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Student hosts learn from ‘whirlwind’ Tsuruta visit

Slapjack, the international language.

Communication happened in part through the common rules of card games for students from Tsuruta, Japan, and their hosts at Hood River Valley High School this week. Hood River families hosted 20 high school and middle school students from Aomori Province, home to Hood River’s Sister City of Tsuruta, in a three-day stay that took in museums, waterfalls, Bonneville Dam, and a day at Hood River Valley High School, wedged between visits to Seattle and Portland.

Though the stay was short, it was worth it to Taunesha Shelton, an HRVHS sophomore and host student.

“I like to learn about other countries, and how we’re different,” said Shelton, whose family has over the years hosted nine foreign students, including Tsuruta visitors.

“It’s been good to learn about them on a personal level.”

In one of the visitors’ quieter moments, they paid the traditional visit to the grave of Ray Yasui, patriarch of the Hood River Valley Japanese-American community.

Tuesday was spent at the high school. Ten HRVHS students escorted one or more students to their classes.

“A lot of kids wanted to get involved,” said student Nell Smith, a previous host to Tsurutans who helped organize last week’s visit as part of her Leadership class. “I had a lot of volunteers, which I guess surprised me a little,” Smith said. “Some of them were kind of bummed out when I told them there were no other kids (to accompany).”

“I think they want to have contact with kids who don’t speak English. It’s really interesting, because you can’t really understand how someone can’t understand English. We’re born with it so it’s interesting to be around someone who doesn’t speak English and to have to communicate.” Smith said it has been a learning experience for the Hood River kids.

“They’re learning there’s a lot to the experience, in some cases more than they thought, I think. They learned there was more to it than just hanging out at lunch hour, and that they needed to try to work with the Japanese students because they’re here to improve their English. It was more than some of the kids expected, but I think it has been a good experience for them.”

Shelton said that in her experience, the Tsurutans are typically shy but that several of the visitors have been more outgoing. The American and Japanese youth know many of the same card games, so communication happened via mutual knowledge of rules.

“You can communicate on easy terms,” Shelton said. “We’ve really enjoyed slapjack.” In general the language barrier has been a factor.

“You use a lot of hand gestures, and showing them what it is you are talking about,” Shelton said.

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