After over 20 hours of travelling, 53 Japanese high school students poured into Walkerville Collegiate on July 26 to meet with their Windsor host families.
There were shouts, laughter and lots of hugs as the Windsor families met with their Japanese homestay student, on the start of a journey that often creates a bond for a lifetime. The families made the girls feel like celebrities, holding up signs and coming with lots of gifts and flowers when the teenaged girls arrived.
For the next two weeks, the female students from Windsor’s sister city Fujisawa, Japan, will be immersed in an entirely different culture.
During the day, the girls will be attending classes to strengthen their English language skills. They will be taught by teachers both from Japan and here in Windsor.
As far as their teachers of Canadian culture, there will be a group of young Windsorites dedicated to help out both within the school walls and out.
“(Japanese students) aren’t exposed to other culture and languages in Japan like we are in Canada,” said Heather Tremblay, the homestay coordinator of Windsor for Muskoka Language International Homestay. “They are going to come into this melting pot, and it’s a bit of a culture shock.”
To help cope with the change, Tremblayhas worked hard to match the students with welcoming families of Windsor.
The Garswoods are one of those families. John and Kristina Garswood have unofficially hosted students before, but this is their first year participating in the MLI Homestay program.
“Every time we travel, and experience new cultures, it makes the world a little smaller, more relatable. We hope to give our girl, Konami, the same experience,” said Kristina Garswood. “We want to show that Canada isn’t just Timbits and poutine, but it’s a lot of different cultures…Greek, Italian, so much more.”
The decision to host was inspired by her daughter’s participation in the program last year as an assistant.
Caroline Garswood, 17, has said that her involvement in the program has shaped her plans for the future, which will be to delve into anthropological studies. This year, their youngest daughter Meredith, 14, will also be working as an assistant for the students.
The Garswood has been using their summer to prepare for Konami’s arrival, labelling items around the house both in Japanese and the English translation, along with prepping other educational material. This kind of preparation can be seen in most other host families’ homes. It’s a sign of their dedication to having their Japanese student feel welcome.
“These families pour their love into a child from another country, who is coming into a foreign world, often afraid. We make them feel loved, cared for, fed. That’s half the battle. The other half is communication,” said Tremblay
, who also hosts her own students along with coordinating the host families.
The girls’ schedule will be loaded with Canadian experiences over the next two weeks. They spend time in the classroom, but they will also be visiting Essex County landmarks like: Windsor city hall, Point Pelee National Park, Fort Malden. They will be taking the trip to Niagara Falls during their visit as well.
Beyond that, their host families have plans to make the experience as authentically Canadian as possible, with visits to the African Lion Safari, Windsor’s Adventure Bay, and even the Leamington Rodeo.
Next year, Tremblay said that MLI Homestay will be having students visit for a spring, summer and fall program, and will be searching for families who want to share in an experience of a lifetime.
“I know I have gotten to know people through this program, and not just the students. I’m new to Windsor, and normally you wouldn’t meet 70 plus families this intimately. It’s a great way to learn about your community,” said Tremblay.