Exchange helps girls bridge cultural gap

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For five days in March 2015 Grace Kreiser, then 12, and Nana Matsuno, 13, shared the world of possibilities that girls entering adolescence inhabit.

What made their hanging out together unusual is that they had to bridge the cultural gap between Central Alberta and central Japan’s Kawaga Prefecture before they got to the life-sharing part of the experience.

What brought them together was the annual Maple Leaf Exchange that brings Miki-Town students, who have won a competition staged to select the youth, to Didsbury each year for a visit.

What keeps them connected is that their eyes were opened to the bigger world than they had known before – a world that they now share as friends and a world made small enough to continue to connect by email.

Think Anne of Green Gables 150 years later.

“The girls – Grace and Nana (pronounced Noona) – got along like a house on fire,” Grace’s mother Lana Kreiser said in an interview over coffee Dec. 29.

“Fortunately Nana spoke English because our Japanese is, well, it isn’t.”

Nana had an electronic translating device; she entered phrases and ideas in Japanese that she couldn’t express in English and the device translated.

Two memories of the cultural gap Nana faced stand out, said Lana.

One is that Nana was intrigued with the CPR train tracks in town, and took many photos of the trains passing through. “She knew high-speed bullet trains; ours were slow.”

The second was the garage door opener at the Kreiser home that Lana’s husband Barry opened with the flick of a switch.

“Nana was endlessly fascinated.”

“I have never before seen a wall disappear into a house,” she told the Kreisers, explaining that homes in Miki have carports, not garages.

The Miki-Town students are more buttoned down, more rule-oriented than their Didsbury hosts, Lana said. For example, they don’t have janitors in their school, they clean it and take care of it themselves.

In turn Nana and her companion students, teachers, chaperones and town officials had plenty to share with their Didsbury hosts, said Lana. “Sushi, calligraphy and origami – and noodle night.”

Nana brought the basic ingredients for an evening Japanese meal; she had a list for the groceries that Lana needed to complete the recipes for a memorable Japanese dinner at the Kreisers’.

The five days Nana spent with the family on their five-acre property east of town included group activities including a wiener roast and a dinner in the multi-purpose room at the Memorial Complex.

They went bowling and to the Didsbury Museum where Nana and Grace dressed in period costumes. “On that day, we saw our history through Nana’s eyes,” said Lana.

A highlight of the visit was a day they spent at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and in the Morren Valley at Drumheller.

“This trip is a big deal for the Miki students who have to compete to qualify for it, including writing an essay,” said Lana.

“I think it gives both groups (the Miki Town and Didsbury students) a global perspective and view of a bigger world,” she said.

“Our family has volunteered to host a student again this year and it has renewed our desire to travel more.

“Barry and I believe that we would rather have stamps on our passports than things in our home.”

The Kreisers have taken Grace and son Simon to Australia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the U.S., including Hawaii.

Now Japan is on the list and they have an open invitation from the Matsuno family to visit Miki-Town.

Families who also want to host a Japanese student from Miki are invited to contact Christofer Atchison at the Town of Didsbury by calling 403-335-3391.

This will be the 11th year of the program, said Atchison, the town’s manager of legislative services.

Participating families open their homes and daily lives to the students and close and lasting friendships have resulted from past exchanges, Atchison said.

“This need not be expensive or extravagant,” said Atchison. “There are no set prerequisites for participating families.”

“Fortunately Nana spoke English because our Japanese is, well, it isn’t.”LANA KREISERDIDSBURY RESIDENT

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About Author

Frank Dabbs is a veteran political and business journalist, author of four books and editor of several more. He is a longtime Mountain View Publishing columnist.