Kind people and classroom discussions are slices of Canadian life a group of Japanese exchange students are enjoying on their trip to Orillia.
The 25 young girls visiting from Osaka Takii High School are attending English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and activities at Regent Park Public School until the end of this month.
“There are many beautiful places and I like English,” said Harumi Matsumoto, talking about Canada. “It's more natural places here than in Japan. The food is delicious. The people are very kind.”
The 16-year-old said talking to her host family has helped improve her English vocabulary.
“It's an international language and if I speak English, I can help other people,” Matsumoto said about why she wants to learn the language.
The students landed in Toronto on July 5, and two days later they travelled north to Orillia, where they will be studying ESL until they leave.
Their days consist of learning English during the morning and applying their learning in activities during the second half of the day, explained Peggy Seko, Program coordinator for Muskoka Language International (MLI), through which the exchange program is run.
“They're practising speaking and writing; doing it through games, skits, role playing, music,” she said. “We really emphasize them using English through activities.”
On Friday, the students spent the first half of the day learning how to play guitar and create artwork. Later, they were going to practise speaking English with the help of an escape room activity.
The other half of the day is either spent on an excursion or an activity that relates to whatever they studied in the morning, said Seko.
During the break, the students glad to have some puppy therapy, playing with Ziggy the Dalmation who dropped by when a host family member visited the school.
After that, the girls were only too happy to walk over to the school’s playground and amuse themselves playing on the swing set.
School regimen in Japan doesn’t allow for them to veer off their routine like this, noted one student.
Outside the classroom, Matsumoto said she loved seeing the moose at the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Muskoka.
Inside the classroom, she said, she is delighted by the opportunity to express herself.
“We discuss with everyone and everyone has to tell their opinions,” said Matsumoti. “In Japan, they don't say their opinion so much.”
The Japanese education system is more teacher-oriented, said Carl Arvidson, head of International Education at Osaka International Takii High School. And that’s why the students are enjoying the ability to voice their opinions during class.
The visit to Canada isn’t their first exposure to English, he said.
“They come here with a pretty good knowledge of written English, but not able to speak it very well,” said Arvidson. “Part of this is to get them to get over that and try to become comfortable speaking English.”
This gives them an opportunity to change their learning into practical experience, he said.
“This program is a building block for them, because they grow to appreciate communication a lot more and want to learn it more,” said Arvidson. “Usually, when they go back, we see students trying much harder at English and deciding they want to study abroad.”
This program, which has been run by MLI for the last 20 years or so, is the highlight of the high school career at the Takii High School, he said.
“It's always had wonderful results,” said Arvidson. “The girls have loved it and they call Canada their second home.”
The program is mostly run out of Muskoka, and this is the first year it’s being operated out of a school in Simcoe County, he noted.
Reilly Carter, whose family has been hosting Japanese students for the last three years, decided to help out as a teacher’s assistant this year.
“I don't really think of this as a job,” said the 16-year-old Orillia Secondary School student. “I get to hang out with cool people, and I get to learn about their culture while helping them to learn about ours. They're all just great people.”
Carter said she usually takes students to the roller skating rink or horseback riding on her horses.
“I like to make sure to give students the experiences they can't get in Japan,” she said.
Sahara Yamamoto said another experience that they are unlikely to have in Japan is that of a barbecue party.
A host family recently celebrated her fellow student’s birthday with a barbecue, and Yamamoto said she was surprised by the whole affair, with music playing and food cooking on the grill.
“In Japan, it's more quiet,” she said.
It’s because Japanese people are generally very shy, said Yamamoto, and in Canada, by comparison, they’re all very open and welcoming.
She and Matsumoto said they loved the nature surrounding Orillia, and the big dogs they've seen out for walks with their owners.
All this and more, they said, definitely makes them want to return to Canada for further education.
For more information about the program, visit www.mliesl.com.