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Longtime exchange program wrapping up

Prince George is saying sayonara to a group of 36 Grade 11 students from Japan who have spent two and a half weeks here during their Cultural Homestay International adventure to Canada.
Airi Shimizu, left, and Kokoro Sangawa are two of 26 Grade 11 students from Takamatsu-kita high school in Japan in Prince George for cultural home stay visit. The students have been here for 2 1/2 weeeks, hosted by families learning english and experiencing Canadian culture.

Prince George is saying sayonara to a group of 36 Grade 11 students from Japan who have spent two and a half weeks here during their Cultural Homestay International adventure to Canada.

Prince George has been involved with the program since 1992 and this is its final year of operation.

Each student had their own host family for the duration of their stay so they could be immersed in Canadian culture. The teens went to conversational English classes from 9 a.m. to noon each week day and then it was time for educational and cultural experiences like exploring Indigenous and French Canadian ways of life as well as have some fun educational activities like going to the mall where teachers challenged the students to ask questions about items and learn about Canadian money when making purchases. Students also got the chance to play soccer, wheelchair basketball at UNBC and bowling, while a day trip to Purden Lake and a two-day bus trip to Jasper to visit the Columbia ice fields, river raft and shop was on the agenda. During their Jasper trip, students were happy to see a bear, deer and elk along the way.

The teenagers are from Takamatsu, a port city on Japan's Shikoku Island, with a population of about 300,000. Takamatsu-kita high school educates about 1,000 students.

"I don't want to go home," Oui Mizutugi, one of the students, said about her trip. Mizutugi has great command of the English language and has taken private English lessons since she was two years old. The vice principal of the school, Michihiro Kawada, was the chaperone for the students and said that typically in the summer in his home city it gets so hot it's not safe to stay outdoors for very long so it's an air-conditioned lifestyle at this time of year for them. It was nice to get to experience the great outdoors in Canada, he said.

Lorraine Grant has been with the program since 1994 as teacher coordinator and said it's her pleasure to teach the Japanese students.

Grant said to see their faces when the students glimpsed the ice fields and experienced the Rocky Mountains makes the trip an unforgettable experience. Teachers Julie Gaunt and Vicky Nudds are also part of the program.

"It's Lorraine, Julie and Vicky who take care of the hundreds - maybe thousands - of details that happen in a two-and-a-half week program to arrange all the host families weeks in advance, and then arrange the itinerary and activities scheduled for the students while they're here and to keep everything moving seamlessly," Micki Lalonde, director of student services for Cultural Homestay International, said.

Over the years there have been about 1,000 students and more than 60 teachers from Japan who have visited Prince George and some of the families have been hosting for a decade or more.

"The relationship between Takamatsu and Prince George is very strong and I attribute that to the fact the families in Prince George are so caring and open to share their lives and their homes with the students and really embrace this cultural experience in a way that isn't always common in bigger cities and even though Prince George isn't a big city their relationships are huge and it's been very successful," Lalonde said. "This is the last year the program is coming to Prince George because some of the teachers are retiring after many years so we're going to move the program to Salem, Oregon next year where we think we've found people that will replicate the caring experience we've had in Prince George."

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