Barrhead is poised to receive its latest delegation from Japan.
On March 11, five students and their chaperones from Tokoro, Japan will converge on Barrhead as part of the twinning agreement between the two communities. The delegates will travel half way around the world to experience life the way it is lived in Barrhead. Twinning committee chairperson Carol Lee said the visit is part of regular delegation, and visits of this kind have been going on for about 15 years.
Every two years, Barrhead sends its own delegation of students to Japan. To date, two delegations of local students have visited Japan. Residents of Tokoro have been very excited that Barrhead has sent two delegations there over the past four or five years, Lee said, which had never been done before. Another student delegation was scheduled to go this year, but because the communities are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their relationship, adults will be going instead.
The Japanese delegation arrives Friday, March 11 and will stay until Saturday, March 19. Delegates like to visit Barrhead’s day cares, they like to interact with local seniors, and they like to visit the funeral home, Lee said. The twinning committee will also take the delegates to see the West Edmonton Mall on their second day in Alberta, and their evenings will be spent participating in various activities.
“In their culture, they don’t preserve the bodies of their deceased in caskets, so this is very unique to them,” she said. “We’ve offered to take them skiing, skating and swimming, but they’ve declined all that. They want to stay in our town, and the youth delegates will accompany students with whom they are staying to school.”
The committee is seeking billets for the foreign students and their chaperones, and the high school is actively seeking people willing to put up the students during their visit, Lee said, adding she believes there will be three girls and two boys who comprise the delegation.
“The difficult part is getting home stays,” she said. “The school has been very helpful. Once families agree to be a home stay, they fill out an information sheet about who they are. We send that to Japan so the students will know with whom they will be staying. In turn, the Japanese students send us information about themselves.”
The relationship between Barrhead and Tokoro allows for a positive cultural exchange, Lee said. The Japanese delegates get to experience for a brief time life in rural Alberta, and they are learning English in order to break down the language barrier.
“It’s going to be a fairly busy week,” Lee said.
“The Japanese students will be sharing their talents with Barrhead when they visit our elementary school and do origami with the students there. They’ll also do some cooking at the high school. Delegates come here as friends, but they leave as family. They love to entertain, and to be entertained.”
March 17 will mark the farewell supper for the delegates, Lee said, although a venue has yet to be confirmed. The committee will then gear up for its trip to Japan to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the twinning project. There are 14 people from the community confirmed to make the trip, but there is room for up to 20 people. The more people who are able to attend, the cheaper the airfare will be for everyone, Lee said.
“Sixteen is the magic number, and we don’t want to inconvenience our home-stay families, so we don’t want to have more than 20,” she said.
Celebration plans are coming along well, she added.
“The majority of it will take place over there, so I’m not sure what they have planned for our delegation. Our trip will coincide with one of their biggest festivals, so that’s why they wanted us to go at this time.”
The committee is sending over a picture of Canadian geese by a local artist, and they will present that to their Japanese counterparts in honour of the anniversary.
“It’s going to be very exciting. We’re celebrating 20 years, and I think it’s pretty phenomenal that we’ve maintained this relationship and that it’s still very active.”
Lee said Barrhead is also celebrating a 20th anniversary with its twin town in Australia; however, the Australian committee has changed hands a number of times, and it’s not as active.
“It’s unfortunate that we don’t keep this relationship as active as we used to, but that’s what happens when you give it over to people who aren’t as interested in maintaining that relationship.”
Lee, her husband and her son have all visited Tokoro in the past, and she has nothing but praise for the experience.
“It was wonderful. The hospitality is unbelievable, they treat us like kings and queens, and the food is exceptional.”
The twinning committee is extending the adventure to include a trip to Tokyo, and it will cost approximately $3,500 per person, which includes hotels and tours in Tokyo, and most breakfasts. Following Tokyo, the delegation will move on to Tokoro for the remainder of the stay, where costs drop significantly, Lee said.
The twinning committee has room for one more member to join its ranks, and anyone interested can apply through the town office. The group is looking for people who believe in the twinning project, and who have the time and energy to dedicate to the delegates when they do travel to Barrhead.
“It would be nice to have some new blood who can bring new ideas to the group,” Lee said.
This is Lee’s second year as chair of the committee, although she has been a member for about five years. She said the project is a wonderful opportunity for Barrhead, and for local students to go to Japan to see another way of life.