Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Japanese students learn and teach

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Saki Okubo, 17, one of thirteen students visiting from St. Ursula High School in Hachinohe, Japan, makes new friends Tuesday at Ursuline Academy in Blue Ash on Tuesday.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
BLUE ASH - They don't speak the same language, yet students at Ursuline Academy share plenty with their Japanese counterparts.

Basketball, Avril Lavigne and the Ursuline tradition are just three.

The all-girls' school of 600 students is hosting 13 Japanese students and two teachers from St. Ursula High School in Hachinohe, Japan, through March 25.

Ursuline Academy in Blue Ash and St. Ursula High School in Hachinohe, Japan, both follow the Ursuline tradition. But there are significant differences:
At the Japanese school, the teachers change classrooms while the students stay put.
High school in Japan is a three-year program starting in April, with graduation in March.
Enrollment at Ursuline is about 600; at St. Ursula, it's about 350 students.
Vacations at the Japanese school include one month for summer, three weeks for winter and two weeks in the spring.
The school day in Japan is slightly longer, lasting from 8:35 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
In Japan, lunch is noodles and rice - not tacos and French fries.
Maggie Downs
The purpose of the visit is to help the Japanese students, who arrived in Cincinnati on Sunday, improve their English-speaking skills. The program started in 1995 and was repeated in 1997 and 1999. Some of the students were scheduled to visit last year, but chose not to come after Sept. 11.

Some cultural differences were obvious Tuesday morning during an English conversation class.

"In-ter-est-ing," two of the Japanese students sounded out carefully, pausing after each deliberate syllable, when asked about their impressions of Ursuline.

They mimicked how the American students sit at their desks - all curved shoulders and hunched backs, slouching over and sprawling out. They were surprised by the enormous backpacks that weigh down the American teens. They laughed at the pencils that poke through the girls' ponytails.

Their starched uniforms - white shirt, plaid skirt, navy blazer, red bow tie, black tights - are a sharp contrast to the Ursuline attire of a polo shirt, plaid skirt and Ursuline spirit wear. The only deviation among the Japanese students is in the black loafers - some have buckles.

"She gets up every morning and her appearance is impeccable," said junior and host student Christine Mueller of Loveland about her guest, Rena Tsutabayashi. "She probably thinks I'm a total slob.

"It's funny because they come from an all-girls' school, and they look great," Christine said, while motioning toward her sneakers, skirt and Ursuline sweatshirt.

"Here, we're like, all girls? Well then, who cares how we look?"

The Japanese students also abide by regulations:

No makeup.

No accessories, including jewelry or hair barrettes.

No dyed or bleached hair.

"So many rules," said accompanying teacher Mio Sasaki, holding a hand to her forehead in an exasperated gesture.

If they don't follow the rules?

"Teacher is angry," said senior Chie Yokoyama, twisting her face into a growl and making a claw with her hand.

The sports they play are similar, with quite a few basketball, softball and badminton clubs. They also participate in kendo, a traditional Japanese sport that is like fencing, only with bamboo sticks instead of swords.

Yet underneath all this, Catholicism is a common denominator. The Ursuline Sisters of Brown County, who came to rural Ohio from France, founded the Blue Ash school in 1896. Meanwhile, Ursulines were established in Japan by Canadians shortly after World War II. The Hachinohe school is a 350-student, all-girls' Ursuline institution, located about three hours north of Tokyo.

"It's nice to know that there's something in my life I share with someone thousands of miles away," Christine Mueller said.

The host families have been planning activities for the visiting students, most revolving around area landmarks - Newport Aquarium, Krohn Conservatory, Kenwood Towne Centre. .

Senior Betsy Brichlerof Blue Ash plans to take her guest to peruse the international foods at Jungle Jim's grocery store in Fairfield.

"It's been hard with the language barrier to communicate," she said. "But it's really kind of cool, because each day she's getting a little more comfortable with us."

Betsy's family purchased Japanese cassette tapes and books in the hopes of learning a few phrases before Chie arrived.

"Turns out it's more overwhelming than we thought it would be," she said.

Prior to Rena's visit to Christine, the two traded e-mails for a couple of months.

"It's cool, because we already knew we could relate to each other in some way," Christine said. "It's really neat to see how things are similar and different at the same time."

The visit will culminate in a sayonara party on March 24, thrown by the Japanese students as a thank you to the school and the host families. It will include demonstrations of calligraphy, origami, dancing, music and a tea ceremony.

But for the Ursuline students, it will be their chance to say thank you for the learning experience.

"This is teaching me so much about opening up outside my own life," Christine said. "To make friends outside my own box."


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