They may not have been able to speak much English, but without saying scarcely a word, the 40 Japanese students recently visiting from Yokohama provided an invaluable, rewarding cultural experience to the students at Ladysmith Secondary School.
The visit is an annual event that takes place every year, said LSS instructor Shawn O’Toole. It started approximately six years ago. The Grade 9 students stay in pairs with host families in the community and spend six school days at LSS, doing a variety of activities.
“We took them curling, we took them to the Chemainus First Nation for some cultural activities, they put on their own little cultural fair here, and we do sports afternoons,” O’Toole said.
Japanese instructor Junichi Yukimatsu said many of the students will return to Canada after graduation because of the time spent in Ladysmith.
“They’ve had a good experience because it’s natural for them to receive lessons in Japanese but in Canada, they have to receive lessons, all subjects, in English,” he said. “First experience [has] made all students so happy, very excited, I’ve noticed shining eyes and smiling.”
“I love this school’s atmosphere.”
In speaking with a handful of the visiting students, many said they enjoyed the Canadian hospitality and playing soccer with the students, and giving back.
“Japanese culture introduced to Canadian students; origami, calligraphy, traditional dance,” they said.
For most of the students, aged 14 to 15, it is the first time they have visited outside of Japan, making communication difficult but rewarding.
“It’s about being creative,” O’Toole said. “The [Canadian] students appreciate the challenge to come into a place where they don’t speak the language. It helps them appreciate that the world is a bigger place.”
LSS is also annually host to about 20 international students on six to 12 month exchanges from everywhere from Germany to Turkey, O’Toole said.
Students Jennika Erickson, in Grade 10, and Kira Shiell, Grade 8, say the experience has helped them learn to communicate better.
“You have to use your hands a lot,” Erickson said.
“For them to learn English reminds me of what it was like for us when we learned French,” Erickson said.
“Some really get it, some have a harder time with it.”
Shiell said the visit has been very educating for not only the Japanese students, but the Canadians, too.
“It’s interesting seeing the different cultures. They’ll give you something every time you talk to them, like a little eraser or gift,” she said.