Last fall, I had the privilege to meet the owner of Hello World Okinawa (学校・教育団体向けまちなか留学 | まちなか留学 ハローワールド | 沖縄の県内留学 (hello-world.city), and I upon his request, I immediately let him know that we would be delighted to host Japanese students in our home. Getting set up to be a host family was simple. Someone from Hello World came to our home, took pictures of us, the house, the yard, and asked us several questions. Shortly thereafter, we were placed in their system, and moving forward, we could be contacted to host students. We were excited for this cultural opportunity, and we had hopes that it would help us strengthen our relationships with people from our host nation.
We were given many opportunities to host, but we had to cancel time and time again because of Covid-related restrictions. Finally!!! We were given a couple of weeks of freedom, and during that time, we hosted 3 boys.
When we signed up for this, I pictured school-age children, but to my surprise, our 3 students were men. They were 18-year-old students in vocational school, and they were visiting us to practice their English. I envision their teacher telling them to “get out and go meet some Americans. That is how you will actually learn English. There is only so much you can learn in the classroom.” Once again, this is simply my imagination, but because the boys were so shy, I couldn’t dig deep enough to figure out WHY there were spending the weekend with us. All I knew is that they wanted to become more proficient at our difficult language. These 18-year-olds were kind, polite, and still very young…or maybe they weren’t that young, and I am just starting to age. Either way, entertaining them ended up being easier than I thought it would be. Just feed them! Isn’t that what all 18 year old boys want? FOOD! I haven’t cooked for a crowd in a while, but it was something I knew we could do.
We started our weekend at the Ginoza Farm Lab (location – 26.473497, 127.951668) for burgers, because Americans love burgers, and these burgers are my favorite on the island. The boys loved the burgers, and it was a great place to begin to get to know one another. They also loved Gus, which of course thrilled me.
The weather that wasn’t fantastic, but it was nice enough to launch kayaks. After lunch, we changed over and got on the water. The boys said that kayaking was difficult, but they kept going out for more. We only own 2 kayaks, and there were 3 boys, so I saw them do rock-paper-scissors to determine who would get to paddle first. All boys are the same. Rock-paper-scissors is the same game that my brothers would do as kids. The language may be different, but people are the same.
We hung out on the beach for a while, and we enjoyed watching them kayak and play with Gus. Once again, I was thrilled that they liked my dog so much. I like anyone who likes Gus.
After they showered and changed, it was time for dinner. Nick and I made a ton of food so we invited neighbors to join us. Fortunately, the weather was nice enough that we could eat outside because fitting 8 of us in our small home would have been very difficult. We enjoyed ribs, cheesy mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and cheesy garlic bread. Everyone seemed to enjoy the food, and there was lot of conversation around the dinner table. So far this hosting thing was a success, and I began to feel more and more comfortable that I could be a good American host.
I did not prepare dessert, but we had a neighbor prepare a bonfire, and another neighbor taught them how to make smores. I missed all of the smores excitement because I was doing dishes, but I hear it was a hit. I didn’t mind missing the smores; I was just happy that people were having fun!
After bonfire time, it was a little too early for bed, so we found another neighbor-couple who opened up their home for videogames and arm wrestling. The Japanese boys loved it, and I was relieved because we don’t have video games. I also didn’t feel like this crew really wanted to play our board games, but both of those activities were a hit, and the evening was a success. It was time for bed.
The next morning, we woke up for more eating which included blueberry muffins right out of the oven, cheesy scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage. The boys took pictures of their food and ate all of it. We still had a few hours with them but not enough time for a big excursion so we headed to Nature Mirai for a walk. It was lovely until the rain began so we had to cut it short.
We went from the nature walk to a brief history lesson on Hip-Hop. It made perfect sense to me. Every one from every culture likes music, and Hip-Hop has such a interesting evolvement, so I thought it was perfect. All of the boys, including my husband, enjoyed the brief talk and the music – thanks to YouTube – while I worked on lunch.
What’s for lunch? My favorite thing: TACOS!!! The tacos were a hit, but the tomato-based-flavorful rice was NOT. It may have been too different from their simple, delicious white rice. Using Google-translate, I let them know that it is not rude to not clean-your-plate in American homes, especially since we had JUST had a big breakfast a few hours ago. They literally said, “thank you.” They were so relieved that they didn’t have to eat it, and my feelings were not hurt one bit. I actually got a chuckle out of it. Japanese are so polite, and I just want everyone comfortable and happy all the time.
Once the taco eating was done, we pulled out all of the snacks, and the boys called it Christmas. We shared chips, chocolate candy, various sweets, and they were delighted to have some treats to take home to share with their families. I was delighted that they were so happy.
I was so nervous going into the weekend, but I quickly was reminded that I know how to cook for a small crowd, that my cooking is pretty good after all, that my neighbors are the best. (It took a village to help me entertain our special guests.) I was also reminded that my husband and I are a good team; we did a great job hosting these young men. They felt that they had improved on their English. They seemed to have some fun, and they had a unique experience during this Covid environment, which has been a challenge on this small island over the past year. Overall, it was a wonderful experience, and I look forward to doing it again!
Anytime I got nervous, I just kept telling myself a quote that another neighbor tells me: “You just have to get really comfortable being uncomfortable.” He is right.
The fun happens when you are comfortable being uncomfortable.