The annual student delegation from Abashiri, Japan, arrived on Saturday to spend a few days in Port Alberni.
Ten students and two adult chaperones, as well as Abashiri city representative and translator, Shinko Tsunoda, made up the group as part of the regular exchange trips between the two sister cities.
The delegation arrived early Saturday evening from Victoria, where they were welcomed by the community matched with host families.
Councillor Denis Sauve said these families are vital to the Port Alberni International Twinning Society and without them, the exchanges would not be able to continue.
The society’s president, Sherri McKinnon, said she is seeing people who were involved in the past make return commitments to helping out.
“It’s great, we are seeing second and third generations getting involved again,” she said. “[Christie Erickson} hosted a student when she was in elementary school and went back as an adult on a personal trip. Now her family is hosting a student for the first time this week.”
Ethan Craig was at the welcome ceremony where he was reunited with a boy whose family he stayed with in 2014.
“We are seeing more and more of that so I’m hoping that generates more interest,” McKinnon said.
This year, Bryce Blake and his family are hosting 11-year old, Ruri Nakajima. Blake took part in the inaugural trip as a Grade 6 student in 1986 and he and his wife, Deanna Little, wanted to provide the same opportunity for their two daughters.
“We will probably look at sending our daughter for the same experience,” Little said.
On Saturday night, they had a barbecue for Ruri and on Sunday showed her the sites around town.
Stacey and Brent Manson are hosting a student, Riko Monma, for the first time.
“I was going to go to Japan but decided not to and still wanted to be involved,” said their daughter, Libby.
Both McKinnon and society member, Laurie Morphet, who coordinated the host families, want to see if this helps increase momentum with future exchanges.
“It is such an amazing experience for everyone who opens their home to host a student for four nights,” Morphet said.
There has been more engagement with social media, as well as greater awareness in Abashiri. The Port Alberni Fan Club there hold cultural days for the community and fundraise to help students travel to Port Alberni.
They also built a Port Alberni café in the Museum of Northern People.
“Before Christmas, they had an event for the kids to decorate trees and taught them about Port Alberni,” McKinnon said.
“They are doing a lot of PR to spread the word and the interest from kids is still really strong.”
This week, the students will attend the various schools attended by the children in their host families and go bowling. On Tuesday, the group will entertain with a special performance at Alberni Elementary and at the end of the day, have a Sayonara party.