HJ Cody School welcomed 24 Japanese exchange students into the school for a two-week exchange program last month.
The school has participated in this program every third year since the early 90s, said Linda Wagers, one of the teachers who participates in the program.
She said the opportunity for this program is so rare as it allows students to actually live with a Canadian family. This allows the students to live, eat, breathe and be a part of a Canadian family, Wagers said.
“Most of the trips the kids stay in hotels or hostels or something like that,” Wagers said. “It’s an extraordinary and different opportunity than any of the other schools offer. The focus is different. It’s not to go to a foreign country and visit, it’s to go to a foreign country and experience and live the culture for two weeks.”
The Japanese students also had many opportunities to experience the Canadian culture with going on trips to Sulphur Mountain in Banff, Drumheller, West Edmonton Mall and the Columbia Icefield, Wagers said.
She describes the students as “shopaholics” because they all love to shop.
She said the Canadian families took every opportunity to welcome the Japanese children into their homes but also showed them how some of the holidays such as Easter are celebrated.
“One family did a huge Easter dinner so the children could see what it was like painting and looking for eggs,” Wagers said. “The families bent over backwards to show these Japanese kids what Canada was all about.”
Wagers said the whole point of this exchange student trip is to establish a connection and friendship between the Japanese and Canadian students. She said she found it tremendous how the children will find ways to say in touch with each other.
Wagers said it was fun to watch the children have snowball fights and introduce them to what smoothies are as some of them had never tried some of the food here.
She described the children’s personalities as very kind, incredibly respectful, very shy in many ways, but very eager and willing to try something new.
Wagers said the most interesting thing she personally learned was how it’s possible for two completely different cultures to come together, learn, share and enjoy each other.