Japanese girls learn about Minnesota culture, lifestyles

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 8/16/00.

Nineteen Japanese 16-year-olds are learning about life in Minnesota.

The girls from Kuygenuma Girls High School in Yokohama, Japan, arrived July 29. This 17-day trip marked the 10th anniversary of the girls coming to Minnesota. They make the trip every two years.

The girls are attending school in Cold Spring as part of the Compass U.S.A. program. Kathleen Sogge, Paynesville, and Valery Hansen, St. Cloud, are their teachers. They give the girls lessons from 9 a.m. until noon. Their afternoons are spent exploring Minnesota.

"All the girls have had four years of English, but they can read and write English better than they can speak it," said Cheryl Curren, coordinator for the program.

During their stay they have gone shopping at the Mall of America, bowling, roller-skating, swimming, and to a Twins baseball game. One day was designated Minnesota Day. The girls watched a film about Minnesota, toured an RV camper, and ate fried fish and a wild rice and venison hotdish.

They also celebrated Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, as these are holidays they do not observe in Japan. Homeowners decorated their houses for each respective holiday. The girls even received Christmas presents.

Staying with families in the Paynesville area were Hidemi Kin, Maiko Tomita, Noriko Suzuki, Yuko Kojima, and Miki Yamaguchi.

Host families in the Paynesville area were Steve and Hong Danners, Rich and Brigid Felling, Jerry and Rita Hoekstra, Pat and Cynthia Schaumann, and Val and Roseanne Parks.

The girls particularly enjoyed spending a day at a lake near Cold Spring. Riding a jet ski, swimming, and boating were their favorite activities in Minnesota.

This is the third time the Danners and Hoekstras have been host families. "We get as much out of their stay as they do," Hong said. "It is a good way for the children to learn about another culture," she added.

Yuko has been teaching the Danners two sons how to make paper cranes, tubing on Lake Koronis, and shopping.

Rita Hoekstra said she had to learn to speak slower to Noriko, her exchange student. "Noriko is a sweet girl. In the time Noriko has been here, I feel her language has improved a lot; however, she does carry a pocket dictionary with her when she doesn't know a word," Hoekstra said.

Hoekstra said they have taken Noriko shopping, to the Meeker County Fair, and to a Little Crow Ski Show.

During their stay, each girl has made their host family a traditional Japanese meal. Noriko made the Hoekstras a shrimp and rice meal.

Maiko and Hidemi teamed up to prepare a meal made with seaweed and soybean paste for the Schaumanns and Parks. "The kids weren't too sure about eating their meal," Roseanne Parks said. "Cynthia and I were the only ones to eat the meal. The kids did eat the rice cakes. They tasted like cheese sticks," she added.

The Fellings, who own horses, had Miki try riding. It was a first time experience for her so she was a little intimidated at first, according to Brigid Felling. She even took her turn at driving a wagon pulled by draft horses.

While staying with the Fellings, Miki attended the Stearns County Fair and watched barrel racing. "What is more typical of Minnesota than a county fair," Brigid asked.

A first time host, Parks said it has been a good experience. Maiko was fascinated with the local stores. At first she hesitated about taking a free sample, but when told it was okay, she took three.

Maiko and the girls love going to the beach on Lake Koronis. The sandy beaches are clean and the water is clear. Parks said Maiko explained the waves at home bring debris onto the beaches. The beaches and water are very dirty.

On Saturday, the girls and their host families attended a farewell party before returning to Japan on Aug. 14.

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