Seven Opihi College students stand in front of Eniwa City Hall with their teacher
All seven students have been studying Japanese for between two to four years and the Japan trip was an opportunity to expose them to language and cultural experiences that are impossible to replicate in the classroom setting.
The school has been running the Japan trip for more than ten years – almost as long as the Japanese language programme has been going at Opihi College.
The school trips began when Timaru's sister city relationship with Eniwa city was first blossoming and the school trips were seen as another way for the two cities to connect. Eniwa is a city of 69,000 on the northern island of Hokkaido.
Eric Lindblom, the Japanese language teacher who led the trip, says, “The Japan trip has become a biennial event that strengthens our sister city ties and gives our students the opportunity to step out of the classroom and use the skills that we're learning.”
The first two weeks in Japan were spent living with Japanese families and attending two high schools in Eniwa.
The students observed classes at the schools, participated in after school sports and experienced cultural activities alongside their host families.
Opihi College students Louise and Emilie are pictured at the Japanese high school in Eniwa with new friends
The homestay experience and getting to live with local families was a highlight of the trip, Mr Lindblom says.
"It was great to hear the students excitedly describe a new experience that they had with their homestay family or at school.
"They came to realise that while there are many differences in our daily lives, there are also many similarities to our school and family values."
The group then travelled south on the three-hundred-kilometre-per-hour Shinkansen to visit Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima and Tokyo, where they visited historical sites such as the Hiroshima Peace Park and Otagi Nenbutsu temple.
Mr Lindblom says while the students did experience some homesickness over the course of the trip these experiences enabled them to grow in confidence and learn a lot about themselves and their resilience.
“Every student who goes on the trip grows in their own way. All students grow in confidence and independence because of all of the many new and different experiences that they have while in Japan.
"It's through the difficult situations that students rely on their resilience and work through their challenges."
Opihi College student Lucy says the purpose of going to Japan was not just about improving their Japanese language skills but also about experiencing new things and appreciating another culture.
"It gave us a real understanding of the language and culture we are studying, all while making amazing friends and memories along the way."
Japan Study Grants kindly funded by Nakashimato Co Ltd. of Japan.