When Boulder High School suffered flood damage during September’s storms, nine students at a Japanese high school thought their plans to visit the United States were in peril. Then a search for high schools with Japanese language programs led them to Castle View High School, and world languages teacher Thor Kjeseth.
“We needed a school that has Japanese language classes; it makes it much easier,” said Heidaki Yamamoto, an Erie resident and native of Japan who helps coordinate the annual Shihoro High School trips. “I was relieved when we started talking to Thor. Compared to teachers in the past, he was much more thorough and detailed.”
From Kjeseth’s standpoint, Boulder’s loss was Douglas County’s gain.
“We feel blessed” to host the students, Kjeseth said.
The students and their teacher arrived at Castle View Oct. 30 for a four-day stay. They spent their days shadowing other Castle View students at the school, and their evenings with host students and their families.
Teacher Kiyo Kamita and her charges were surprised by the reception they received. As they walked into the school library, pulling wheeled suitcases behind them, Castle View students greeted them with “konnichiwa” — the Japanese word for hello — and bows.
“I was very, very touched by the warm reception,” Kamita said. “And just the sheer number of people, because we come from such a small school.”
Shihoro is an agricultural community of about 7,000 people, and its high school has only about 160 students.
The students were startled by many aspects of American life.
“The drink sizes are huge,” said Ryo Anraku.
“In the restrooms, the paper towels come out automatically,” chimed in Go Yoshida. “I was surprised.”
“You don’t separate your trash,” observed Kotaro Hayakawa.
Additionally, most Japanese students wear uniforms, and are not allowed to wear makeup or jewelry, she said.
Those differences aside, the students quickly immersed themselves in their host community.
“They’ve been enjoying every minute,” Kamita said. “They experienced their first Wendy’s ever. They were splurging at Park Meadows (mall). I’m sure the highlight is going to be what they experience here with the students.”
A change in a district policy limiting the allowable number of foreign exchange students made the nine-student visit possible. On Sept. 3, Castle View students successfully urged the school board to change the previous limit of one foreign language student for every 300 enrolled students.The ratio was lifted, allowing the principal to determine the allowed number of exchange students based on available resources.
Kjeseth and his students planned a welcome party, volleyball game and a Japanese/Western-themed dance among other activities.
“It’s been our great pleasure to host the students from Shihoro,” Kjeseth said. “Every exchange visit reminds us that the key to international understanding and friendship is not simply dependent on language; rather it is influenced more by a person’s heart and willingness to open up to others.”
The Castle Rock stop was the focal point of the students’ 10-day trip, which ended at California’s Universal Studios.