weekend to redecorate my daughter’s room—her thirteenth birthday present—so we had paint mess and moving furniture and…Well I wasn’t feeling particularly prepared for the students' arrival. I found myself wondering more than once, why I had signed up to do this again.
It took one moment, the moment when I saw the students; jet lagged, excited, nervous, but ready to begin their adventure, before I remembered why I love this so much. As I greeted them and struggled to learn their names and understand their broken English, I thought about the other students who have come into our home and the other host families I've worked with. I remembered the friendship and understanding that was achieved in a short time. I remembered what a wonderful tool the exchange student program is for international goodwill. Then I knew that this was worth all of the effort. I'm so happy to be a small part of this.
We took a few moments at the airport to greet each student individually and to help one student who had gotten sick on the 8 hour flight from Tokyo. Then we boarded a bus to take us to Lacey, Washington, and the student’s host school, Chinook Middle School.
When we arrived the students were oriented by the Japanese teacher who came with them, and with my friend, and co-coordinator, (she does all the hard work), Christie Carlson. I introduced myself and then went to get pizza. When they found out where I was going, the hungry students sent me off with cheers. (Apparently the word “pizza” translates just fine among teen cultures.)
While the students were in their meeting, the host families began to arrive. The students had left their suitcases in the cafeteria, but there were no other signs that they were here. The host families, especially the kids, were full of questions, “Are they here yet?” “When do we get to meet them?” "What do they look like?" "How well do they speak English?"
Finally, the meeting ended, and the Japanese students lined up at the doors to Chinook’s cafeteria. One by one, we introduced them to the families who are sharing their homes for the week. (Although, by that point, I wanted to keep them all.) Then we sat down to share a potluck lunch, pictures, and smiles.
While we ate, we were entertained by traditional Japanese music provided by Joe Sokolik, Chinook’s orchestra teacher and his wife, Naoko who is from Japan. The Sokoliks are hosting their second Japanese student this year. After sharing a meal, the families took their students home to spend their first weekend in the United States.
Our student is Haru. This is the fifth time we’ve hosted an exchange student. Each time, they have somehow fit with our family almost immediately. Haru is full of energy and has very good English. She was immediately swept off to a girl’s activity with my daughter. They did crafts and played games. I was worried because of the time difference and long day’s journey that Haru would be tired. When I asked her if she wanted to go home to rest she said, “No. I like adventure, so I am here.”
As I think back on the days of craziness that Christie and I spent in preparation for this group, the interruption of daily life that each of the host families are experiencing now, and the whirlwind of culture shock and simple differences that each of our students is going through, I can only think about Haru’s statement. “I like adventure. So I am here.”