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Breaking barriers

WLHS welcomes Japanese exchange students


by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Yumena Yamanaka leads the group through a trial run of a dance routine presented to West Linn students. Smiles and nervous chuckles filled the main commons room at West Linn High School last Wednesday as students from two very different worlds worked to communicate with each other.

They sat face to face at the cafeteria tables, rotating every 10 minutes or so. The ocean that once separated them had been whittled down to a mere tabletop, but the ever-present language barrier remained — strong and awkward as ever.

Yet it was all part of the process for WLHS Japanese language students and their visiting exchange students from Kochi Minami High School in Shikoku, Japan. For the sixth time, WLHS Japanese teacher Lois Reimer welcomed students from across the ocean into her classroom and students’ homes, with this year’s visit taking place from March 9 to March 24. by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Chieko Emihara, left, and Riko Inoue look at their letter they sent to the school.

“It takes some of the fear out of that whole thought that they will not be understood,” Reimer said. “And they learn that there’s so many ways to communicate. They also learn that the more language that they have, the deeper they can communicate. ... It just validates that what they’re trying to achieve is accurate and it’s pretty exciting.”

The 16 Japanese students have been attending classes with their American hosts, while also taking field trips and presenting projects about their culture during Reimer’s classes. Last Wednesday, they rotated around the cafeteria tables to present their poster board projects, and followed that with the demonstration of a traditional dance performed during an annual street festival in Shikoku. Many of the Japanese students wore charcoal gray “WL Pride” shirts — an indication, perhaps, of their genuine desire to become part of the community, for another two weeks at least.

“Some of them are very comfortable,” said Asako Sawada, the Kochi teacher who accompanied the students on the trip. “And some are so awkward — worried about speaking English. But now they are beginning to learn.”

Full-on immersion can accelerate the learning process, and West Linn host students said they generally communicate in a mixture of both languages.

“You have to know both,” said junior Jessy Lovenburg. “On a scale of one to three, that’s how they judge themselves (in English), and usually they’re twos.”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Chieko Emihara and her host, Emma Rest, a junior, get ready to sit down to lunch. Lovenburg took her exchange student to local malls and stores like Costco — which amazed the Japan native. And then there was the trip to one of the United States’ most infamous locations.

“We ordered McDonald’s the other day,” Lovenburg said. “And they were like, ‘What? Your medium drink is like a double XL.’ ”

Fellow junior Jens Meyer, meanwhile, was on the other end of the exchange after travelling to Japan this past July. The student he stayed with in Shikoku, Yuina Ikegami, came across the pond herself this time to visit Meyer’s West Linn home.

“It’s good because I already knew her,” Meyer said. “So it was easier. ... (We speak) mostly English. She’s been taking English longer than I’ve been taking Japanese, so she knows it better.”

Just the previous night, Meyer had taken Ikegami to a Portland Trail Blazers game at the Rose Garden. They’d also gone shopping at the Clackamas Town Center, and this past weekend the family took her to visit the coastal town Newport. They also planned for a Portland visit to see Powell’s City of Books and other attractions.

This weekend, the group will join together for one last field trip to Mount Hoot and Multnomah Falls — an excursion open to host families as well as any Japanese students who are interested but did not host a student this year. By this time, the students will be far more comfortable with each other — closer to the harmonious state Reimer aims for during each exchange.

“For me, the greatest benefit for this kind of program is bringing that culture to the students and opening up the eyes of both countries,” Reimer said. “We have more similarities than we do differences.”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - A group of Japanese exchange students are visiting West Linn and attending classes at West Linn High School until March 24.by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Yuina Ikegami gets ready to eat lunch. Right, a group of Japanese exchange students are visiting West Linn and attending classes at West Linn High School until March 24.




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