Two more years have passed since we last hosted a Japanese exchange student as part of Alex’s primary school connection with ELS21 in Sakai, Japan. This time we welcomed an 18 year girl, Satoe, into our home.
This was Satoe’s third and last time in Australia as part of the program and she was eager to improve her already good English.
During the first week we also looked after Hiromu and his host student Ollie, one of Alex’s best friends, in the mornings and afternoons as the usual before and after school care wasn’t available to the Japanese students.
Satoe was a fantastic big sister to Alex and a wonderful guest. On the second weekend we drove her to eat meat pies and bush walk at the recently discovered (for us) scenic Fitzroy Falls near Kangaroo Valley, the Famous Doughnut Van at Berry and the Blowhole at Kiama. Being a teenager we suspected she might prefer shopping so the next day crossed the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the train to Chatswood, where she tried Malaysian cuisine (the laksa was too spicy for her). On the way back we stopped by Luna Park where she and Alex rode the rollercoaster and dodgem cars.
Okay it’s not as impressive as Osaka’s Universal Studios, but a retro amusement park was a bit of a novelty and makes for great photos for the Japanese Instagrammer. The young ones would have stayed longer but it was getting late so we caught the ferry one stop back to Circular Quay, this time heading under the bridge.
Each of the students we’ve hosted described their mother’s role as “house wife”. That felt like my position as, unlike B, I have the option to work from home so took on the duties of taking the kids to school, making lunches, shopping, looking after many of the dinners when we didn’t eat out. And doing my regular job as well. Quite exhausting really, especially when it was three extra kids, although Satoe was really very easy to look after.
Alex hopes to have one more student before he finishes primary school and so do we. Unfortunately the program is a bit up in the air right now. In the intervening period since the previous visit our school got a new principal and she, in her first role, wants to do everything by the book. That means no older kids. Hopefully something can be worked out, maybe with the nearby high school.
To be fair, if this trip was any guide, things do go wrong. One student was involved in a car accident and another witnessed someone jumping off a cliff. And yes, there is some disruption to the students’ learning programs. But I really feel they all get a lot out of these visits. Anything to break down this horrible insularity and racism that has reared its head so viciously in the media right now. The only reason I didn’t feel more embarrassed by the nightly news was that I know Japan has its own governing politicians who say the most awful things as well.
May our kids not grow up sharing the same views as many older people who should know better.
The farewell assembly at school was full of emotion, with both Satoe and the ELS21 principle reduced to tears. Fortunately for Alex and the rest of us the parting was not so sad as we look forward to catching up with Satoe, Mayumi and Machiko again in a few months time when we visit Osaka. Until then we have plenty of happy memories and gifts of Japanese treats to enjoy!