By: Carlin Barton
CGS students (Back row, from left to right) Jack Cocchia, Danny Robillard, Trinity McFadden, Tes Dejaeger, and April Gall and their Japanese homestays.
On March 15th, 30 Japanese students arrived at the Center for Global Studies (CGS) at Brien McMahon High School, eager to meet the CGS students, and their families, that they would be staying with for a total of two weeks as a part of the annual CGS exchange with Kojo High School in Kanagawa Prefecture, outside of Tokyo, Japan.
For the 30 students that arrived from Japan, around 30 CGS students volunteered their home for the students to stay with them. While the Kojo students are here, they will follow their CGS counterparts around their daily routine, which includes accompanying them to all of their classes to learn more about American school life. CGS students also go out of their way to give the Kojo students various American experiences, from taking them into New York City to see the Empire State Building, going out to restaurants and bowling, to everyday activities like grocery shopping and hanging out with friends.
Although hosting a student from another country can be a lot of fun, CGS students must shift pieces of their lives to accommodate their homestays.
Tes Dejaeger, a senior a Brien McMahon who has hosted a total of six times throughout her four years at CGS, notes, “Usually after homework I'll watch a TV show or exercise but now that I have the responsibility of taking care of another person I can't just watch TV or leave the house. I have to take into account what she wants to do.”
April Gall, also a senior at Brien McMahon, added, “Growing up as an only child, it was certainly an adjustment for me to have another younger person in the house, and to have someone accompanying me to all of my daily activities. We also have to provide accommodations for the student within our home and transportation for the student to certain events.”
Another notable challenge for many CGS students who are hosting is the language barrier. Although most of the students who are hosting students from Japan also take the Japanese language at CGS, there are still problems that arise in communication.
Trinity McFadden, a senior at Brien McMahon who has taken Japanese for four years, says, “If you don’t know basic Japanese, it can be difficult. There are many things that get lost in translation.”
Despite the difficulties, a large number of CGS students eagerly volunteer to host every year. This is in part due to the fact that the cultural exchange isn’t one-sided. While the Japanese students from Kojo High School visit America every year around February-March, CGS students also have the opportunity to visit Japan in November and stay with students from Kojo High School.
This exchange creates long-lasting relationships between Kojo and CGS students, who communicate throughout the year through social media.
Dejaeger explains why she decided to host: “I had the opportunity to host a student that hosted me when I went to Japan 3 months before I hosted her. She felt like family when she came.”
McFadden, who has hosted every year except her junior year, also had the chance to host a Kojo student who she stayed with while she was in Japan. “I really liked it when I went to Japan and someone hosted me. Then she came and I hosted her! There was no awkward first day because we already knew each other. It was so blissful and we had so much fun.”
She adds that every hosting experience is different, but “With all of my exchange students, we tend to be very close… All of my homestays are like family. A lot can happen in 2 weeks!"
CGS students also appreciate that they have the opportunity to learn about Japanese culture while they are hosting.
Gall explains, “My favorite part about hosting is the exchange that occurs when people from two different cultures come together. I loved teaching my host student about my daily routines and showing him around Connecticut, and I also loved learning about his routines and what his life is like in Japan”
She added “One night we cooked spaghetti and made salads. [My homestay] usually studies while his father makes dinner, so helping us make dinner was a relatively unfamiliar experience for him.”
Overall, hosting a student from Japan seems to be a very positive experience for almost every CGS student that has had the opportunity to do so.
McFadden says, “The best thing about hosting is when they help you with your Japanese homework. Well, it’s a plus. It’s not the best thing. I think the best thing about hosting is the memories you make. If you make an effort to talk to your host, you’d be surprised at what you learn.”
She adds that any student who is thinking about hosting a student from another country “definitely should. The experience is one of a kind and you will have a friend for life.”