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Japanese students enjoy visiting Rohnert Park

  • The group of Japanese exchange students enjoying their stay in Rohnert Park. Irene Hilsendager

By: Irene Hilsendager
August 11, 2017

Students from Aiko High School in Matsuyama, Japan, have once again visited Rohnert Park and the surrounding Sonoma County towns as part of their annual homestay adventure to America. This is the fourth year they’ve come to Rohnert Park to be immersed in American culture, the English language and to live with host families from the area via the educational non-profit, PeopleLink.      

According to their website, PeopleLink was established in September of 1991 as a non-profit, educational student exchange program. The primary program sponsored by PeopleLink is the short term “homestay” program. Also known as an “exchange student” program, participants’ stay may be as brief as a few days or for an entire year while attending high school or a university. 

This year the 38 visiting students and their three accompanying teachers Masaki Kuribayashi, William Brown and Kozue Yamashita met daily at the Cross & Crown Lutheran Church for daily ESL classes and fun activities based around learning about American culture. Their American teacher guides Hunter Baird-Wise, Jennifer Rossetti, Alice Bailey and Aleta Aristizabal work to create information lessons that build around conversation with the students.

Masaki Kuribayashi, their International Exchange Program Coordinator and his co-coordinator, William Brown, encourage their students to “open up” in America and practice speaking English in an American setting. “Most importantly, we want our students to see that there is more to the world than just Japan and want them to increase their awareness of the world around them.” The co-coordinators shared, “With this awareness and through their experience coming to America, we hope that they will find a new sense of themselves; a comfortable, more confident self and come away with a higher sense of their own self-esteem to carry them forward. That’s an important factor in this experience.”

Both students and their teachers, sharing about what they’ve discovered during their first week here, all commented that “Everyone is so friendly in Rohnert Park!” They are taken back by American’s free spirits and natural ease to hug, smile, laugh and chat with everyone around them, even if they don’t know them. Students also commented about homes being painted so many different colors in America (Marina); the size of everything, like stores, food, and homes being much bigger (Riria, Shun); and the traffic rules being different, such as driving on the right, being able to drive at age 16 and it being legal to make a right turn at a red signal (Moeki, Riria). 

“I am excited to be part of a program like this, where I can touch a whole other part of the world and its students. I may never get to visit that part of the world directly, but in this way I get to learn about the Japanese culture, and work with students that I may affect for a lifetime. I know they do mine,” said teacher guide, Alice Bailey.  

The students have had a tour of the RP Public Safety offices and were able to interact with the friendly police officers and firefighters; a unique experience for the Japanese. While visiting, being taken on a tour of the fire station and watching the demonstrations was quite unique. Chief Masterson introduced himself and while speaking very slowly, he emphasized that he is the fire chief and the police chief but only gets one paycheck. 

Other unique experiences for them have been horseback riding, and touring the Jelly Belly Factory. They also shared the traditional American holidays with a demonstrations at Cross & Crown. Students were seen hiding Easter eggs in trees; others were tasting cookies that were in the Christmas holiday stockings hanging over the edge of the table and still others were being told about the weird day of Halloween.

There are many cultural differences to be shared between the American families and the Japanese students. American families are usually surprised to hear that Japanese students clean their own school & classrooms to teach responsibility. In Japan they attend school year-round, with their breaks evenly spaced and they also assign homework during their breaks. 

The sharing of differences is a big part of this Cultural Exchange Program.

Student Nagomu said that “My English has improved from my stay here. Something that surprised me here in America, is that families wear their shoes in the house.” Student Yui says, “The desserts are sweeter here than they are in Japan.” 

Students Yuko and Kenshin both said, “American people are so friendly, and in America there are so many different cultures living together!” 

All of the students really enjoyed that dynamic of American lifetyle. Students have also been able to do a lot of shopping while they are here too. Student Kanoka says, “I always enjoy American fashion and style very much. I have loved being able to see the stores and be able to buy shoes and clothes that I can take home with me to enjoy from my time here with my host sister, Gianna!”

“We cannot wait to return again next summer with a new group of students!” said co-coordinator, William Brown.

 If you would like information about hosting a student next summer, please contact Laura Baird with PeopleLink at 707-217-1890. They are happy to share about the program and the details involved. Welcome Back, Aiko Gakuen High School!

Thank you to Laura Baird for being so generous with information from the students.