For a group of Burnaby high school students on vacation this month, the best part of spring break was being at school – in Japan.
Twenty-eight students from Moscrop Secondary School and Bryne Creek Community School travelled to Japan with the Kakehashi Project, a youth exchange program designed to promote mutual understanding and deepened relationships between Canada and Japan.
The one-week, all-expenses-paid trip was funded by the Japanese government.
“The experience just taught the kids so much about themselves and the world and different cultures,” said Byrne Creek vice-principal Barry Callister, one of four chaperones who went on the trip.
In Japan, the students visited culturally significant sites, including the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and a shrine on Enoshima Island.
During the trip, Japanese students taught them glass blowing and Furoshiki, traditional cloth wrapping.
But the highlight of the journey was visiting the homes of their Japanese “buddies” and going to their schools, according to Callister
“Our kids loved the fact that they went to see these houses and they had lunch there,” he said. “They got to experience real-world Japan versus shrines and museums … I saw the kids light up when we went into the schools.”
The Byrne Creek students were assigned their buddies in November, according to Callister, and initially made contact online.
They then hosted the Japanese students in January.
“They developed a very close relationship very quickly. It was great to see,” Callister said.
For their trip to Japan, the Byrne Creek students learned the Killer Whale song, created by Squamish Nation Elder Latash Nahanee, and performed it with permission for 100 Japanese students.
For Moscrop students, the exchange was a long time coming.
The school had hosted a contingent of Japanese students back in January 2020, and a group of Moscrop students was supposed to have travelled to Japan that spring, but that trip was cancelled because of COVID-19.
But Moscrop has kept up online communication with its sister school, according to Callister, and the trip was resurrected this year.
Callister said one Moscrop Grade 12 student told an organizer the trip was the “best learning experience in their high school education.”
“It was such a cool experience for these guys. What a great opportunity,” Callister said.