Some Journey middle school students had an international experience during their spring break.
A group of 21 students, as well as a few teachers, travelled to Japan for 10 days as part of a cultural exchange program that Journey has been involved in since 2000.
“Every year it gets better and better,” said Journey vice-principal Glenn Bedard, who organizes the program.
Each spring break Journey rotates with a Japanese school in Natori; one year the Natori students will come to visit Sooke, and the next, Journey students go there.
Beard said the trip offers students an opportunity to learn about another culture rather than using a textbook.
“I feel like the students can better understand another culture when they are totally immersed in it,” said Bedard.
“They also learn how to communicate in different ways when someone doesn’t speak the same language as them, using things facial expressions, body language or gestures.”
While there, each student stayed with a different billet family, which allowed them to see how people live in Japan, and submerge themselves in the culture.
“Every child comes back changed,” said Bedard. “They are more tolerant of others, open to different ways of thinking and different experiences, they are able to better adapt to change, and they are more independent.”
Bedard says the trip teaches them responsibility, because children are given the freedom to explore, but are responsible for themselves and their peers.
“When we go there we are no longer just representing Journey, or Sooke, we are representing Canada, so they learn to set a good example for their country,” Bedard explained.
Every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. the kids were out doing activities, whether it was sightseeing, visiting the school, or trying different foods.
On the last day, the students participated in a cultural day, where they went to the Natori City Hall and learned how to write their names in calligraphy, made fans, played Japanese games, had a tea ceremony and wore kimonos.
Grade 7 student Amy Hueston and Grade 8 student Miles Drabitt who went on the trip, said some of their favourite parts were going to the Japanese Disneyland, visiting shrines, and teaching an English class at one of the schools.
Hueston said she loved visiting one shrine in particular, called Sensō-ji, located in Asakusa, Tokyo, which was filled with little souvenir shops.
Drabitt said he couldn’t decide on a favourite part of the trip because he enjoyed every part of it.
“People keep asking me what my favourite part was, the whole experience was good for different reasons,” said Drabitt.
After going on this trip, both Hueston and Drabitt said they are inspired to see more of the world, and found it interesting to see the differences between Canadian and Japanese cultures.
Hueston said the biggest difference she noticed between Canada and Japan was in the homes.
“The houses in Japan are smaller, and more compact. And when we ate dinner we would sit at a table on the floor,” said Hueston. “Their toilets were also different, and they had different rooms for where the toilet and the sink would go.”
She added that Japan was very clean, and no one would throw their garbage away until they were home, or use things like to-go coffee cups.
Drabitt said some of the major differences he noticed were in food, noting they surprisingly eat a lot more seafood than we do on the West Coast, as well as in the schools.
“It seemed like the schools were more strict and all of the students wore uniforms. I also found that their schooling is more condensed; what we would be learning what we get to high school, is what they are learning in middle school,” said Drabitt.
“So for them, applying to high school would be like us applying to post-secondary school.”
At the end of the trip, Bedard said he appreciated that the students were emotional and didn’t want to leave, which showed him that everyone had a good time. Next time, he hopes to give the students a stronger language base before the trip.
“It was a jam-packed trip full of amazing experiences, and I can’t wait for the Natori students to visit us next spring break,” said Bedard.