The five amigos

This year’s five

foreign exhange

students have made quite an impact on campus, students and administrators say

By Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

With the end of the school year fast approaching, Sweet Home High School students and administrators agree on one thing: This year’s five exchange students have made a splash.

“Every now and then we have some that have really made an impact,” said Principal Pat Stineff, finishing her 15th year in that position. “This whole group has been exceptional. We’ve been very fortunate.”

The five, Anna Chang of Pai-Chung, Taiwan; Anastasiya Domashenko of Ust-Kamenogorsk, Republic of Kazakhstan; Shiho Harada of Tokyo, Japan; Maxx Nguyen of Hanoi, Vietnam; and Yoshiko Tomono of Tokyo, Japan, have involved themselves in student activities and, by all accounts, have gained great popularity among the students.

So much so that, a month after they arrived, Harada and Tomono, both students from Sweet Home’s ongoing exchange program with Josai Gakuin University High School in Tokyo, were voted onto the Homecoming Court by the student body.

In fact, said Harada, 17, that was the big moment for her during what ended up being a very active year.

Enjoying Homecoming festivities with their escorts and families are, Yoshiko Tomono, center, with her host mother, Marlene Zurcher, and, at left, Shiho Harada with Bob and Cynde Burford, with whom she lived last fall.

Photos by Sean C. Morgan

“I did not expect to be a princess,” she said. (Josai Coordinator) Cynde (Burford) told us that it wasn’t because we were exchange students.”

But it didn’t stop there. Chang, Domashenko and Harada joined the swim team, then all four went out for track. Nguyen joined the soccer team shortly after setting foot on American soil, and then also tried track.

“I was better at soccer,” he said.

Tomono, a very capable clarinetist, joined the band and choir. And, since she took ballet lessons as a young girl before quitting “because I had to study to take a test to get into junior high (at Josai),” she joined the dance team too.

Chang joined the Key Club and the Drama Club.

Chang and Harada also sang in the Symphonic Choir, which requires an audition to get in. Domashenko didn’t join the choir, but not for lack of talent, as everyone found out when she performed a Russian pop number at the May Week Talent Show – in which Chang accompanied both Tomono (clarinet solo) and Harada (Japanese pop song) on the piano.

“Anastasiya has a beautiful voice, but she told me, ‘I came here to learn. I didn’t come here to take foufou classes,” said Burford, who hosted Harada for half the year and had much interaction with the four girls, who, she said, bonded even though the only common language they spoke was English.

“(Domashenko) can sing in three or four different languages.”

Domashenko had to leave early to take a test back home and Chang was busy serving as a counselor at Outdoor Camp for local grade-schoolers last week when the others got together with a reporter to talk about their experiences.

Nguyen, 17, said he thought it took them a while to get acclimated, but by the second semester, “especially Shiho and Anna talked, oh my gosh.”

He said they’ve picked up a lot of new language skills during their stay. “We even learned a lot of new slang.”

“You probably shouldn’t write that,” said Tomono.

All three said there are big differences between what schools are like at home and Sweet Home High School.

“It’s so different,” Tomono said. “Today, in American history class, we were talking about school uniforms. Some students thought they were bad.”

“They don’t separate students, whether you’re rich or you’re poor,” said Nguyen, who, like the Japanese students, wore one at home. “Everybody’s dressed the same.”

Other differences: “You can’t eat food during class,” Tomono said.

“We have to clean the school,” said Harada, referring to a common practice in Japan.

“Yes, after school we sweep and empty the garbage,” Tomono said.

Nguyen said students stay in one classroom in his school, and teachers rotate from classroom to classroom during the day.

“American students probably exercise more,” he said.

Not necessarily so, said the Japanese, whose school is multi-story and who have to climb steps to get to class.

“Our cafeteria is down, under the building,” Tomono said. “Here your buildings are so wide, but in Japan they’re tall.”

Another big difference, they said, is students’ relationship with teachers.

“There’s so much more familiarity here,” said Nguyen. “It’s OK, it’s just different cultures. In my country students have to respect teachers.”

“At first I was shocked,” Tomono said. “I wondered how I should speak to my host mom.”

“In my country, when students receive anything from an adult, they have to take it in two hands,” Nguyen said. “Here,” he gestured with a quick one-hand sweeping motion.

“You can’t choose your classes (in Japan),” Harada said. “That’s cool here.”

Another big difference, they all said, is the extra-curricular activities available – clubs and sports.

“I really like the sports system, the after-school activity,” Nguyen said.

“You guys don’t do one sport all year long,” Harada said, noting that in Japan students have to join a sports club and practice and compete in that sport year-round. Or, as Tomono, pointed out, they could join a chemistry club.

“I was so surprised,” said Harada, who said she enjoyed swimming immensely.

“It was so hard,” she said. “Josai doesn’t have a swim club and I haven’t done swimming since elementary school. We had to swim every morning and every afternoon. I had to get up at 5:30.”

The Japanese students said they’ve missed the bustle of a huge city and “the trains.”

“People,” Tomono said. “I miss the people jammed on the trains.”

But they’ve enjoyed the slower pace of Sweet Home, they said.

“I feel relaxed here,” Harada said.

“I like the nature,” said Tomono.

“Everybody knows me,” Harada said. “They say, ‘Hi Shiho.’”

“I come from the big city too,” Nguyen said. “Here it’s so peaceful and green. People are very friendly too.”

“Even the homeless,” said Tomono. “They say to me, ‘Hi, baby.’ I’m scared but maybe it’s OK. I say, ‘Hi.’”

Hannah Mather, a sophomore who lives near the Burfords and whose family has hosted Japanese visitors before, and who hosted Harada when the Burfords have been out of town. said she’s enjoyed the students.

“When we did track together, they were always happy, always together,” she said. “They run up and jump on you. The expressions they make are so funny.

“Anna, if you say something, she’ll say ‘Oh my gosh, that’s so funny.’”

She said that she’s seen changes in the visitors as well.

“Shiho was really friendly when I first met her. Yoshiko was friendly when they were all together, but she didn’t know you. But they’ve gotten more excited and participating and stuff like that.”

“Yoshiko has really opened up,” Burford said.

The Japanese students will return to Josai for their final year of high school, while Nguyen said he plans to attend college at Santa Barbara City College in California.

Burford said this group of exchange students has stood out in the way they’ve interacted with not only the student body, but each other.

“Four different countries are represented here,” she said. “They clicked together. I had so much fun. They’d come over. They’d play the piano. Yoshiko didn’t have the Internet (at home) so she’d catch up on her e-mail. Shiho would sing and Anna would play the piano. Anstasiya would talk and pet the dog.

“I told them, the last time I saw them all together, ‘We have changed you guys into Americans. Yoshiko laughed and said, ‘Yeah.’”

Being here has definitely changed them, the students said.

“We talk and we mix Japanese and English. It’s so weird,” Tomono said.

Harada, in particular, hit it off with Chang.

“She loves Japanese music and dance,” she said.

They agreed that Domashenko’s intelligence particuarly stood out.

“She was so smart,” Harada said.

“She was amazing,” Burford said. “I would love to know what her IQ was because she could debate politics with my husband. Not many people could do that.”

Stineff agreed that Domashenko stood out among the many exchange students who’ve been at Sweet Home.

“She spoke five languages,” she said. “She was a real exceptional girl. The whole group has been exceptional.”

Susan Angland, who, with her husband Larry, hosted Domashenko since December, said the experience was “life-changing.” Angland, who has no children, said she became a “mother (or grandmother) for the first time, then quickly has experienced the ‘empty nest.’ It happened so quickly,” she said.

“At 59, I finally get a sense of what it is like to have a daughter,” she said. “We did so many little things together. We read a book out loud. I helped her with homework. We sang. We listened to music. I comforted her when she cried, she did the same for me.

“I watched her compete in swimming and track. I witnessed her compete in a talent show at school, and I was amazed at her confidence and ability and sheer beauty. I watched her give speeches about her country and her life, and she is getting so much better at this – very polished and confident.”

They also practiced yoga, went on walks, went to the Cirque du Soleil “OYO” show, went roller skating.

“We went shopping – a lot – even to Goodwill, her favorite store. I bought her miscellaneous things, music, DVD movies, clothes, shoes, and a coat, gave her cash to carry around or spend as needed. We had heart-to-heart talks. We watched the “Teen Vampire” TV series on Netflix. We went grocery shopping together and prepared healthy veggie meals and enjoyed them together.”

She said Domashenko, like the other students, was surprised by what she found when she arrived at the high school.

“She feels that our school system is a lot easier than her school and many students are more interested in having fun than learning,” Angland said.

“Her country has its problems, but she felt that the family unit was stronger. She didn’t see pregnant girls in her school. No one kisses in the hallways. It was a real culture shock for her.”

Burford recounted how she took Harada and Domashenko to the beach.

“They sang from Alsea to Waldport,” Burford said. “They sang for an hour in Japanese and Russian, even though they didn’t know each other’s songs.”

Chang, who has been staying with a family in the Foster area, adapted to the opportunities that presented themselves in an Oregon town.

“She’d walk into town to hang out with her friends,” Burford said. “And she was at Outdoor Camp. Can you imagine your counselor at Outdoor Camp being from Taiwan?”

She said the five students gave a presentation at Hillside Fellowship church this year.

“They did an amazing job. I can’t remember a group like this.”

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