Lily poses with her host family, the Watanabe’s in Yokohama, Japan. Photo Submitted.

Learning through cultural exchange

H. J Cody students will be travelling to Japan this summer

High school students from Central Alberta will once again have the opportunity to be immersed in Japanese culture during their student exchange trip from July 20 to Aug. 4.

Many H.J. Cody high school students have participated in the program since it started in 1993. Lily Walroth is one of those students. She started planning to go to Japan in the summer of 2014.

Of the plan, she said, “[It] was crazy because, I’d been to the States lots but I’ve never been anywhere else and it was the second time I’ve ever actually been on a big plane.”

The Central Alberta families host Japanese students for two weeks in mid-April and the families of the Japanese students from Yamate, a private school in the city of Yokohama area near Tokyo, host two Canadian students at the end of July. Walroth was lucky in that she ended up being billeted with one of the students, Miku Watanabe, who stayed with Walroth and her family that April.

Walroth had initially signed up for the trip with one of her friends who said she didn’t want to go alone. About a month before the trip, Walroth’s friend backed out, leaving Walroth without a partner. However, this ended up working out well for Walroth as it made it possible for her to stay with Watanabe.

Despite her nervousness about traveling to Japan without a partner she said the family she was paired with made her feel at home and felt like her second family.

“I was more confident than I thought I would be,” Walroth said. “I thought I was going to be very awkward.”

This trip is a unique offering, allowing students to experience cultural differences by connecting them with people who are able to immerse them in more than the standard tourist fare. Some days feature group tours and cultural events for the entire group of exchange students and other days are spent with the Japanese families who offer a variety of interesting trips, events, and experiences for their paired billets. Some of the trips have included a day in Disneyland in Tokyo, a trip to an amusement/water park, a river cruise, trips to various historical sites and museums, and even a chance to go up the tallest tower in Tokyo.

Walroth went to Disney Sea with her family. She said the group had it all planned out for who was going where to pick up FastPass tickets to avoid 3 hour line-ups.

“We had it timed out so we were just constantly running everywhere.” She said the plan worked out in that they got to go on all the rides.

Over the many trips that have taken place, many life-long friendships that have developed. Two of the students who met in 2009 just recently got married.

Linda Wagers, a teacher at H.J. Cody has helped organize the trip over the years and has visited Japan twice so far. She hopes to keep the program alive in the Sylvan Lake and Eckville area. She’s concerned the program may not be available to Sylvan and area students in the near future if there’s not enough interest.

“They have the opportunity to be immersed in Japanese culture…There’s no other trip anywhere where kids can have that experience,” she said.

She said some people balk at the $3000 price tag but Wagers compares it to a trip to New York for perspective. For the same amount, kids would only be able to stay in New York for six days as opposed to two weeks. They would also be staying in hotels rather than with local families who are screened to be part of the program.

The majority of the cost is for the flight over. With this in mind, Wagers says the cost is really minimal.

“These families just do everything for these kids,” she said, adding that the students receive their own kimonos from their host families.

This trip is an Alberta Education sanctioned trip that follows all the guidelines provided for similar trips. Anyone who may be interested in participating in this cultural exchange trip is asked to contact Linda Wagers at lwagers@cesd73.ca or give her a call in the evenings at (403)746-3474.

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