For the second consecutive year, students from Kyoritsu high school outside Tokyo are visiting the Sunshine Coast for two weeks in a cultural exchange hosted by Muskoka Language International.
The exchange has a long and storied history with the Sunshine Coast, as exchange students have stayed in Gibsons on alternating years going back 20 years. This is the first time the exchange has taken place in back-to-back years.
Last Friday night, July 26, the 18 students, all girls aged 16 and 17, arrived at Elphinstone Secondary School for a welcoming ceremony and to meet their host families.
Gibsons Mayor Wayne Rowe and Sechelt Mayor John Henderson were also on hand, each bringing greetings from their respective communities and presenting each student with a small gift.
“The exchange gives them some international experience and a chance to experience small-town life in Canada,” said community coordinator Angela Heeds. “We have a host of English classes that the students will be taking in every day along with outings in the community.”
The students will attend school every morning for English classes, said language teacher Lisa Richter.
“The focus primarily is English for everyday life purposes, so basically focusing on communication in all kinds of different context, whether that is travel for professional life or just day-to-day interaction, so what they learn in the morning they will be applying in the afternoon during the activities when they go out into the community,” Richter said. “It is a very hands-on program and I think it really sets the stage for them to become more global citizens in the future, to experience life in Canada and then take that knowledge back to Japan with them as they move forward in their own careers.”
Heeds said the students have varying levels of English-language skills.
“They come with a fair bit, but how much they will be able to use is another question. Our focus is getting them to use what they’ve got and build on what they have,” Heeds said.
“All these students have studied English in high school in Japan and they have what is called passive knowledge, meaning they can understand and read a lot of text, but they have difficulties with production, which is the speaking and writing, so our focus is activating what they have already learned and adding to it,” added Richter.
Kyoritsu high school has created a strong relationship with the Sunshine Coast, Heeds said.
“There is a real comfort zone with Gibsons and the Sunshine Coast,” Heeds said. “One of our host family members came up to me a few weeks ago and said they had recently visited Japan and met with one of the exchange families who showed them such great hospitality, so I think that shows the cross-cultural experience is strong.
“That is what is so inspiring about this program is the families after this program and what they have experienced. They have fallen in love with their student and formed a bond and a relationship that is so much more than just a two-week connection.”