On a bus from Kelowna in the middle of one of the first January storms, Risako Shikata got her first look at Quesnel and marveled at the beauty of all the snow.
The bus was three hours late and the driver wasn’t convinced he’d make it all the way to Quesnel, but they did and Risako has been enjoying herself ever since.
“I was working in a Thai restaurant in Kelowna but was looking for more experience,” she said.
“I decided to come to Quesnel.”
Risako admitted she didn’t know a lot about the town but was game for the challenge, hoping to add to her command of the English language.
Since arriving, she’s tried downhill skiing and skating but says she prefers skating as she’s a little more familiar with that.
“I like it but I’m not good at sports,” she said with a grin.
The 23-year-old is from Tomakomai, which is close to Quesnel’s sister city Shiraoi on the Japanese island of Hokkaido.
Before embarking on her Canadian adventure, Risako worked as a dental hygienist but has different plans for her future.
“I want to return to Vancouver and take a course to teach English back in Japan,” she said.
“Most Japanese have schooling in English but are very shy to use it.
“I want to learn better conversational English.”
While in Quesnel, one of Risako’s volunteer commitments is various classes at Shiraoi House.
When she first stepped foot into the Japanese centre, Risako said it was much bigger than she expected, and very clean.
Every Wednesday, she and fellow Japanese visitor Kazuya Moi, who has been in Quesnel since last fall, teach Japanese to local people, many who will be traveling to Shiraoi as part of the twinning program.
“Japanese is a difficult language with lots of characters and pronunciations,” she said.
The pair also visit elementary school classrooms where they share their culture with the students.
Recently, they shared the Japanese Valentine’s Day tradition where only girls give chocolates to boys. On March 14 the boys who received chocolates on Valentine’s Day can then give chocolates back to the girls.
There’s no formal program in Quesnel which brings Japanese young people here, but young men and women find Quesnel and Shiraoi House on the Internet and apply to visit here.
They pay their own way and once they arrive, are billeted, usually with a Shiraoi Twinning Society family.
For most, it’s a great opportunity to discover the Canadian culture and expand their English skills.
“Japanese people want to learn to speak English, so they visit English-speaking countries,” Risako said.
She added in Quesnel she’s met kind and friendly people.
“I would encourage Japanese people to come here,” she said with a big smile.
“If I can, I’d like to come back.”