Compass USA is looking for Whatcom County families of all types to host this year's Japanese girls from July 22 - Aug. 12. The girls can share a room with another girl, but must have their own bed or futon. The girls will attend classes and actives from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most weekdays. Evenings and weekends are host family time. As program coordinators, we share our experiences with the program.
James: Last summer our family was asked to host a teenage Japanese girl for a three-week summer program put on by Compass USA, an international student exchange and homestay organization based in Northglenn, Colo. At first we told the program coordinator "no," coming up with many excuses of being too busy, not having the room, or not knowing what our vacation schedule was for summer. The more we thought about the cultural possibilities of having a Japanese girl stay in our home, the more we warmed up to the idea.
We have a son, Colin, who is in the third-grade. We thought it would be a great experience for him to learn about another culture and possibly gain a lifelong friend. We realized the benefits of hosting a girl totally outweighed any excuse that we could come up with not to. Besides, the three-week program was the perfect amount of time to see if this was something we wanted to continue doing, so we said yes.
Once Nozomi arrived it did not take us long to communicate, despite our limited knowledge of each other's language. You would not believe how many apps there are for translation and communication. We soon found out she loved Starbucks, going to the movies, ice cream, Mexican food and shopping. We also got to know other families by taking part in the program's activities. So inspired was my son Colin that he had this to say of his experience.
"It was the thing that changed my life. It has made me want to go visit Japan and see my new Japanese family. Having an exchange student was awesome because we got to do really cool events like going to the Mariners' game, going to the mall in Seattle, visiting Boxx Berry Farm and spending time with the all the girls. Now I feel like I have a new family in Japan."
Since last summer our family has stayed in touch with Nozomi and her family, and are even looking forward to visiting them in Tokyo next year. Our family had a wonderful experience and encourages other Bellingham families to participate in this life-changing program.
Holly: My family first hosted a girl three years ago. My oldest daughter was interested in anime movies and shows, and the Japanese culture and when I saw the flier for the program I knew we had to host. We have hosted Yuki, Karen and Yumi the past three summers and we now have three girls in Japan that we consider a part of our family. The interaction with someone from another culture has opened my children's eyes to how different the world is, and yet they love it when they realize the Japanese girls like the same things they do. Every time we meet someone from another culture, this big world gets a little smaller in our eyes.
The Japanese girls have joined my family for trips to the beach, the San Juan Islands, camping and other short day trips. They are eager to connect with American families and discover what life in America is like. Sometimes there are language barriers, but thanks to dictionaries and drawings, we have been able to easily communicate with our girls. Because the girls come from Tokyo, a city of 35 million people, they are shocked at how quiet their life becomes in Bellingham and Ferndale. They love the sea and the mountains and the wonderful parks we have in our area, and they appreciate how friendly everyone is. Come join us this summer!
For more information on becoming a host family, contact Holly Wibbens, Ferndale and North Whatcom coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-380-0595 or James Walters, Bellingham and South Whatcom coordinator, at email@example.com or 360-920-9380. For more information go to japanbham.com.
ABOUT THIS COLUMN
Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org.