By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
The Stubbs family spent their summer vacation the typical way: trips to Six Flags Over Georgia, Zoo Atlanta, Stone Mountain and a Braves' game. Having Japanese student Chinami Irikura along, though, sometimes made it feel like their first trip.
As part of the Georgia 4-H Labo Summer Inbound Program, 12-year-old Chinami spent a month in the Stubbs DeKalb County home. The program pairs Georgia families with students and chaperones from Japan.
Host families must have children 11 to 17 years old and share their home and their meals.
Don't put on a show
"The goal isn't to put on a great show," said Jeff Buckley, coordinator of Georgia 4-H's international and citizenship programs. "It's to live your daily life: eat dinner, do laundry -- just normal daily life activities. There's no one recipe for how to be a host family. You just have to interact."
In the Southern tradition, most Georgia host families make a point to entertain their Japanese guests.
This year's experience wasn't the first for the Stubbs family. They hosted Chinami's brother Ryosuke two years ago.
"Ryosuke was shy, and he mostly hung out with my son Charlie and played video games," said Denise Stubbs. "Chinami was totally different. The minute she saw us, she ran into my arms. And she was full of questions the entire visit."
Communication is a big part of being a successful host, Buckley said. Some students speak a little English. "Some speak very little English," he said. "This actually helps the students learn communication skills. They have to learn how to communicate with someone who speaks a different language."
Chinami taught the Stubbs children how to sing the Japanese alphabet. "And every word we taught her in English, she taught us in Japanese," Stubbs said.
Trying new foods
Stubbs loved watching the students learn about America.
"Chinami pointed out all the differences for us," she said. "There are a lot of Japanese foods we don't have here, but she was thrilled to see Oreo cookies. She thought they only had them in Japan."
Stubbs introduced Chinami to American and Southern foods. By the end of the month, her favorite American foods were chipped beef and gravy, Krispy Kreme donuts, McDonald's cheeseburgers and sweet tea.
"She called our tea 'Georgia tea' and loved it so much we had to send her home with a huge supply of Luzianne tea bags, a tea pitcher and a measuring cup," Stubbs said. "Now she makes it every day back in Japan."
Georgia families hosted 13 Japanese students and two chaperones through the program this summer. Laurie Cantrell of Statesboro hosted chaperone Kyoko Kawabata this summer.
Host an adult
On most days, Kyoko went to work with Cantrell, but she spent one work day with Cantrell's husband Gary, a media specialist.
"It was the school's open house and she read some Japanese
books to the children and played games," she said. "Now Kyoko and one of the teachers are going to set up an e-mail exchange between their students."
A music lover, Kyoko enjoyed accompanying the Cantrells on their family vacation to the Belle Chere Music Festival in Asheville. "She was very excited to go on 'an American road trip,'" Cantrell said.
Back in Atlanta, the Stubbs have made lifelong friends in the Irikura family, despite the fact that they've never met or spoken to one another.
"We write e-mails back and forth using a computer program that converts English to Japanese and vice versa," Stubbs said. "Our families have become wonderful friends, and now my eldest daughter Elizabeth wants to go to Japan through the program next summer."
If you are interested in hosting a student or chaperone next summer, contact Buckley at (706) 542-8735 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)