By Vanessa Broadbent
Christine Maurer says that Google Translate “was a saviour” for her this weekend.
The 14-year-old, along with the rest of her family, hosted Aidi Koike, 13, and Kanon Ueno, 14, as part of the Oliver Tourism Association’s exchange program with the Town’s sister city of Bandai, Japan.
The two Grade 9 girls knew more English than Christine expected, but she said using the internet as a translator made things even simpler.
“We spoke into the microphone and it spoke out in Japanese and that’s how we spoke with each other. It was awesome.”
Aidi and Kanon were joined by seven of their classmates, as well as two adults, and toured the Oliver area for the weekend. The group arrived on Saturday evening and left Tuesday morning.
During their three days in the South Okanagan they snowshoed Mount Baldy, visited the Nk’mip Desert Cultural Centre, and toured Southern Okanagan Secondary School, all while getting to know their peers in Oliver.
Although Bandai is Oliver’s sister city, Christine didn’t expect the towns to actually be very similar. She said it was hard to picture a rural town with a population under 4,000 in the one of the world’s more densly populated countries.
“We asked if their hometown look like Oliver,” she said. “They said yes. They have a lake and mountains and valleys and stuff like that.
“It’s just like another version of Oliver on the other side of the world.”
Now that the Maurer family has opened their home to the students, Christine might have the opportunity to visit Bandai next year.
Beth Garrish, who headed up organizing the exchange, said that although tentative there are plans in the works for another exchange next year, this time allowing students from Oliver to travel to Bandai.
Normally, the same students whose families hosted the exchange students are applicable to go.
But Garrish said the most difficult part of hosting this exchange was a “lack of interest of host families,” which she thinks could be a result of timing, with many families leaving town for spring break holidays.
“We didn’t get the response that we were hoping for.”
The plan was for visiting students to stay with families that have children close to the same age, but only two of the five host families had 14-15-year-old members.
“We like to have them billeted with kids with similar ages so that then we can take those kids and send them over to Bandai the next year,” Garrish said.
“The hope is really that it brings an awareness of the exchange so that we can maybe next year get a group of students that would be interested in going over there.”
But the low volunteer turnout for this trip didn’t affect the group’s moral and Garrish said the weekend “ended up being phenomenal.”
“The families we got, they’re thoroughly enjoying the kids and the kids are enjoying them.“
Currently, there are no concrete plans for another exchange, but Garrish said it would be ideal to do one each year, and that anyone interested in hosting or traveling should contact the Oliver Tourism Association.