Two weeks of English language classes and Canadian culture proved too short for many of the 20 young Japanese women who participated in the program and the host families who welcomed them to the Coast.
"We've already got some students who've decided they're going to move back here and host families that are willing to adopt them," said Tamara Forsyth, who co-ordinated the program for Muskoka Language International (MLI).
The program, which ran from July 23 to Aug. 9, included morning English classes and a range of afternoon activities where the girls were able to put their language skills to use in social settings. Forsyth said some of the students' favourite activities included learning to play softball and visits to the Vancouver Aquarium and the Capilano suspension bridge in North Vancouver.
On the language front, the girls arrived with strong English levels from years of instruction in Japan; however, the challenge was battling shyness. Part of the strategy there, Forsyth said, was to have young Canadian English assistants involved in classes.
"They're quite motivated to speak with young people - far more motivated than they are with adults," she said. "So some of them really got to the point where they were speaking a lot. We maybe had two where it took a lot to urge them to say something."
During the course of their stay, the girls also shared some of their cultural traditions with their Canadian hosts by cooking traditional Japanese food, performing a traditional tea ceremony, performing some songs and dances, and presenting children in host families with traditional Japanese toys. As well, the girls won second prize in the "youth" category in the Sea Cavalcade parade where they marched wearing traditional yukatas.
"They walked in the parade and threw candies to the children and actually ended up running over and giving it to the children and smiling and laughing," she said. "And I think it was their colourful exuberance that got them second place."
As a result of the program, many of the girls have formed fast friendships - both with their host families and with each other. And already there are hopes that this year's success may kick-start an on-going relationship between MLI, its students and the Coast.
"The two teachers who came said they had a fabulous time, that the girls had a fabulous time, and they'd love to come back and make it a yearly event," she said.