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HOME > Homestay > Comments from host families > Comments > Interview: Host Family 2  Mr. & Mrs. N

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Interview: Host Family 2  Mr. & Mrs. N

 This is the second interview in which we actually visited the home of a host family to find out about the reality of homestays, the heartfelt interaction and the effect of that interaction on the local community.
(This interview took place in March 2010, but due to unavoidable circumstances at JICE, there has been a considerable delay in posting this. We apologize for the delay.)

*  *  *

 It was dinnertime when we visited the home of Mr. and Mrs. N, who had been kind enough to take in two Vietnamese high school girls. They were in the midst of eating shabu shabu (thin slices of meat and vegetables cooked in a broth at the table).
 Everyone seemed to be having fun, plucking tasty morsels out of the pot.


 The N family consists of Mr. N, a kindly former teacher who now works for the city office, and Mrs. N, who has a bright personality and is a good cook.

 Mr. N switched on his computer and showed us photographs of the area in all four seasons.
 In the spring, the apricot blossom in the N family's garden blooms in all its glory. The two schoolgirls were amazed by its beauty and could not take their eyes off the photograph, saying
"Is it ume (Japanese apricot)? Or cherry blossom?"

 Next, photographs taken in winter were shown. As we looked at pictures of the period when the snowfall is at its heaviest, Mr. and Mrs. N explained about them. The girls stared in wonder at the volume of snow and suddenly launched into a Vietnamese language lesson, saying,
"In Vietnamese, the word for snow is tuyết."

 Then Mrs. N brought over a soy sauce made with fish called 'shottsuru' and explained,
"Look, the color is different from the ordinary soy sauce over here, isn't it? In ancient times, before we started making soy sauce with soybeans, all sauce was like this."
 In the room, warm from the fireplace, there was soon a lively conversation about a variety of topics.


Q: What did you do today?

(Mr. N) Today we went to a ski slope. The girls were really happy. We went to the top on the lift and then came back down on sledges.

 Since the girls had come all the way to Nagano in winter, we wanted them to experience the coldness and texture of snow. That's why we deliberately didn't give them gloves. Without our having to teach them, they made snowballs and threw them at us!

 After sledging, we had lunch at a sushi restaurant where the plates of sushi come around on a conveyor belt; the shopping trip that followed went on for a long time and we just couldn't get back home! They were choosing presents for their fathers and brothers back home in Vietnam.

 After that, we visited the temple of another host family*1, and that was it for today.

 Actually, we had wanted to take them to Obuse, to see the old streets and experience its unique culture, but now we've decided to do that tomorrow instead.

((You need to be able to speak freely about what's OK and what's not))

Q: When did you first become a host family?

(Mr. N) This was the second time that we've hosted children.

 Until now, we've mainly hosted adults, such as the vice-principal of a high school from the USA, and government personnel from Togo, in Africa. The first time we hosted someone must have been more than 10 years ago; it was my wife's decision.

 This time, we wanted to see children's smiles and have fun together. In addition, we speak freely without any hesitation about, for example, what's OK and what's not, so it's not that difficult.

 These children are friendly from the outset, and completely relaxed, so it already feels like they are our children.46-3.JPG

Q: Are you still in contact with the children you hosted before?

(Mr. N) They e-mail us about twice a month, along the lines of
"Are you well?,"
"How's the weather?,"
"This is what we did today."

 Now, they are university students, and they told us that they got bad marks in their mathematics exams, so they went to karaoke with their friends to take their minds off it. We also tell them about our lives here. If we're busy and don't reply immediately, they worry and e-mail us, saying,
"Why didn't you write back?"

((When we see them, we think "These are important things that we used to have in Japan but have somehow lost without noticing"))

Q: What is the attraction of being a host family?

(Mr. N) One is that the things that you come to see about a different country through children from that country are very interesting.

 Until now, I had a fixed perception of how Vietnam was. However, in talking to these girls, we discovered that there are many aspects in regard to which Vietnam is better than Japan, of which we had previously been unaware.

 For example, the Vietnamese high school students staying with us at the moment study at home for five hours every day, and the high school students we hosted before told us the same thing. In contrast, while Japanese high school students may study hard when it comes to exam time and while there may be some exceptions among students studying at schools focused on preparing students for entering university, in the majority of cases, Japanese high school students spend very little time studying at home. There are even some high school students in Japan who do not study at home at all.

 It seems that people who are trying to build up a country anew are different. It used to be like that in Japan in the past.

 The young people have their sights set high and are studying as hard as they can; I think Japan should learn from that.

 In addition, they have a very strong sense of camaraderie within their schools and communities, and I feel that they are showing us
"the important things that we used to have in Japan as well, but have somehow lost without noticing."46-4.JPG

((If you have the spirit of "hosting" people and a little time to spare, you can gain an awful lot))

 Another thing is that you become interested in that country.

 When it turned out that we would be hosting someone from Vietnam, we decided that we should learn a little about Vietnam.

 If Japanese people are asked to name a Vietnamese city, they would normally say Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, but there are many other attractive cities, such as Hue, Dong Hoi and Hoi An, amongst which are the cities these children come from. So one develops an interest.

 In addition, one becomes more proactive, trying to find out more about that country. If you have the spirit of "hosting" people and a little time to spare, it can actually be a major learning experience for you as well.

 If you keep saying
"I'll host someone when I've got a bit of leeway,"
 it ends up that time passes and you don't get around to doing it. With us, we decide first of all that we will host someone and then we adjust our schedule

((What is important is the desire to join together in doing something that you can do yourselves))

Q: What is the significance for the community of opening up to international exchange?

(Mr. N) This is something that comes through a little in the consciousness of the local residents.

 Until now, there was a strong sense of relying on the government for everything. However, the government is also in a difficult economic position. Consequently, we are reaching a point when we need to change our own attitudes.

 Rather than relying on someone or something else, it is important to have an attitude of
"let's do it ourselves."
  It's that sense of everyone joining together to do things. It is just the same in international exchange.

 The people of this region are, at heart, very compassionate and there are many who think
"If there is someone in trouble, let's help them out."
 Despite this, if the other person is a foreigner, there are times when that spirit just ebbs away.

 There were various reasons for this, such as
"We don't understand each other's language,"
"Their lifestyle is different" or "It's hard to get involved."
 However, all we need to do is tell people,
"If you've got any problems, just talk to us," or "If there's anything we can do to help, we'll be happy to lend you a hand."

 Until now, in international exchange, there has been an attitude that it is something that a specific person does, but by hosting people in the community, we can take the pressure off a bit, saying,
"Let's work together and do what we can ourselves."
 If we do this, the desire to take a step further into international exchange with foreign countries and people will arise naturally.

 Moreover, even if one becomes involved in international exchange because one thinks that it might be fun and interesting, before one knows it, one will want to understand more about the other person's country and people, and, conversely, will want to tell the other person more about the attractions of one's own region. In this sense, it's a good opportunity to take another look at one's own region.

 Furthermore, if interaction and the exchange of information between the people involved in that international exchange can be achieved, the circle of links within the community will also widen. If we think about this, we can see that international exchange is actually of great significance to local people.


(("I want to see the joyous faces of the children" "Let's use this as a learning experience for ourselves as well"
We always want to keep this starting point in mind))

Q: What is your understanding of international exchange?
(Mr. N) Being able to interact with people who have a different culture, history, way of thinking and way of living from oneself is fun and also educational. If the other person is from another country, this applies even more. In addition, if the other person is pleased as a result of this interaction, then it makes us happy as well.

 Moreover, through direct contact, each other's countries and people feel closer and more familiar. International exchange becomes an opportunity to understand each other.

 If exchange with the other person's country broadens, then it can become the foundation for friendship between the peoples of those countries in the future.

 I always want to keep in mind our starting points:
"I want to see the joyous faces of the children" and "Let's use this as a learning experience for ourselves as well"

Q: What do you think the relationship should be between the local government and citizens in international exchange?

(Mr. N) I believe that rather than focusing on the local government level, revitalizing activities at the citizen level and promoting them ourselves will lead to true international exchange.

 In this area, there are people working on international exchange activities in a variety of forms.

 The local international exchange association is a group of people who gather together, while recognizing the distinctiveness of these activities. If any of the members has a problem, we cooperate and support each other, and promote interaction at the citizen level.

 Of course, the city office provides support and cooperation for exchange activities, which is helpful. Rather than piggy-packing on local government activities, it is important for local citizens to cultivate their own activities. It would be better for local government to be an intermediary and provide support for these activities.

((I want Japan to participate in the group that is "Asia" in worldwide discussion forums))

Q: Tell us about Asia and Japan in the future.

(Mr. N) Japan has been oriented towards America for a long time, so when America turns away from us a little, we get into a bit of a panic. Until now, I myself have also looked towards the US and Europe, and have invited Western people to our home.

 However, from now on, I believe that we should actually turn towards Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is close to Japan and if we can understand each other, we will be able to think together about various things as a unit, and work together as "Asia."

 For example, in sport, the West is gradually changing the rules in their favor. In addition, in the fishing industry, there is the problem of restrictions on tuna fishing.

 In such discussions, I believe that if Japan could participate as part of an Asian group, from the same standpoint, rather than as a single country, then in the future, Japan would receive support with regard to a variety of aspects.

 In order for Japan to be understood and for us to get on well, we must firstly get to know our partner countries. International exchange is a good opportunity for this. 46-6.JPG

Q: What do you think of the JENESYS programme?

(Mr. N) At the individual level, I was grateful that it creates opportunities to interact with young people from East Asia, which we would not otherwise have.

 In terms of the operational aspects, what I thought was the best was that, during the homestay, JICE provided the high school students with a 24-hour emergency phone.*2

 I'm sure they were really grateful to be told
"If you have any problems, call us anytime."
 There are actually no problems, usually, but they're bound to feel a little anxious about what they should do if anything were to happen.

 For example, illness. They look unwell, but if one doesn't speak the language, it's hard to know where the problem is; are they in pain? Are they cold? Should we take them to hospital? Perhaps the person themselves does not really understand their own condition. In that situation, if they use the emergency phone, they can explain in detail in their own language, so they have peace of mind, which is very important, and I'm grateful for that.

Q: What requests do you have of the JENESYS programme?

(Mr. N) With regard to making it easy for host families to accept young people, it would be better not to have the programme at the beginning or end of the fiscal year.

 I wish they could come here at a time when they can really enjoy the characteristics of the four seasons in the region.

 With regard to the days of the week, it's easier for people who work during the week to accept homestays when they are held from Friday night to Saturday or Sunday, like the JENESYS programme.

 In addition, it would be good to cooperate with the city government and exchange groups to create an environment in which it is easy for new people to think
"I will start getting involved, I want to start getting involved"
in exchange and host family activities.

((The most important thing is for exchange to become broader and to continue for a long time))

Q: What is an environment in which it is easy for new people with an interest in exchange and host family activities to get involved?

(Ms. N) My friends are also interested in becoming host families, but there are those who say
"But I can't speak English."
However, I respond that,
"It's not possible to become fluent in English in a short time - you should just try it once, as soon as possible."

(Mr. N) Perhaps it would be a good idea to invite to the introductory meeting those who want to try it and are interested, but don't know what to do, telling them,
"Even if you won't be hosting someone this time, we would like you to come along if you're interested."

 Then, they can watch interaction and perhaps feel,
"Maybe I could manage that level of English,"
and it would be good if they then felt,
"OK, next time I'll try it."

 After all, the most important thing is for exchange to broaden and continue for a long time.

((It would be good to have a forum where host families can communicate with each other))

 Another thing is that I think it would be a good thing to have a forum where host families can communicate with each other.

 Last time we hosted a homestay, a family with whom we're close friends also hosted a high school student, so we cooperated and went bowling together, and then had a barbeque at their house in the evening. That meant that the children could experience two families.

 I thought it would be a good idea if we had opportunities to talk to each other at the explanatory meeting, the introductory meeting and the leaving party. If we could talk to each other about what we had done and what things the children had enjoyed, we would be able to share information. In addition, if host families share the feeling of
"It was good, wasn't it? Let's do it again!"
with each other, interaction will continue further. Then, over time, if someone among the host families who is reasonably proficient in English emerged, who was willing to support those who are not getting used to it, then it would truly become an activity at the citizen level. That is what I hope for.

I'd like people to approach it with the attitude that,
"Maybe I can't speak the language well, but I'm going to do my best to understand and to be understood"

Q: What message do you have for those who are becoming host families for the first time?

(Mr. N) As I just mentioned, the first thing everyone worries about is the language.

 If nobody in the family speaks the language at all, communication is a little difficult. It is difficult to convey meaning simply by using body language and pointing at things.

 So, if it comes down to what level of English language ability is required, I think that those with a junior high school level of English can do it reasonably well.

 Japanese people are under the impression that we have a culture that just doesn't permit mistakes. So everyone is reticent. But it's OK; we should take this interaction as an opportunity to learn English or the homestay guest's language to facilitate communication. If you have the courage to do this, it will be fun and interesting.

 I want to let as many people as possible know about this. I'd like people to approach it with the attitude that,
"Maybe I can't speak the language well, but I'm going to do my best to understand and to be understood."

 In addition, even if they have not hosted a homestay before, people who have been overseas have the foundations in place that make it easier for them to host a homestay, I believe. I think that if you believe you can communicate to some extent, you can host a homestay.

((If you approach it with a relaxed attitude and look after the children with a warm heart, you can do it))

 After the language, there is hospitality. There is no need for any special kind of hospitality. But ultimately, everyone wants to do it - all host families do. They want to give them some special kind of food, or take them to some particular place.

 But I think it's a good thing that there are various family types. There may be some homes that provide splendid meals, but simple meals are just fine. In fact, it's actually better to provide them with ordinary meals when they are in another country.

 So if you approach it with a relaxed attitude and look after the children with a warm heart, I believe you can do it.

*  *  *

 After the interview, Mr. and Mrs. N were kind enough to say to me,
"Next time, please come and see us as friends, rather than for work - we have plenty of room for you to stay."
 I gathered at their home and gained a really good understanding of why everyone was all smiles. Thank you for your hospitality that continued late into the night.


*1 We also visited this home the next morning. Click here to read that interview.

*2 During the homestay, we lend mobile phones to the young people visiting Japan (one per group of young people at each home) in case of emergencies. A coordinator who speaks Japanese and the native tongue of the young people concerned is available to answer their calls, 24 hours a day, so they can always contact someone in the event of an emergency. Click here for further details.

>>>Their exchange is continue. Click here for Mr. & Mrs. N's Post-Programme exchange reports