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Exchange program to immerse Japanese students in Durango culture – The Durango Herald

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Animas High School accepts 2-3 international students every year.

Aoi Yamagishi (right) sitting next to her host brother, Tucker Owens. Tucker’s mother, Lisa Owens, helps Animas High School students with their homework Wednesday at her home in La Plata County. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

For Lisa Owens, a single mother from Durango, raising children was the most fulfilling time of her life. She reached out to another child and when the opportunity presented herself to be a host mom to an exchange student from another country, she accepted it.

Four years ago, she welcomed home a child from Japan named Aoi Yamagishi. She was just 12 years old at the time, and this year, turning 16, Aoi is back and eager to tackle all that comes with attending high school in America.

Aoi is a member of the Lex-Hippo Family Club. This club is a Japan-based institution that allows young children to live in a foreign country for a few weeks to her year and be fully immersed in their mother tongue. Aoi says she’s been a member of Lex-Hippo for five years, but she’s been taught many of the 22 languages ​​she’s taught in the classroom to help her learn one or more. children are participating in the organization, she said.

Lex-Hippo works with many exchange programs such as the 4-H International Exchange Programs in the United States. This non-profit organization has been serving his 50 years and since 1972 in 43 countries he has worked with more than 63,000 young people.

In 2018, 4-H International in the United States sent flyers to Durango’s parents hoping to get them interested in becoming an exchange student host family, and Owens jumped at the chance.

“I thought, ‘Why?'” Owens said. “I wanted to make a difference.”

But the 12-year-old Japanese boy she welcomed into her home didn’t speak a word of English.

“I didn’t expect that,” Owens said. “It was hard.”

“I didn’t understand anything for the first few weeks,” Aoi said.

“There were a lot of hand gestures,” said Tucker, Owens’ 16-year-old son. “I tend to point at things.”

“At the time, I was guessing a lot,” Aoi said. , I started picking things up here and there.

After spending four weeks on her first trip to the United States, Aoi wanted to return to the United States.

“I live in the city of Tokyo, but I liked being in the countryside (Durango).”

At the age of 16, Aoi decided to live with her original host family for the entire junior year.

“I think he missed my cooking,” Owens said with a wink.

Lisa Owens prepares bento on Wednesday while doing homework for her son Tucker Owens (left) and international student Aoi Yamagishi. This is the second time Owens has hosted her Aoi. Lisa Owens, she joked she was back from Japan to cook.(Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Aside from Owens’ cooking, the contrast between Animas High School, a public school that employs a project-based curriculum and enrolls two to three exchange students each year, and Aoi’s school in Tokyo, is one of the reasons why he loves the ocean. Another reason to cross the ocean.spend a school year in America

“I went rafting on the first day of school,” he grins. “I feel more equal here. When they teach English it’s only reading and writing, you can’t speak it.

“Aoi jumped at everything we offer here. He’s very positive.”

Other cultural differences that Aoi pointed out while attending AHS were differences in lunch between American and Japanese students, where students were allowed to have snacks and drink water in the classroom, The fact that you can use the restroom when you need it.

“You can’t go to the bathroom in Japanese class,” he shook his head. “Please wait until class is over.”

Whether to finish his high school education in the United States or stay in Japan after his third year, Aoi wanted to go into a kind of nature-based architecture that was very different from the architecture of Tokyo he was used to. I know there are He also has an interest in international relations and a job that allows him to continue traveling around the world. Oh, maybe one day I will climb Mount Kilimanjaro with his host family.

“We all want to go to Africa together,” Tucker said. “It looks like a lot of fun!”

Tucker Owens and Aoi Yamagishi are smiling faces sitting next to each other at Animas High School.The two plan to go on an African adventure together in the near future. (Megan K. Olsen/Durango Herald)

Aoi Yamagishi sits next to her host brother, Tucker Owens, in a classroom at Animas High School. (Megan K. Olsen/Durango Herald)

Due to the strict rules of the Lex-Hippo program, Aoi is not allowed to have contact with family members in Japan during her stay in Durango. Owens thinks such a policy is too strict, but Aoi understands Rex Hippo’s ways.

“When I am here, I have to be completely here,” he said. “I miss my family, but I have them here.

Aoi likes America as much as her host family.

“I have lived in Tokyo all my life,” he said. “Very different. America is a good country. Very free.”

Owens stressed that more Durango parents, and more Americans, should consider the possibility of becoming exchange student host families, even if there is no financial incentive.

“Open your home, open your heart,” she said. “Dive in. Be open and accepting. I feel I’m making a difference in Aoi’s life and it’s worth it.”