Japanese students say sayonara to Rivier Academy

Matt Gardner
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A group of 20 Japanese exchange students are heading home after spending 12 days in Prince Albert soaking up Canadian culture at Rivier Academy.

Japanese exchange students from the Kenmei Joshi Gakuin school near Osaka sing their school song at Rivier Academy during rehearsals for Sayonara, a special musical sendoff in appreciation of their Canadian hosts. The girls spent 12 days in Prince Albert as part of an exchange program sponsored by the Global Partners Institute.

The 16-year-old female students visited P.A. as part of an exchange program organized by the Global Partners Institute (GPI) between Rivier and its sister school Kenmei Joshi Gakuin, which is located near Osaka.

“Both schools were started by the same order of nuns, the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary,” GPI Saskatchewan regional manager Jeannette Eddolls said.

“They started schools in different parts of the world, so there’s a relationship between the school in Japan and Rivier.

“There’s been a group coming here for about eight years, and they usually send 20 girls, as they have done this time.”

The exchange’s roots date back to the immediate postwar period.

“Our sisters went to Japan after the Second World War and this is their school,” Rivier principal Sister Mary said.

“It’s now totally run by Japanese sisters, but still connected.”

Kenmei Joshi Gakuin has about 1,000 students and is entirely female. It is located in Himeji in the Hyōgo Prefecture (province).

Along with two Kenmei staff members, the visiting students billeted with host families during their brief but eventful Canadian tour. The students were scheduled to leave Prince Albert this week, flying out from Saskatoon on Wednesday at noon.

As an expression of gratitude to their Canadian hosts, the girls spent their last full day in P.A. rehearsing for a musical performance that night at Rivier, entitled Sayonara.

“Sayonara means farewell in Japanese, and so it’s a farewell evening,” Eddolls said.

“They sing, they dance, they share some of their skills, and showcase it for their host families and other visitors.”

The trip proved a vibrant cultural exchange for both sides, with the Japanese students teaching Rivier pupils about their culture while absorbing lessons about life in Canada.

“The idea is once they’re here, we integrate them into some of the classes at Rivier and we also study some English language development, and also learning about Canadian culture,” Eddolls said.

“They’ve had opportunities to go curling, teach origami, teach calligraphy … learn how to play African drums, be part of the choir. So there’s been lots of interactions that way.”

The visiting students left a sizable impression on their Canadian counterparts.

Rivier pupil Danika Nickel, 16, said that despite the large geographic and cultural gap between Japan and Canada, the girls found they had far more similarities than differences.

“I liked how they have the same founders as us and how they have the same personalities and talents,” Nickel said. “So even though they’re from across the world, we know that they’re the same as us.”

We all appreciate the warmth and the hospitality the students and teachers have extended to us during these days. Ihoko Yamashita

“We shared information of where we’re from, what we like to do,” her fellow Grade 11 student Naomi Jaleert said. “I learned from a couple of the Japanese exchange students (about) their life and stuff like that.”

“I learned that some of their traditions are actually really interesting, and how they’re able to adapt quickly to Canadian culture,” Nickel added.

While the language barrier caused some initial difficulties, the students quickly learned how to communicate with each other.

Some of the visiting students spoke good English and translated for their peers. Rudimentary sign language also played a helpful role.

“I found it hard at first,” Jaleert said. “But you kind of get used to it and say things more slowly.”

Based on their brief sojourn in Prince Albert, the visitors had only positive words for Canada and their hosts in P.A.

“Every student (was) very kind and cheerful,” Kenmei pupil Haruka Yanai said, in a sentiment echoed by her fellow students Mari Fujimoto and Sayaka Kitani as well as visiting Kenmei staff.

“We all appreciate the warmth and the hospitality the students and teachers have extended to us during these days,” the girls’ teacher Ihoko Yamashita added.

Yanai described weather as the biggest difference between Canada and Japan, with Fujimoto specifically mentioning the cold. They also noted the abundance of pickup trucks in Prince Albert.

While staying with their host families, the girls each enjoyed different Canadian activities. Some went curling, while others went skiing, shopping or tried rock climbing at the Alfred Jenkins Centre.

Asked what their favourite Canadian food was, the three girls replied in unison: “Poutine!”

The Global Partners Institute has taken an active role in inviting international students to Prince Albert, with 10 Japanese students currently attending local high schools, as well as recent visitors from Australia and New Zealand.

Conversely, opportunities are also available for Prince Albert students who wish to study in Japan or the ANZAC countries.

Local residents interested in hosting foreign exchange students or studying overseas themselves can contact Eddolls at 763-4127 or jeannette@gpicanada.com for more information.

With files from Perry Bergson.

Organizations: Prince Albert, Global Partners Institute, Rivier Academy Alfred Jenkins Centre

Geographic location: Japan, P.A., Canada Osaka Himeji Hyōgo Saskatoon Australia and New Zealand

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