Japanese students from the 2018 program say goodbye to their homestay families. (Kamimura Gakuen in Canada/Facebook)

Japan and Agassiz share six years of cultural exchange

Japanese students have come to Agassiz for the last six years to learn English and Canadian culture

Most days Mika Hampton plays “mom” to international students who have moved to the Lower Mainland for school.

In her role as director and agent at Space Canada International, she liaises with host families, helps new students navigate their new surroundings and gives groundings to school skippers. But every year, for a month starting in February, she gets a break from all that. Every year, students from Kamimura Gakuen high school come to visit.

“This group is angels for me,” Hampton said.

For the last six years, Hampton has brought a class of students from Kamimura Gakuen high school over to Agassiz to learn English and Canadian culture. Originally from Japan herself, Hampton was first approached by the principal of Kamimura Gakuen to see if she could help him find a partner school for his student’s exchange program. 

“My co-owner (of Space Canada International) … she is totally a city person. And she couldn’t believe it,” Hampton said, remembering when the principal suggested Agassiz as a good spot for the program.

“She couldn’t believe that the principal loves (it) here,” she continued. “She said ‘Are you sure? You want to send the students here?’”

Most exchange programs are focused in more urban areas, Hampton explained. Agassiz’s small and quiet community was a little out of the ordinary. But it was Hampton’s home, and she was excited to show off the area to Japanese teens.

Hampton approached AESS principal Patsy Graham about the idea, and a new cultural exchange between Kakinawa and Agassiz was born.

The program goes like this: students taking an English course at Kamimura Gakuen spend one month in Agassiz, staying with a home-stay family. During their stay, they learn English and Canadian customs while teaching students at Agassiz Elementary Secondary and Kent Elementary about Japanese culture.

Sometimes they’ll go out on excursions to things like hockey games, and they spend their weekend in Vancouver for a taste of city life before flying back to Japan.

RELATED: Chilliwack Chiefs close to clinching top spot in the BCHL

“Usually everybody really enjoys it and really experiences different culture,” Hampton said. The Japanese students are surprised the first time they see a green pepper that’s as big as their hand, she said, and many are shocked at the idea of wearing pyjamas to school during Pyjama Day.

“For a Japanese student, it’s unbelievable to come in pyjamas to school,” Hampton said. “It feels so weird.”

Home-stay families are treated to a potluck dinner, made by the students who were given a lesson in Japanese cooking before they left. And many families keep in touch with their students long after the program is over.

“Lots of families still keep in touch with the student. So that’s really really nice,” she added. “I don’t know … what they’re doing right now, but the family told me: ‘Did you hear about her? She’s doing this, and she become this.’”

Hampton has many stories of the students who have come through the program over the years. Some are more entertaining than others.

“The kids just remind me of my first year in Canada,” Hampton said.

One student struggled in the bathroom when she tried to wash her hair, using the faucet in the tub rather than the shower head above.

“‘I have to duck and it’s so much lower than my head’,” Hampton remembered her telling the home-stay family.

“I’m like, oh my god. So I phoned her back and I said, ‘Can you tell her how to put the shower on?’”

There have been bigger difficulties than just figuring out how to wash hair — one year the Hampton had to make last minute provisions for the students to do their program at Chilliwack’s Unity Christian School — but Hampton said there has never been a bad year.

“The first year was only 19 kids, but I still remember everybody’s face and I can say the name right away,” Hampton said. “The first year was really, really good year. Every year is a good year.”

SEE ALSO: B.C. log home maker has deep roots in Japan

This year, at least 23 students will be making their way over from Japan, and arriving in Canada on Friday, Feb. 15. They’ll have a few days to acclimatize, and attempt to sleep off the jet lag, before they dive into school and community activities in Agassiz, Chilliwack and Hope.

It’ll be a month of learning for students and host families alike, and Hampton feels it will be a rewarding experience for nearly everyone involved. But she’s also hoping the program will continue to grow.

“It’s small community, but I want it to be more overseas, more international students,” Hampton said about AESS, which signed a sister school agreement with Kamimura Gakuen two years ago. “I want it to be more (about) connecting (between) Japan and Agassiz, to do the more back and forth.”

The students who come to Canada always enjoy themselves, she added. Someday, it would be great to give Agassiz students that same experience in Japan.



grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Japanese students from the 2018 program say goodbye to their homestay families. (Kamimura Gakuen in Canada/Facebook)

Just Posted

Search dogs and handlers on their way to Chilliwack

Missing man’s mom said she is very appreciative of the incredible support Chilliwack has shown

OPINION: The paradox of tolerance in an open society

Why a post-WWII philospher’s recognition that unlimited tolerance of intolerance is dangerous

Heather’s Hope Chest offers Chilliwack women and girls a helping hand

The new ‘free store’ for vulnerable women and girls provides them with household items at no charge

Rainbow crosswalk count will rise to 16 in Chilliwack

So far 11 rainbows are painted and five planned, all since council denied the first proposal in September

Brother of Chilliwack homicide victim killed in Surrey on Remembrance Day

Andrew Baldwin shot on Nov. 11, three weeks after Keith Baldwin shot in downtown Chilliwack

VIDEO: B.C. to restrict nicotine content, bring in 20% tax on vaping products

Province will also restrict candy and fruit flavoured vaping products to adult-only stores

Seguin lifts surging Stars to 4-2 win over Canucks

Dallas is 6-0-1 in last seven outings

B.C. government working with RCMP to address $10 million in budget cuts

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth issues statement following report of RCMP cost-cutting

UPDATE: Metro Vancouver bus drivers to refuse overtime as transit strike escalates

Overtime ban could disrupt 10-15 per cent of bus service in Metro Vancouver

‘City that protects rapists’: Sexual assault survivor slams Kelowna mayor for defending RCMP

Heather Friesen spent the morning handing out flyers around city hall calling out the mayor

South Surrey man and city settle beef over backyard cow

Asad Syed, who kept a calf on his property last year, met City of Surrey in court Tuesday

Batten down the hatches: Wet and windy weekend on the way for coastal B.C.

Environment Canada issues special weather warning for Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island

BC Liquor Stores to move fully to paper bags by March

Vancouver Island to be the first to convert to paper bags in November

Tolko shuts B.C. divisions for two weeks over holidays

Head office to close from Dec. 23-27; two weeks’ downtime runs Dec. 21-Jan. 6

Most Read