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July 2, 2020
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Japanese students experience American culture, English language

By: Lanny Lowery
August 9, 2019

Host families and teachers in the Cross & Crown sanctuary with Aiko Gakuen High School Teachers Masaki Kuribayashi, Shoko Kubota, and William Brown with students Shinabe Rintaro, Ieki Chisato, Matsumoto Meika, Katsuki Hinata, Kawakami Kotaro, Taniwa Rintaro, Nakayama Tenshin, Hoshijima Kento, Matsui Haruto, Kawakami Natsumi, Seto Ayami, Takami Ayu, Taniguchi Mao, Nakahara Mari, Honda Mako, Mukai Haru, Watanabe Tomoe, Kaneko Kenta, Suyama Yukihiko, Higaki Korin, Matsusaka Mitsuki, Morimoto Kazuya, Yano Hiroki, Yamauchi Senri, Eguchi Mayo, Nishikawa Nanaho, Miura Yoshino, Ueda Mizuki, Higaki Soshin, Miyazaki Kira, Yuyama Kazuki, Saiki Momoka, Sugishita Marishi, Inage Yuto, Katayama Yu, Tokumoto Itsuki.

Photo by Robert Grant

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Thirty-nine top Japanese students from Aiko High School in Japan visited Rohnert Park for two weeks this summer to hone their English language skills and learn about American culture first hand.

Three teachers from Aiko High School traveled with the students and accompanied them to various locations in the Bay Area and Sonoma County.  Two of the teachers, Masaki Kuribayashi and William Brown, make this trip annually.  A third teacher, Shoko Kubota made her second trip in the past five years.

Kubota, who teaches English, said that she feels like a trainer as she uses a repetition as the best method to teach English.  She emphasizes skills in communication and conversation.  Each of her classes in Japan meets six days a week as she introduces two or three new concepts to the nearly forty students that she works with in every class.

She loves her subject and she sees her relationship with students as significant.  She said, “Of course, I like to be with students and teach them to communicate in another language; mainly, I like English.”

Masaki Kuribayashi, a mathematics teacher, has been bringing students to other countries for the past 21 years.  He and William Brown set up a program through PeopleLink in Petaluma.  Kuribayashi stated, “PeopleLink has given us many opportunities.  It organizes the program that they want to do, to go sightseeing or hear music or go visit a senior center.” This gives the students an opportunity to interact with native English speakers; language immersion helps hone their speaking skills.

William Brown, a native of San Luis Obispo, California, and a University of San Francisco graduate, was headed to dental school, when a gap year found him working in Japan teaching students English.  Thirty years later he continues to teach at Aiko High School and bring students to Sonoma County for the summer program.  Brown, married to a woman from Japan, has built a house on an island that overlooks the sea, where he and his wife raise a son and daughter.

PeopleLink Coordinator Laura Baird, along with four American teachers, Hunter Baird-Wise, Jennifer Rossetti, Patricia Hayward, and Molly Wells, provides full day activities for all of the students.  

They went horseback riding at Olema one day and the next day they toured the Rohnert Park Public Safety Offices.  And later the students did overnight camping in Occidental at the Alliance Campground staying in yurts that line the creek at Pineknot Village.  One day they all walked up and down the Petaluma River.  One student shared that they expected to go to a swim party at the house of Stu and Carol Hotaling.

As a group, the students also visited San Francisco where they saw the Exploratorium, Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.  And they walked the Golden Gate Bridge.   

The students stay with individual families during the evenings, nights and weekends.  They participate in typical family activities.  For example, Sierra Ricks and her family took their student to see a Giants game and also visited Disneyland.  She said, “We try to balance our lives and also honor the student’s request.  We would love to do more hosting.  It’s nice to stay at home and have time to share our life.”

When the group is not traveling, it studies cultural lessons at the Cross and Crown Church.  The students divide into four groups and rotate between four lessons.  For example, Scottish/Irish heritage presented through dancing, bagpipes and history gave the students some insight into on of the many cultures that later made up the United States.  One of four lessons studied that day, the theme focused on America, a nation of immigrants.

On the last day of July, the students and teachers met at the Department of Public Safety.  Chief Tim Mattos guided the students through the offices.  Then different fire trucks appeared and were explained.  Some of the bolder students had any opportunity to hold a fire hose and feel its pressure.

When Chief Mattos was asked why he gave up his time to guide the students, he responded enthusiastically:  “That’s easy to answer.  Any time we can bring people in to see the human side of what we do this helps break barriers.  We are able to share our culture with their culture, hands on.  They see the machinery and hold the hoses.  Our job is to be involved and engaged with the community.  This shows that we are open to interact positively with everyone and we want the students to take back this positive experience.”

The students celebrated part of California’s heritage during a cooking class day where they worked on not only conversation and cultural skills but also did some hands on cooking.  After lunch that day the students went to the Rohnert Park Senior Community residence (formerly Brookdale) to share Japanese culture with seniors and perform songs and interact with seniors.

On one of the last days, the students enjoyed a private viewing of “The Lion King” at the Reading Cinemas of Rohnert Park.  That afternoon they enjoyed an art lesson at Scribbles and Giggles as the created canvas paintings.

The students spent the next to last day preparing a “Farewell Party” for their American hosts.  The hosts also brought American dishes and all celebrated a great experience that evening from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

On the last full day, the students toured Sonoma State University and Rancho Cotate’s Theater Arts Gymnasium.  They ended the day with a swim party at the Hotalings enjoying hamburgers and hot dogs and playing the Annual Aiko Wiffleball Game.

The students improved their conversational English by being immersed in California.  And they learned far more about American culture by participating in so many typical summer activities such as swimming, camping, horseback riding and sampling and cooking favorite California foods.  And now they will share these experiences with friends and family in Japan.