Exchange students explore SK

Port Orchard Police Officer Donna Main watches as 12-year-old Ryoka Sato tours a police cruiser.  - Brett Cihon
Port Orchard Police Officer Donna Main watches as 12-year-old Ryoka Sato tours a police cruiser.
— image credit: Brett Cihon

They passed through the back seat of a cop car like hardened criminals. They sat in council chamber chairs like thoughtful politicians.

They watched a police taser demonstration like … well, like giddy 10-year-olds watching a taser demonstration.

Ten cultural home-stay students from Japan toured Port Orchard City Hall on Monday afternoon, bringing bright smiles and a barrage of question to the normally quiet city headquarters.

The tour was just one stop for the students from the Yellow Hippo English Language School in the Ibaraki Prefecture of Japan. Arriving in Port Orchard on Sunday, the students have nine days of events scheduled before heading home.

“It’s the second day for us,” said Sugako Akiyma, the student’s English teacher from Japan. “We need to get settled a bit more. But the students are enjoying themselves.”

Ranging in ages from 9 to 14, each exchange student is staying with a family of a Sidney Glen Elementary School student. Throughout the week, except for Wednesday, each student shadowed a Sidney Glen student—following them to class, reading their books and trying their hand at American homework.

Each Japanese student is the sole exchange student in their class, said Erin Aukland, the academic coordinator for Cultural Homestay International, the nonprofit group that organized the exchange. This gives the exchange students the opportunity to bond more closely with their American counterparts.

“They all attend different classes and stay at different houses,” Aukland said. “They have to form a closer connection that way.”

Forming a bond can be tricky at first. Aukland normally deals with high school students. Aukland said bringing a group of elementary children away from their homes to a foreign place can sometimes be a bit of a shock.

But though the young students undergo challenges such as language barriers and having a hard time adjusting when they first arrive, their age makes for opportunities Aukland doesn’t always see.

“They are just as bubbly and eager to learn as elementary kids here,” she said. “Their minds are like sponges.”

Along with shadowing a student at Sidney Glen and getting a tour of city hall, there are other activities planned for around Port Orchard. They will participate in a scavenger hunt at the downtown library. They will take a ferry ride and tour Manchester State Park. A party for host families and their students is planned at the First Christian Church on Friday night.

“By time they leave they’re really part of the family and the area,” said Aukland. “They’ll all have their hands pressed against the glass, not wanting to leave.”

Akiyma, who has previously led three elementary exchanges to the Los Angeles area, said she plans to make Port Orchard and Sidney Glen her new yearly tour destination.

The location is relaxed and the students received a nice welcome at Sidney Glen.

“There was a special ceremony and assembly,” Akiyma said. “They sang us a Japanese song. We were very, very touched.”

Speaking through Akiyma as an interpreter, 12-year-old Yuna Tarakato said the first thing she noticed about Washington was the trees.

“I grew up in the countryside,” she said. “But it wasn’t like this. There are so many trees here.”

Tarakato hoped to have a conversation in English before she left Port Orchard. Answering questions with either a shy “yes” or “no”, she understands most English words when they are spoken slowly, said her home stay parent, Donna Patten.

Patten said the experience of having a young Japanese student stay at her home for a week is invaluable; both for the students on exchange and the family hosting.

“It’s really fun,” Patten said. “It’s a great way to understand the culture.”


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