Language no barrier as teens get Canadian experience right here in Chilliwack

Elizabeth Massie (right) watches Kaka Morioka fold origami Aug. 6 at Cascade Lodge. - Greg Laychak/TIMES
Elizabeth Massie (right) watches Kaka Morioka fold origami Aug. 6 at Cascade Lodge.
— image credit: Greg Laychak/TIMES

None of the residents gathered in the activity room at Cascade Lodge speak more than a “konichiwa” in Japanese.

But that didn’t stop the elderly group from transcending language with 19 visiting high schoolers from Kasukabe City last Wednesday afternoon.

The students sang songs in both English (Oh Canada) and their native tongue (the Kasukabekyoei school song), then all ages made origami animals together.

“We try to give them as much of a Canadian experience as possible,” said Ann Hanson, Elite Canadian Home stay program coordinator, listing off activities the students get to experience.

There’s a Skwah war canoe paddle, a trip to Harrison Lake, shopping in a Canadian mall and of course: a trip to McDonald’s.

The program is designed to bring Japanese students into immersion situations to try out their speaking skills, and expose the teens to Canadian culture at the same time.

“They can have different points of view by learning a language,” said Hiroto Kadoya, the group’s Japanese escort. “It promotes mutual understandings and prevents narrow-mindedness.”

For two weeks the students spent their mornings practising language relevant to the planned activities of that day.

Exchange student Kako Morioka used her new-found communication skills to stock up on maple syrup souvenirs on a shopping trip in Vancouver with her host mother’s son.

Her schoolmate Keita Hiyama said his favourite activity was watching the Whitecaps play FC Dallas at BC Place.

“It was very exciting,” said the 17-year-old.

They basked in the activities, weather and scenery of the Lower Mainland, but it’s not just the students who benefitted.

David Zhang of Chilliwack is the “buddy” leader of the group, present to keep the students speaking English and avoid slipping back into Japanese.

“It’s helped me grow as a person,” he said. “You get to expose yourself to new culture and learn about the world.”

Host families, in short supply, also reap rewards from bringing in international visitors.

“They bring new perspective and enthusiasm about all things Canadian,” said second-time host Andrea Dunphy.

“We want to make ‘forever’ friendships with them. Our student from last year and her family are still in regular touch with us via Facebook.”

And while making friends was fun, after over two weeks absent from Japan many of the students missed the comforts of their home country.

Kako Morioka said she did try Japanese food in Chilliwack.

How was it?

Laughing, she covered her mouth with one hand and gave a thumbs up.

“Very good!” she giggled.

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