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From big city to small community

Coming from a city of 200,000 and a land of millions, the rural Manitoba farming community of Kenton may seem like a strange place for a Japanese exchange student to visit.

However, 17-year-old Natsumi Yoshida, who is involved in the Global Partners Institute, says she is enjoying every minute with her host family, the community, and the new friendships being made.

“While I come from Uji city, Kyoto, Japan, located in the middle of the country, I enjoy the small-town living. It is very different from what I am used to, but it is peaceful and comfortable,” said Yoshida. “In saying that, I do enjoy going places on the weekend though, to get a change of scenery.”

Her city back home is one of the traditional cities in Japan, so there are a lot of temples, shrines and famous places. Kyoto has a population of over 2-1/2 million citizens.

Really interested in studying abroad, Yoshida checked out a number of exchange student programs through her Japanese school. Upon writing an English test and being interviewed, she passed both which allowed her to become an exchange student.

“I knew I was going to Canada, but I couldn’t choose the province or town,” Yoshida said. “It wasn’t until two weeks before I was to leave that I found out I was going to Manitoba, and subsequently the Westman region.”

Coming to Manitoba at the age of 16, Yoshida took up residence with Jeff and Marilyn Martinook in Kenton. Sharing a room with her host sister, 15-year-old Schylar, and sharing laughs with host brother, Gage (14), have brought forth special bonds and really good friendships.

Celebrating a birthday in September, the 17-year-old is among the Grade 11 class attending the Hamiota Collegiate Institute (HCI). Yoshida will head home immediately after the semester ends in June, and will begin her Grade 12 year in the fall.

Yoshida said she really likes learning the English language and her favourite school subject is math. With her favourite sport being volleyball, she was happy to have the opportunity to play on HCI’s varsity team. With a number of sports readily available for students in Manitoba, compared to Japan where a student is allowed only one club sport, Yoshida is also hoping to play a little badminton and maybe baseball.

And while the Martinooks are not required to widen the experiences, as a host family they love to show their special guest what Manitoba and certain places in Canada are all about.

“We have been to Winnipeg, Jasper, Alta., Asessippi Ski Hill & Resort, Clear Lake, and we will be visiting Panorama, B.C., this spring break to watch my host brother race on the ski slopes,” said Yoshida. “We also hope to visit my host dad’s parents in Arizona this March.”

For some in her position, it would be hard not to miss parents and family thousands of kilometres away, and while Yoshida says she misses them some, missing her school in Japan is another story.

“I miss my school in Japan very much, but that is mostly because I miss my friends,” said Yoshida. “I can email or Skype my parents, Shogo (dad) and Junko (mom), along with my 14-year-old sister Mayuka, and grandparents Toshiyuki and Tatsu, but we don’t keep in contact with each other any more than we need to as I feel it’s not a good idea to communicate too much in Japanese.”

The educational opportunities Yoshida has been given as an exchange student in and out of school, are not taken for granted. Yoshida said she is more than happy to come to this area of North America, and would definitely recommend this trip and experiences being shared to other Japanese students.

Yoshida considers herself one of the lucky ones, as she said some kids couldn’t come to Canada because of the earthquake that happened on March 11, 2011. “Some families who had a son or daughter in this situation lost everything. They lost their homes, plus they have no money, no food, and no water. They lost everything. The opportunity to be involved in the Global Partners exchange was dashed for many others.

“Truly I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity, to share experiences from my homeland and learn about Canucks,” she said.

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