Shun Sakagawa, left, and Kanata Fujimura clean up trash along 8th Street East outside of East Ridge Community School in Owen Sound on Monday, July 29, 2019. Sakagawa and Fujimura are two of 39 students from Nichidai Buzan Highschool in Tokyo on a 13-day trip to learn english and take in Canadian culture. Patrick Spencer/The Owen Sound Sun Times/Post Media Network
Patrick Spencer / Patrick Spencer/The Sun Times/Post Media Network
8th Street East is a bit cleaner than usual.And it’s thanks to a handful of international students.Thirty-nine Japanese high schoolers picked up trash along a stretch of the road Monday as a way to give back to a community they say has welcomed them.The all-boys class from Nichidai Buzan High School in Tokyo are currently taking part in a 13-day homestay program in Owen Sound to learn English and take in some Canadian culture.Pairs of the boys have been living with 20 different host families in the city.“They’ve been so impressed with Owen Sound,” said Laurie Byer, a program coordinator for Muskoka Language International, the company that organized the trip.“They said they wanted to give back to a community that’s given them this great experience, and this is what they chose to do.”Every morning during their stay, the students attend English classes at East Ridge Community School.Two ESL teachers provide instruction, while eight Canadian high school students about the same age as the Japanese students help deliver the material.In the afternoons they try to get the class into the community, Byer said.So far they’ve made trips to popular spots like Kelso Beach and Keady market.In the evenings, host families are encouraged to teach the boys, who range in age from 13 to 17, about Canadian culture, whether that means making a trip to a natural area or just staying home and cooking up some local dishes.“[Hosts] are not a tour guide,” said Byer. The student-host relationship is more about giving the boys a “full, immersive experience,” rather than treating them like tourists.“If you milk cows in the evening, than that’s what they’ll do.”Shun Sakagawa has been living with a host family that has taken him to Tobermory and Harrison Park.He said he’s also enjoyed learning how to cook a few meals from them as well.Sakagawa’s friend, Kanata Fujimura, lives with a different host.He said he’s gone with them on trips to local beaches and to Niagara Falls.The two were enthusiastic about making a difference in their new-found community.Three teachers accompanied the class from Japan.Mathematics teacher Satoshi Hashima, who spoke through a translator, said the kids don’t have many opportunities to volunteer in Japan, so it’s the first time many of them have done something like this as part of their education.Hashima added that the kids have been treated like “sons” by host families.Byer said finding people who were willing to take in a foreign student, even for just two weeks, was “really tricky.” She said people can be hesitant. They might be worried about unforeseen difficulties, or the possibility of a cultural barrier too great to surpass.But she finds that the situation ends up being mutually beneficial; the families learn from the students as the students learn from the families.She says it’s also good for the students to have a home away from home, given that for many of them that’s thousands of miles away.This is the eighth year that Nichidai Buzan High School has travelled abroad in the summer to learn English. Previously, they’ve ended up in places much closer to Japan, like Australia and New Zealand.However, this is the second year in a row they’ve chosen to come to Owen Sound.“The reason they came back this year is they said it was the best experience they’ve ever had,” said Byer.Last year, they flew over 33 students.The students will have a farewell ceremony on Friday, before flying back to Japan on Saturday morning.