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Cultural exchange: Japanese students and local families learn from each other

By David Talley | Published Wednesday, August 16, 2017
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Host Crew

HOST CREW – Members of the Haschke and Decker family sit with their Japanese exchange students Riho and Rio. Pictured are (front, from left) Maranda Haschke, Riho Matsushita, Rio Makishi, Ian Decker, Ellie Decker, Emma Haschke, Emma Decker, (back, from left) Allen Haschke, Julia Haschke and Lisa Decker. The families hosted the students for a month, sharing American and Texan traditions with the two. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Two Wise County families this summer welcomed guests from across the globe.

The Haschkes, of Decatur, and the Deckers, of Newark, each hosted an exchange student from Japan as part of a program through the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to help participating Japanese families learn English.

The program teaches the families as a unit, sending one family member abroad at the end of the year for an immersive experience. Julia Haschke said her family’s exchange student, 13-year-old Riho Matsushita, from Shizuoka, Japan, has quickly become part of the nest. The Deckers are hosting Rio Makishi, also 13, of Yokohama.

The Haschkes had been on the lookout for hosting opportunities before learning about the program in June.

GROUP PROJECT – The girls (standing) Riho Matsushita, Emma Decker, Maranda Haschke, Emma Haschke, (seated) Ellie Decker and Rio Makishi show off one of many projects they completed together during the month-long exchange program. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“We got a frantic email from 4-H in College Station sent out to all homeschooled 4-H families that they were in desperate need to find host families for five girls,” Julia said.

The Extension service received such an overwhelming response that all students were easily placed.

Julia’s husband, Allen, said their oldest daughter had approached them about wanting to visit Japan someday, so the program was an opportunity to get a glimpse of Japanese culture before making the trip.

“When we saw the email, Julia got pretty excited,” he said. “She forwarded it to me. We’ve had family members host exchange students before and had a really positive experience.

“This seemed like it was perfect for us. Because we hadn’t ever done it before, we weren’t sure what to expect, but it was only like one month, instead of a school year or a whole summer,” Allen said. “A week after (our daughter) told us she wanted to go, I got the email and we’re like, ‘this is meant to be.'”

Communication between the families and their students has, thus far, been pretty vague, the Haschkes said.

“The first day, I’d describe it as awkward,” Allen said.

The family downloaded translation apps on several devices, which has helped with communication. Both girls studied English for several years before coming, but rely on various hand signals and an English dictionary for most conversations.

Julia said while the girls were here the families tried to visit and participate in as many traditional Texan and American activities as possible, including the Fort Worth Stockyards, zoo and water gardens, Main Event, Sonic, a trampoline park and In-N-Out Burger. As active 4-Hers, the families have also shared their love of animals with Rio and Riho, with mixed results.

“Riho doesn’t have animals,” Julia said, “and we have lots of animals here. Like our dog, she was scared about the dog. They live in really small houses so most people do not keep animals.”

The families also got together with another host family in Saginaw for an American Thanksgiving and planned to celebrate an American Christmas with cookies and gifts before the girls leave.

In turn, Rio and Riho have shared parts of their culture with the Haschke and Decker families. The two frequently give gifts to their hosts and taught the families’ daughters origami and how to spell their names in Japanese.

The two have also shared recipes, with the Haschkes introducing Riho to American cheeseburgers, hot dogs, pizza and snow cones. In turn, she’s prepared traditional Japanese dishes onigiri and nikujaga for the crew.

“It [nikujaga] was like a beef stew, but it had a lot of soy sauce in it and sugar, so it had a different taste to it, but it was pretty good,” Allen said.

Onigiri is hand-formed triangles of rice traditionally served with salmon or pickled umi.

The girls and their families also exchanged candy from their country, to the general dislike of both parties.

“We hate everything from Japan, and she hates everything from America,” Julia said. Lisa Decker said their family had the same results, with the exception of Sour Patch kids, which proved popular.

Rio and Riho’s American adventure will wrap up this week with the two flying home Thursday.

They didn’t offer much commentary on their time in the country but took time to draw parallels between life in Japan and America.

“Americans and Japanese are kind,” Riho said.

“And friendly,” Rio added.

Another striking similarity: “Homework,” they agreed.

Art of Origami

ART OF ORIGAMI – The Haschke and Decker children practice origami with exchange student Rio Makishi. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

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