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Students from Japan visiting area as part of exchange program

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

Students from Gyosei High School in Tokyo came to Orillia two years ago, in this file photo.

PATRICK BALES/THE PACKET & TIMES Students from Gyosei High School in Tokyo came to Orillia two years ago, in this file photo.

It’s almost time to return home for 18 Japanese students who have been learning about Canadian culture this summer.

The 15- and 16-year-olds are part of a group from Gyosei High School in Tokyo that arrived in Canada July 23 and spent a week sightseeing across the country, taking in such sights as the Rocky Mountains and Toronto Blue Jays baseball.

But for the past two weeks, the boys have been in a classroom at Lions Oval Public School in Orillia, improving their English-language skills as they immerse themselves in Canadian culture. Another group is having a similar experience in Midland.

The exchange is facilitated by Muskoka Language International, a group that has been organizing short- and long-term exchanges to Canada for the past 25 years. This is the 17th year students from Gyosei High have come to Orillia.

“They integrate with a Canadian family for the two-and-a-half weeks they’re here,” explained Kim Henick, regional home-stay co-ordinator with Muskoka Language International, “be a part of their family, sharing Canadian culture.”

The program is full of new experiences for students, many of whom have likely never left Tokyo before, let alone travelled overseas to Canada, Henick said.

“They just embrace it and love it,” she said, as evidenced by multiple students enjoying Tim Hortons iced cappuccinos and sharing their love for poutine and hamburgers.

They also get to experience the differences between the two countries.

“Canada has really nice nature,” one student said. “I was really surprised by that because Tokyo doesn’t have so much nature.”

The students were accompanied by teacher Aki Panada on the trip this year. He said the experience was advantageous for the students.

“In Japan, we have few opportunities to use English, especially speaking or listening,” he explained. “In Japan, we mainly focus on writing and reading English. It really is the best opportunity for the students to use English.”

The students agreed.

“I want to be exposed to real English, more and more,” another student said.

During the home-stay portion of the program, the day is split in half. In the morning, the students are in class, improving their English-language skills through a variety of lessons facilitated by English-as-a-second-language instructors Mariana Herrera and Peter Lewis-Watts. In the afternoon, an activity or field trip is planned, allowing the students to experience rural Ontario. Among the places visited by the students are Sainte-Marie among the Hurons and the Wye Marsh, where they were headed Wednesday afternoon.

But first, the students had a class to attend. Wednesday’s session was aimed at getting the students speaking more than they had been, so a detective game was played, followed by some role playing.

However, the teachers are aware of their students’ limitations in this setting.

“I have to compare the learning process from Japanese to English, how difficult it is to learn it, and they’re doing a very, very good job,” Herrera said. “The sounds are different; the characters that they use in their alphabet are completely different ... The way of writing — it’s a complete different system. And it’s a lot to learn. It’s really difficult.”

The students will head back to Japan Sunday.

For more information on future programs, contact Henick at

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