Del Oro and Japanese students exchange culture

By: Kim Palaferri, Loomis News Correspondent
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Traveling to a foreign country without knowing much of the native language can be daunting, especially if you are a teenager.

Three weeks ago, 18 Japanese exchange students and their teacher chaperone left the comforts of their homes with packed suitcases and headed to California. The exchange group traveled 7,492 miles from Matsudo Kokusai High School across the Pacific Ocean, leaving their families behind. 

With their feet barely on American soil on Feb. 24, the group made their way to the Loomis area, but stopped first at the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield. 

Other visits during their stay included a trip to the First United Methodist Church in Loomis. Cultural Homestay International program director Valerie Boughner said the students sang to church members and even included the U.S. national anthem. 

“The kids sang the national anthem. It was so beautiful, they sang it in perfect harmony and without song sheets, too,” Boughner said.

Other stops on their itinerary included visits to the Folsom Outlets for shopping, a boat ride through San Francisco Bay and a trip to Sacramento with stops at the state capital and Old Town.

Some of the exchange students came to America equipped with smartphones, giving them the ability to instantly share their experiences with those back home by using social media sites. 

Erika Kansai, 16, documented her trips to Los Angeles and Yosemite with her host family by using her iPhone to post images on her Facebook page. 

During their stay, exchange students fulfilled their goals of living like Americans by integrating into the daily life of their host families and Del Oro students. It was a learning experience for host families, as well.

For Michelle Tassinari, hosting her first exchange student brought educational opportunities into her home. 

“I learned a lot of new words in Japanese like ‘kawai,’ which means cute,” Michelle said.   She also learned how to cook traditional Japanese meals like chicken teriyaki.  The Del Oro senior took her exchange student, Haruna Tomioka, on several family outings, including a trip to Monterey where they visited the aquarium and walked through Cannery Row.  Tassinari even took Tomioka to Jamba Juice for breakfast before school, where Tomioka tried a strawberry smoothie.

“I really like strawberry smoothie,” Tomioka said.  “We don’t have Jamba Juice in Japan,” she added.

Another was treated to a bonfire on the beach in San Francisco where she was introduced to the decadent camp out dessert S’mores.  Now, she’s filled her suitcase with graham crackers, chocolate and giant marshmallows to recreate the dish for her family and friends in Japan.

A few of the students ventured out to try some teen junk food.  Although Natsuko Ikezawa wasn’t fond of A&W root beer, but said she was glad she tried it. 

Tatsuki Uemura made a 7-11 stop before school to grab a combination cherry, coke and melon Slurpee.

“It’s good. I made it up,” Uemura said. 

Once he finished his frozen drink, he was also glad to receive the rest of the root beer from his friend, who gladly handed it over.

Many of the students took part in American food culture, but all agree that they miss their traditional foods from Japan. 

The group was not just in Loomis to discover the American lifestyle, they were here to learn and practice their English for 17 hours, as part of the program taught by teacher Frank Arajo.   

According to Arajo, the students come with a good grasp on the English language, which allows him to be creative with his contrasting teachings where he incorporates pronunciation and listening skills. 

“We focus less on the formal presentation of English language, and try to tie the language and cultural experience for them,” he said.

This trip was Cultural Homestay’s 10th visit to Del Oro.