Cultural Exchange Blooms With Spring’s Arrival

Claudia Rosales, Staff Writer

As the winter chill fades away, spring brings with it a renewed sense of possibility and energy. For high schools across the country, it also means the arrival of a new batch of foreign exchange students.

Following Elkhart’s scheduled spring break, the North American Homestay Program will be bringing Japanese exchange students from Yamate Gakuin High School in Yokohama, Japan, to North America. The exchange students in Northern Indiana will be dispersed between Elkhart High School and Penn High School, with 40 students respectively going to Elkhart and 26 to Penn. 

Yamate Gakuin High School has been a part of this program since 1969.  Every year, Yamate students come to North America for two weeks in April and later North American students go to Japan in July for two weeks. Elkhart joined this program in 2017 and the exchange has been happening every three years since. Mrs. Hiromi Hollett is the Japanese language instructor at Elkhart and has been in charge of coordinating the program between the high schools. She has been actively encouraging students from all backgrounds to participate in the exchange program with the intention of them gaining valuable experiences: “I hope my students will increase their global perspective and broaden their knowledge of the world that exists outside their environments; it’ll give them an opportunity to get out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves to try new things.”

The Yamate students will be arriving Friday, April 14, with their first official day at school being the following Monday, on April 17. For the entirety of their two-week stay, they will be residing with their respective hosts and shadowing their schedules for two weeks. Elkhart High School has a total of 21 hosts this year, with 18 students and three teachers— most of them will be hosting two Japanese students each.

A majority of the students hosting in North America are enrolled in Japanese courses and are eager to practice the skills they have learned with a fluent speaker. Sophomore Emilie Arias is partaking in the program and currently takes Japanese 2. Although challenging, Arias looks forward to exchanging languages between her host students. “I’ve learned enough Japanese in class and other language apps to be able to hold a conversation with them: I can ask them what they did today and even ask about what they do in their everyday lives.” Because the exchange students are also learning a new language and are experiencing a new lifestyle, it is essential to be patient during their stay here–and encourage their learning.

The program also attempts to match students based on the interests and activities they listed in their applications so that the pairs have more in common, and it adds their emails to make conversations easier. Utilizing LINE—a popular social media messaging app in Asia—Arias has been messaging her host students frequently. From this, the students efficiently build a foundation through their interactions before they arrive, making their first meeting less nerve-wracking. 

The North American students leave for Japan during the summer in late July and will be staying with their host families. Before returning in August, they will be partaking in three pre-planned field trips and other activities planned by the Japanese students. Arias looks forward to the cultural exchange and also plans on curating a fun schedule for the Japanese students during their stay in America: “I’m hoping to make lifelong memories and experience new adventures that will broaden my perspective.”

The exchange students will be hosting a Japanese Culture Night on Wednesday, April 19, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Tubbs Gym for those interested in welcoming the students. A variety of stations will be set up, including Japanese calligraphy, origami, cosplay, dance performances, and more!

Spring has arrived, bringing with it a period of renewal and endless possibilities. These young people bring with them a unique perspective and a willingness to embrace new environments, making this the perfect time to explore different cultures and forge new friendships that can last a lifetime. So, as the earth rejuvenates, embrace the opportunities that spring has to offer, and welcome these global neighbors with open arms!