A group of 22 middle school students from Japan recently immersed themselves in American culture, and what better time to do this than over the Halloween holiday?
Every other autumn a delegation of middle schoolers from Kitakata, Japan — Wilsonville's sister city — spends 10 days with Wilsonville host families. And every other summer, a group of Wilsonville High School students are able to experience Kitakata.
During the week of Oct. 28 to Nov. 6, the Japanese students were able to participate in group activities like carving pumpkins at CREST, touring the city, visiting the beach, taking in the Columbia River Gorge and getting a taste of American education.
Though this exchange is nothing new — Wilsonville and Kitakata have been sister cities since 1988 — each delegation brings a fresh perspective and experience to the city and its host families.
"These intercultural student exchanges are a major component of our sister city relationship and promote greater understanding, create wonderful memories and foster many long-lasting friendships," said Bev Schalk, president of the Wilsonville Sister City Association.
For Kristin Akervall and her family, the exchange students are very important to them and help broaden their cultural horizons.
But Akervall is no stranger to other cultures. Her husband is from Sweden and they speak Swedish in the home. Her 6-year-old daughter, Odessa, is also enrolled in Lowrie Primary's dual language Spanish program.
"She's working on trilingual and she's not even seven. We've made an effort to have different languages in our home," Akervall said. "(It) provides a framework for how we see the world. When you have two different languages and two different frameworks, it just broadens your vision of the world; the increased number of connections."
In 2015, Akervall and her family hosted a 13-year-old and this year they hosted two 13-year-old friends through the sister city exchange.
"I think it's great for families with younger kids.Their lives are a little more simple so it's really accessible for exchange students," Akervall said. "With their talking or activities, sometimes (with) child games there's kind of this universal language of kid. They don't have to be speaking the same language to have fun and play together."
And because the two Japanese exchange students came during Halloween, they were able to trick-or-treat for the first time. Akervall had the girls practice trick-or-treating with the closet door so they knew what English words to say and what to do when they hit the neighborhoods.
"There's a lot of laughing and having fun because they think some of these experiences might seem pretty surprising," said Akervall, noting the tradition of carving pumpkins. "If you break it down, we are carving a vegetable so it's kind of funny. It reminds you to be surprised at your own culture and what's going on around you."
Aside from participating in holiday festivities and sight-seeing, students were able to tour Meridian Creek Middle School, Lowrie Primary and Boeckman Creek Primary.
At Meridian Creek, students toured the school and had the ability to visit a wellness and science class.
"I see this as a beneficial opportunity for all students to increase awareness of other cultures, school systems and build positive relationships," said Annikke Olson, principal at Meridian Creek.
Akervall agrees and hopes to continue hosting exchange students.
"It's a fun experience and we all enjoy it," she said.