Guest post from Host Mom, Jennifer Evans.
Our journey began with a phone call from Ms. Karla Button, Japanese World Languages teacher at Lockport Township High School. Our daughter Grace has been a Japanese student all four years of high school. Spring of 2017 Ms. Button asked if our family might be interested in hosting a foreign exchange student from Japan for the 2017-18 school year through the exchange service YFU (Youth for Understanding). While we had thought about this in the past, we had never pursued the idea further. Our older daughter had been a foreign exchange student in Japan quite a few years ago. She had a very positive experience, so we were very aware what this opportunity provided as a parent of an exchange student and we hoped it would be equally rewarding hosting a student.
As a family, we came to a quick decision that this would be an amazing experience for us and hoped the same for a student living with us as well. After clearance from LTHS, we began the process to find a student that would blend in well our family. After numerous profiles, we came upon the file of a young lady named Ichika Okashiwa. Ichika loved American music, movies, choir, and studying English. We immediately knew by her profile (host family letter and recorded message) that she would be a great fit. After some paperwork, home visit and interviews we received the “okay” and that Ichika would arrive early August. The waiting began but also the excitement of getting her room prepared for her, picking out school supplies, etc. It was such fun anticipating her arrival. Our daughter Grace was ecstatic with the realization that she would get to experience being a “big sister”.
Our anticipation and excitement levels were through the roof waiting at the airport. Once we met up with Ichika, the fun began. Grace and Ichika hit if off immediately and we all knew that this school year would be filled with many amazing memories. It was a whirlwind first few weeks for Ichika-day trips, sight-seeing and signing up for classes at LTHS. She took it all in stride and despite jetlag, and some language barriers, adjusted quickly. The first few weeks of school were exciting and tiring for her, but she always had a smile on her face. While English comprehension was tough at first, slowing language down a bit and when needed, using our smart phone translation app, were enough to get each other’s ideas across. Now, Ichika is mastering the English language and sounds more and more like a native English speaker every day, much like a typical American teen. While we were very prepared to deal with a student being “homesick”, Ichika has not struggled with this at all.
First Homecoming dance, first American football game, etc. were among the many “firsts” this past fall. Fast-forward to the Holidays, which were all new experiences for Ichika. It began with Halloween/trick or treating with friends, Thanksgiving, trip to Chicago, Christmas and New Years with family from other states-filled with all the typical American traditions. From the beginning, Ichika joined right into our family involvement with the LTHS choir program. She has participated in the LTHS Annual Madrigal Dinner with Grace and an extra-curricular choir with friends as well as the fall and winter concerts. We are looking forward to many more memories made before Ichika returns home end of June. A trip to Texas is on our agenda along with TWIRP, Prom and more LTHS choir concerts.
Once June rolls around we honestly can’t imagine saying goodbye. Instead, we are focused on soaking up every opportunity to make great memories and enjoy our time together. There is a chance that Ichika will go to university in the U.S., which we would be thrilled about. After Ichika returns to Japan shortly after, Grace heads to Japan and will take advantage of Ichika’s knowledge of her country- a true “cross cultural exchange” experience for both girls. For those families who have considered an exchange opportunity, do it! You will quickly realize the world is smaller than you think and that we are more similar than different from one another. Hosting a student is an opportunity you won’t regret with life-long memories made for everyone involved.