Campbell River and Ishikari, Japan signed a Twinning Document in 1983. Since then over 700 people from both directions have travelled back and forth.
Each year, the twinning society tries to send two high school exchange students to spend the year in their sister city.
Back in 1988, Sue Hall was one of the first exchange students to make the trip, this year Makayla Demetrow, 15, and Hall’s daughter Victoria, 14, are going. Victoria is the first child of an exchange student to embark on the adventure.
“It’s showing them a whole other aspect of a culture that chances are they would never see,” Hall said. “I think when you actually live in someone’s home you actually get such a better grasp of the culture, of what life is like in another country. It’s different than staying in a hotel. It is different than going as a tourist.”
Spending the year in Ishikari set Hall on her career path in tourism. Living away from home gave her a new perspective on why people came to B.C. to visit. When she returned she finished high school and studied tourism. Upon graduating she worked with the Chamber of Commerce as well as the Visitor Information Centre.
The relationships she made while she was there have continued. Just last year one of her host dads was on the Island to visit and he met her children, which he calls his Canadian grandchildren.
“The relationships really do carry on long after people leave the country and go back to their regular life, they kind of become family, it is actually quite lovely,” Hall said.
Victoria grew up hearing about her mother’s adventure. Her mother’s host family has been part of her life since she was born.
She has also been host sister to many of the exchange students as well as young ambassadors.
She said she feels like she won’t have trouble adjusting to Japanese culture as she is already reserved and proper.
Both her and Demetrow are taking language classes to prepare.
Sue said they already know more Japanese than she did before she went, though she chalks it up to technology and how accessible the language tools are now.
The two will travel to Ishikari in August and go to high school there. Over the course of their visit they will stay with several different families, the first of which are the families of the Japanese students that are currently in Campbell River.
Hall thinks this will be a nice way for the girls to adjust.
“I don’t know if you can get much more of a culture change,” she said.
As well as year long exchanges, the twinning society hosts and sends young ambassador groups for short visits as well as adult delegations.
At the end of the day, Hall said that the program promotes understanding, curiosity and tolerance of other people and cultures. She said that one of the most important things that she learned was that language and culture really mean nothing, anyone can feel a family bond for each other.
“The world needs more of that,” she said. “Especially right now.”