Whistler teens take flight to Japan 

Exchange program to Whistler’s sister city is underway

The second group of Whistler teens is in Karuizawa, Japan, Whistler’s sister city in the east.

Seven high school students, ranging from 13 to 17-years-old, left Vancouver Tuesday and landed in Tokyo, where they took the bullet train to Karuizawa to kick off an action-packed week.

The highlights of the trip include visiting Matsumoto (a nearby castle), participating in the Karuizawa summer festival, visiting the local high school for the day and going to Olympic venues in Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Whistler students will be immersed in the foreign culture as soon as they get there and they will even be carrying a shrine in the summer festival.

"I think that it can’t help but help them to just become aware of both the similarities and the differences between different cultures and languages and just become aware of what’s out there in the big wide world," said this year’s chaperone Kathy Podborski.

"I was sure that I’d have to arm-wrestle somebody to get to go as a chaperone."

Podborski and her 13-year-old son Ben are the only two of the group to have visited Japan before. They were there four years ago during the Nagano Olympics.

"Having been to Japan before I’m pretty comfortable with what will be there," she said.

To get the other teens a little more comfortable with their trip across the Pacific, the group had six Sunday afternoon language and cultural sessions, led by Mayumi Rankin who is originally from Japan.

Rankin facilitated this year’s counter exchange in March, acting as a translator to the Karuizawa kids who came to Whistler and were a little shy using their English at first.

The lessons prepped the Whistler teens in some basic Japanese etiquette. They were reminded of things like having to take off their shoes and put on slippers in a Japanese house.

They were also given some rudimentary skills in language.

"As long as you try to speak the local language then people generally fall over backwards to make sure you’re well looked after," said Podborski.

"So we’re just trying to maintain that level of courtesy ourselves."

Ten Japanese teens were in Whistler at the end of March this year where they spent a week skiing, skating and swimming, as well as spending time in the high school and taking English lessons.

A few said the highlight of their trip here was visiting the Whistler Secondary School and noticing the differences to their school in Japan.

Rina Kobayashi, a 14-year-old exchange student, said at the time that the Canadian schools seemed more relaxed and free, especially the dress code. She said she was excited to show the Whistler teens her school, including the school uniform, when they came to visit.

The Japanese students stayed with various Whistler host families while they were here, just as the Whistler teens will spend time with Japanese families while they are in Karuizawa.

Whistler’s sister city is also a resort city about one hour away from Tokyo by bullet train.

It is one of Japan’s most popular resorts, especially in the summertime when visitors go to play tennis, golf or go horseback riding.

The trip costs each Whistler student about $1,400, which covers the cost of travel between Whistler and Karuizawa. Each student is also taking gifts to their host families, including gifts offered by the municipality and Whistler-Blackcomb.

Podborski recognizes the cost of the trip is high but the exchange is not meant to focus on those students whose families can afford to send them overseas.

Next year, organizers plan is to start generating interest in the high school at the beginning of the year, giving students time to do some fund-raising to get on a plane to Karuizawa.

The Japanese students are due back in Whistler next March for the third year in a row, followed by their Canadian counterparts making the trip again next August.

The students are due back from Karuizawa on July 18.

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