Impressions of a hosted Japanese Exchange Student

A few months back the school asked us if we would like to take part in the Makahari program and host a Japanese student for 2 weeks. We decided that yes, we would love too!

We were unsure what sort of person we would get, boy or girl. Finally a couple of weeks ago we got the profile of the student we would have. It was a boy! his name was Sho (pronounced ‘seeo’ sort of since the ‘sh’ doesn’t make the same sound as english). He was fairly young compared to the others and only just 15. His parents were 50 and 56, apparently this is a normal age for Japanese parents, i was very young.

He was extremely quiet. and in fact I was unsure he even knew ANY english at all. We couldnt even get across the most basic question/answer. Words like ‘big’, ‘small’ or other basic words did not seem to be in his vocab at all. Considering he had been learning English for 3 years i thought this not so great. I guess he regrets slacking off in class now!

I got the distinct impression he really had no interest in learning english or fitting in or talking to us, but i put this down to being new to the country and i had heard that Japanese are very polite and worried about offending us.

We resorted to using online translators to get key words translated to get across information. He arrived the Thursday night, he ate a stew I had made, then went to bed tired from travel. Friday i made a stir fry so he had something familiar, he ate a LOT of rice!

So far he has tried and eaten everything we have, though to be fair there was a lot of junk foods in there too . I like cooking so there is often cookies and other buns being made. Hes not a huge fan of bread, either Home made or bought it seems.

We took him to Auckland on a day trip i did, several malls there, to a family members farm ( he had never seen cows or chickens etc), and also all the local sights. I was told he would take lots of photos and Japanese loved to spend money and want to go shopping, however i found him to be not interested in anything other than the PS3, PSP, or game shops. He had no interest in socializing much, though went along with us when we pushed him. There was no interest in buying any souvenirs of any kind at all, and he would often just sit on the couch looking bored and play with the cats.

On the plus side, i did get to learn how to make Sushi from recipes online, then get him to taste test and tell me if it was good. I think eventually his english did improve a fair bit over the time he was here.

A couple of co-workers had a bit of Japanese experience but he did not seem interested in talking to them either, one loaned him a pile of books and a PS3 game that were in Japanese (he was learning it). Several people commented on his lack of english and that he looked bored a lot.

The day before he left i presented him with a few things to remember NZ by, a Cup with Maori design, a Tiki with Paua, couple of NZ pens, bag, stuffed kiwi keyring etc. He gifted us a fan each, and a Japanese doll thing (ornamental style one).

On the night before they left the school had a Sayonara party to say good-bye to our students at which point i realized that half my assumptions were wrong. Most of the other students were happy to chat, spoke great english, played with their billet family, and had done the whole bonding thing.

After getting home, my husband was putting something in the rubbish, when he noticed one of the gifts we had given him hidden in a box in the rubbish bin. He pulled it out assuming it had been put in accidentally, but i wasn’t convinced.

The next morning i went to drop him off at the school. There were lots of other kids in tears, swapping email addresses and phone numbers etc with the other kids and their students. Mine wasnt interested in any of that, i dropped him at the school and he just walked off to wait for the buss with his peers.

Over all, it wasn’t a bad experience, there was nothing really *wrong* with it. I just felt a bit stink that we missed out on the experience that other clearly had. I think I will do it again next year again, but hopefully we will get somebody who is more keen to be here.

As a side note, the private school he went to made this NZ trip part of the required curriculum. I think perhaps for something as major as a trip overseas for a couple of weeks, it should at least be optional.