Nineteen students from Nelson’s sister city of Izu-Shi, Japan, are getting their first taste of the Kootenay this week.
Since arriving on Monday, the group toured Nelson and met Mayor John Dooley, took a trip over to Crawford Bay, and went kayaking in Slocan.
“For many of these students it’s their first time out of their home country, so just the international experience is huge for them,” said June Spearman, homestay co-ordinator for the exchange program.
The visiting students stay in homes with local families who speak little, if any, Japanese. This gives the students a chance to practice their English in an immersion setting.
“They’re very brave to come to a foreign country and be forced to speak in English,” Spearman said, noting they’ve only been studying the language for two years.
The students had to work hard for the chance to come here. They are the top students in the Grade 8 graduating classes at five high schools.
In the past Nelson used to send students from Trafalgar to Izu-Shi over March Break, but that side of the program has been on hold since the tsunami in Japan last year, which happened just days before the students were planning to board a plane to go there. Ongoing concern about the effect of radiation that leaked from the Fukushima nuclear plant also stopped students from visiting this year.
However, Spearman did get a chance to go to Izu-Shi back when her son was in middle school. He was selected for the exchange and she went as a chaperone.
“He was deeply impacted by the opportunity,” she remembered. “He went on to study Japanese for two years at university.”
Izu-Shi (population: 33,000) is a farming-based community located 140 kilometres south west of Tokyo on the Izu peninsula. It is an amalgamation of four cities: Toi, Nakaizu, Amagiyugashima — and Shuzenji, which was Nelson’s original sister city.
In the process of amalgamating, Izu-Shi ended up with two sister cities. The other one is Hope, BC. The students will visit there next week, and also spend a couple days in Vancouver before flying back to Japan.
“I think it’s good, they get to see some very different parts of the province,” Spearman said.
“Of course, they like coming here the best,” she joked.
On Saturday at 4 p.m., the mayor of Izu-Shi will join the exchange students at Cottonwood Friendship Gardens in Cottonwood Park where they will be dedicating a plaque and a magnolia tree to commemorate the 25th year of their sister city agreement.
The ceremony marks the students’ final day in Nelson, and they will be dressed in their Japanese yukata, summer kimonos, as they thank the people who hosted them during the visit.