A group of 18 Japanese high school students has moved on from our area.
The grade 11 students from Wakaba High School in Fukuoka, and their two chaperones, have been at Huntsville’s Camp Tawingo since the start of September.
Cheryl Lee, Chief Operating Officer of Muskoka Language International, which runs the study-abroad program, says the students have been getting the camp experience, enjoying Muskoka’s nature as they learn conversational English.
“It’s amazing the growth that happens in those first few weeks, and with full day ESL they’re immersed in working on their language,” says Lee. “I think they get surprised, some of them, by how much they actually know. But maybe they’ve just done more reading and writing. For other kids, it’s a little bit of a reminder of ‘oh yeah, I need to keep studying, because this is hard’.”
According to Lee, the students’ culture shock is less about living in a foreign country, and more related to learning to live on their own.
“Because they’re at camp, the culture shock is probably more around living in a cabin versus being in an apartment building. Or around the idea that they’re all sitting together to eat their meals, learning how to look after themselves, do their laundry,” says Lee. “Of course, there’s always that wish for the foods that mom makes, but one of the great things about Towingo is they are experts at comfort food and can just really bend and adjust to what kids need.”
Aside from practicing their English, Lee says the students’ time in Huntsville gives them a “soft landing” in the transition to living with host families in Guelph. She says they’ll be taking regular classes at two schools in the Wellington Catholic District School Board until Nov. 17. After that, they’ll return home to Japan.
Lee says the kids went on frequent trips into town, and thanks the community for being so accommodating.
“In the little interactions the kids have had with people from Huntsville and the area, they’ve just felt really welcomed,” says Lee. “That’s a special part of where we live, work, and study. They come from bigger places, so it’s pretty neat for them to get a chance to be kind of a special guest in a community.”
She adds that they haven’t been able to run the program for the past few years because of COVID-19, and that they’re excited to finally get it back on track.
“The goal is to create opportunities where kids can feel really welcome to sample small-town Canada, to get a feeling of how much we’re all the same, how many things we have in common, regardless of where we live on this planet,” says Lee. “With some language learning and some life experience as a teen away from home, maybe it helps them think about, a little earlier, ‘what do I want to be when I grow up.’ Maybe we get a few global leaders out of this, or maybe just some really aware young adults.”