Those who are interested can now apply to host students from Shikaoi, Japan from October 4-15 for 2019's latest youth exchange.
The Town of Stony Plain needs local families to open their doors to culture.
Those who are interested can now apply to host students from Shikaoi, Japan from October 4-15 for 2019’s latest youth exchange. The first delegation of students came over in 1987. The connection has its roots in the sister or twin-cities and governments concept that has existed throughout human history. Alberta twinned with the Japanese province of Hokkaido in 1980 and, in the wake of that decision, various municipal governments went back-and-forth between the two countries to see if more connections could ultimately be made.
Marilee Byers participated in the program for the first time last year. On a whim she saw an advertisement on the Town website and decided to apply after her kids and husband were excited by the idea. They filled out a questionnaire on things they enjoyed doing, criminal records, pets and managed to get approved by the community.
It was exciting, but a foreign and slightly overwhelming experience to prepare for.
“I think there was a little bit of nervousness because we don’t speak Japanese,” she said. “We were not sure how that would work.”
Byers added they maneuvered around this challenge. The exchange provided a cheat sheet with common phrases hosts were likely to need and, when that did not work, they would communicate with their two female guests through charades and their own shorthand methods.
“We came up with our own ways of communicating and the twelve days flew by far too quickly,” Byers said.
During the visits participants try out hockey, visit the local museums and explore various attractions in Edmonton. Byers said a highlight of her time as a host was seeing her family’s guests try various types of food they had never seen before back home in Japan.
“They were really great about trying everything that we put out for them,” she said. “Tacos were very messy and they had some good laughs about how messy that was. They were open to try everything we threw out at them. They were really good sports and a lot of fun.”
The program shows no signs of slowing down. Former Stony Plain mayor Donna Cowan spearheaded the creation of a book to commemorate 30 years of trips in 2015 and said at the time it was a lovely way to recognize this longtime cultural connection.
“It is a beautiful remembrance of the many events that have happened over the past 30 years,” Cowan said. “Our relationship is known as the most active and the most outstanding relationship of all of the twinned towns in Japan.”
There were tears and sadness when the 2018 time came to its end. Byers said her family has still tried to keep in touch with their pair and, having previously been in conflict with Japan, opportunities like this are a chance to underscore the commonalities in all of humanity.
“It really adds to how important and special it is,” she said. “Everyone is getting along, there is lots of laughter and it feels like an extension of your own family. It is amazing how connected you can become to someone else in a short period even with a language barrier.”
Applications for the latest student visit are now online. The deadline for submitting information is Aug. 23.