Local high school mentors help Japanese teens adapt to U.S. culture and language

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More than 80 Japanese teens are visiting the UW-Richland and getting to know American culture thanks to their local mentors. Photo courtesy UW-Richland.

Press Release

RICHLAND CENTER—For a group of 81 Japanese teens, Richland Center and UW-Richland figure significantly into their first impressions of the United States. The students arrived on campus July 30 and are here through Aug. 8 taking part in a crash course to enhance their English-speaking skills and understanding of American culture. After their orientation, these students will travel to various parts of the country to spend the coming year as high school exchange students.

While language teachers and other staff plan and lead lessons, River Valley area teens play an important role in helping their counterparts from Japan. The local teens live, study, eat and learn 24/7 with the Japanese students, especially focusing on their assigned small group. They’re question-answerers. They’re study buddies. They’re cultural interpreters.

What’s different between American and Japanese culture—other than language? In just a few minutes, a group of four young women from Japan listed food, bathing practices, the extent and way we express feelings, humor, the extent of diversity within the culture, how we socialize and with whom we socialize. Along with gaining comfort in speaking English, the Japanese students are gaining understanding of and practice navigating American culture.

Alex Mortimer of Richland Center enjoys being a mentor. “I try to keep in mind that this is their first impression of America,” he said. As he works with the Japanese students to help them improve their English, he said, “When I see that light come on in their eyes, that’s really cool for me.” He said that the communication skills he’s honing may be useful in his intended future career as a software engineer. “You have to slow down and think — about how we change our language and still understand each other,” he said.

Some of the teen mentors have so enjoyed the program that they’ve returned for multiple summers. Others are new this year. The group includes:

David Ababio, Platteville;  Danielle Boland, Gays Mills; Joe Call, Westby; Allie Garcia, Richland Center; Kristen Hanson, Prairie du Chien; Zach Klein, Lancaster; Monica Larsen, Elroy; Eliana Luke, New Lisbon; Ana Mendoza, Wilton; Alex   Mortimer, Richland Center; Elizabeth Nelson, Coon Valley; Micah Nordgren, Viola; Clayton Rabine, Spring Green; Jeremy Rako, Platteville; Hannah Sedgwick, La Farge; Lyric Simonson, Blue River; Heather Stocks, Ithaca; Shelbi Stowers, Reedsburg; Loren Tock, Reedsburg; Sara Tryggestad, Westby; Aiden Woolsey, Richland Center; and Payton Yahn, Viroqua.

On-site coordinator Jessica Laeseke said she appreciates the work of the mentors. “They have a challenging job in that they’re helping students who are about the same age as they are. It’s rewarding for them, too, because they learn about another culture — and, in contrast, about their own.”

To find out more about the UW-Richland Japanese summer program, including ways for area teens to take part in 2014, visit the campus website at richland.uwc.edu and follow the links to community/outreach>continuing education>youth programs; go to http://richland.uwc.edu/community/continuing-ed/youth; or call the Office of Continuing Education at (608) 647-6186, ext. 227.

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