Feature: Havering’s young Japanese visitors
PUBLISHED: 14:53 19 August 2013 | UPDATED: 16:23 21 August 2013
As world leaders thrash it out at the UN, Havering is quietly doing its own bit for international relations.
For two weeks each August, families across the borough host young overseas visitors on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the UK.
And after a fortnight in London, the students on the Cultural Homestay in Europe (CHE) programme take their stories of the borough back to Japan with them.
For many of the 23 youngsters who took part this year, the long-haul trip marked the first time they’d stayed away from home.
Based at The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, the group, from Hiroshima, spent mornings perfecting their English skills, before heading into central London to see the sights.
It was an eye-opening experience for both parties.
“It’s really interesting when they talk about their culture,” said group coordinator Stephanie Nunn, of Elm Park.
“Japanese children don’t do much at home because they have long days at school, and then they do extra lessons or sport classes every night.
“Then they come here and get this little bit of freedom.
“It’s so lovely seeing them coming into themselves and getting more active.
“Some of them are as young as 12. I wouldn’t have let my children go at that age – but people in Japan are quite ambitious for their children.”
At the Rashid family home, in Coniston Way, Elm Park, it was more than just English and Japanese cultures that met – because Claudette and Malik are from France and India.
“It’s contact with young foreigners trying to perfect their English, and there was a time when we were in their exact situation,” explained Claudette, 73. “That played a role in our decision to take part.
“They were brilliant girls. They made so much of an effort to try and communicate.
“It took them three days to venture a question. For three days we couldn’t communicate.
“Then suddenly, bang – they started.”
Malik, 73, added he had cooked some Indian food for his guests, which they had initially thought was traditional English cuisine.
CHE, whose parent company is Japanese, has been bringing students to Havering for a couple of years.
“Hornchurch is so convenient,” said Stephanie. “We have our meeting place at the Queen’s Theatre because there’s lots of room to park for the families.
“We’ve got the library behind us with classrooms, and the Fairkytes centre [on the other side].
“If the kids have spare time they can walk to the shops – and then there’s the big green, so it’s ideal.”
The group rounded off its visit by stopping in to meet Havering’s deputy Mayor, Cllr Linda Trew.
The students performed a dance based on fishing, and presented origami gifts to Cllr Trew. In return they were allowed to try on the mayoral robes and pose with the ceremonial sceptre.
CHE student Namiko Yoshikawa, 16, said: “Our stay in Hornchurch was very interesting. We’ve improved our language a lot.
“Everyone we met here was very kind.
“There are many cute houses here.
“Every meal has a lot of food and at dinner there are lots of sweets. It is all ‘oishii, oishii’, which means delicious.
“Our host family also enjoyed the Japanese curry, yaki soba and sityu that we cooked for them.”
Nanami Kunishige, 16, added: “In Japan there are different customs – shoes are left in the corridor and Japanese people take a bath in the evening every day.”
When it was time to say “sayonara” on Sunday, it was obvious Havering had made a good impression.
“Some of them didn’t want to go home,” said Stephanie.
“They presented me with lots of origami and a lovely card which they had all signed. There was hugging and kissing and crying – I still can’t believe it.”
If you’d like to host a pair of Japanese students during the next exchange trip, contact Stephanie on 07962 365 190 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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