Atomi students visit Longview

13 March 2019

The local community college—Lower Columbia College (LCC)—has a program with its Japanese sister college, Atomi University, that allows students to spend their Spring Break in the United States. The intent is both cultural and educational, as students are hosted by American families and are exposed to some instruction in the English language (which they’ve already studied for some years before arriving).

Seeing an announcement seeking volunteer host families, I applied. Although not a family, I figured the school could determine whether I was eligible, and after some vetting I was so pronounced. My allotment would be two college women, whether always of the sophomore class I don’t know, but my two are.

The ladies are in residence for about three weeks, and they finish up their American Longview adventure with a few days touring Seattle. Then it’s back to the grind in their college near Tokyo.

The weekday activities occur at LCC, but evening and weekend activities are the responsibility of the host family. Not having had children, this was going to be an interesting experiment. In practice, we can’t exactly have conversations. The students’ written comprehension is pretty good, but oral proficiency understandably lags behind that. We use a memo pad a lot. But it turns out that with subtitles displayed, the girls can follow most movie and television content. And it turns out that Netflix has a lot of Japanese content. Between English-language and Japanese-language programming, evening activities were never a problem.

First days

The girls arrived in Portland and then were transported up to Longview where we hosts met them. I had arranged with my neighbor Keiko Taylor to accompany me in a tour of my house, so that they could see what is available and how it works. Essentially, I simply turned over most the house to the girls. My house has an addition that provides what is now a family room, and I took up residence there. The bedrooms are certainly minimally furnished, seeing how only one is normally in use, but since this visit is not primarily educational, I didn’t see any need to provide desks, etc. We’ll see later what else I didn’t think to provide.

Before we went home, we had our first American meal at Applebee’s in the Triangle Mall. A good introduction to Things American.

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A basic schedule was laid out. The girls would shower in the evening, stay up as late as they wanted, then be available for breakfast in the morning before I took them into school. So far as I can tell, this worked out perfectly. On the weekends they could catch up on sleep before we did whatever we’d planned for that time.

The first weekday was a holiday, so I offered a suggestion of a visit to “the beach.” This was received rather excitedly, probably being unaware that Washington State is not California. Whatever. We set out on Highway 4, reaching Long Beach an hour or so later. Long Beach on a cold day in January looked pretty much as it had the only other time I’ve visited: July. Very few people, and one huge cold shoreline. We took some pictures and then headed across the Columbia River for lunch with my brother, Lyle, in Astoria, Oregon.

We had a good lunch in the cute town of Astoria, and drove back to Longview on Highway 30, completing a common tour route for visitors to this area.

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School begins

Each school day comprised some kind of tour activity, then various English-language activities. The first day featured, understandably, a tour of the LCC campus. The girls later told me that LCC seems a bit bigger than their native Atomi. My only Washington State educational experience has been at the University of Washington, the campus of which is probably larger than the city of Longview, so LCC seems a bit small to me. Obviously, it meets the needs of its locality.

Subsequent tour activities then included the nearby city offices and the wonderful town library, an imposing structure that gives the civic center some welcome heft.

And the Longview Fire Department was also one of the daily activities. The girls got to try on fire equipment and be photographed. I asked whether they still have those poles the firemen slide down but, alas, no longer. Natsumi’s observation was that there were so many handsome young men but all were married! Whatever her intent, I think she noticed a feature of rural communities: adult life begins earlier than in the cities.

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The first week ended with a trip to Olympia and a look at state government. Oh, and a bit of shopping as well.

Our first weekend

Shopping is a favorite activity for lots of young women in any culture, so we drove down to Vancouver, Washington for a look at Vancouver Mall, the largest mall near us in Longview.

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Second week of school activity

Aside from the daily language instruction, the young women were treated to a talk on the role of women in American history. The next day, the chemistry of perfumes was explored.

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I looked at the girls’ rooms, a couple days after settling in, and saw that a valiant effort had been made to provide themselves with make-up facilities. Their efforts were severely limited by an almost complete lack of material. I searched first at IKEA for what I now know as a “vanity table,” but found nothing acceptable to me. Looking at Amazon showed many offerings, all in the “foo-foo” category. And then I saw Amazon’s own offering (through its AmazonBasics line): perfect. I ordered two, and they arrived early in the second week. So, that was that evening’s activity. I wanted each girl to build her own vanity. I would be available for advice, of course, having built probably a hundred devices over the past decades. They never needed advice. Each with her instruction manual and, probably, holding a screwdriver for the first time, they completed their vanities—with mirror lights!—in less than two hours. I told my ex-wife that I was as proud as any father watching his daughters win a science fair.

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A talk on economics greeted the girls on a later day.

Another talk, this on leadership skills, characterized a subsequent day.

And to end the week, the school’s production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest was attended by the young ladies, after presumably being explained. But of great interest (probably because I myself took part) was a trip to a huge paper mill currently owned by the Japanese Nippon Dynawave corporation. There we were treated to an explanation of the mill’s activities by its current managers, in Japanese of course. I might have understood little of the talks but the tour was quite impressive nonetheless.

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Our last weekend

We went to Triangle Mall, which includes a store much visited by female students: Ulta, a cosmetics emporium. With that completed, we walked over to the bowling alley and worked our way through two games. Our scores will remain as secret as Donald Trump’s school and tax records, but let’s just say we had a good time. Of course, as is required by American custom, the event was completed with a pizza dinner.

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Longview is almost unique in providing no “civilian” access to the Columbia River. At various other locations along its shore, communities are building restaurants and recreational facilities along the shoreline. But Rainier, Oregon, which has a fine Mexican restaurant right there on the shore, is an easy trip from Longview, so off we went. Try the Chicken Chipotle when you go.

The last school days

The week began with the girls doing some rock climbing, or at least learning how. Another day advanced their knowledge of the chemistry of perfume, and still another day explored some of our geological features, including tales of Mt St Helens. And the week finished with exposure to an American elementary school.

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[Pictures: Official goodbye]

Were our goals met?

My own participation was due in part to life-long contact with people and places from and in Asia. Although my China experiences certainly exceed any such Japanese encounters, residence on the island of Okinawa preceded even most Chinese activity for me. This was a chance to see a new generation of Japanese, and it was a true delight. The ladies who stayed with me were considerate to an embarassing degree (that is, when I thought how little chance they’d ever see such consideration from me!). I prefer the word ‘sweet’ to describe this phenomenon, and it follows that the experience was pleasant. I cannot speak for the girls, of course. We had been told that they would not be complaining to us, so I may never know just how they felt about their experience. But I like to think that both cultural and educational experiences were provided for this group of college visitors that will leave a good impression as they resume their lives in Japan.

And to my two charges in particular, I say this: If your parents ever use a harsh word with you or deny you something you desire, jump on a plane back to Longview. As long as I’m alive, there’s someone here who loves you.