Shaler Area welcomed in six foreign exchange students from Japan

Mr. Balsomico and the visiting college students from Japan
Mr. Balsomico and the visiting college students from Japan
submitted by Mr. Balsomico

In the week following Thanksgiving break, six Japanese college students from Kyoto, Japan came to Shaler Area. These students are members of a policy studies class at Doshisha University, in which once a year the students travel abroad to help fix an issue in foreign country. Through Shaler Area’s Japanese language classes, the college students were able to teach Shaler students about healthier nutritional habits. 

“In this program we want to go to overseas countries and then we carry out a project about Japanese culture. Our value is that we want Americans to never forget the happiness of having a meal. The students in Shaler were interested in Japanese culture so we had extra incentive to come here,” Doshisha University student Kaho Murakami said. 

One of the main focuses in their program was centered around the state of American school lunches, and their thoughts may surprise you. 

“I enjoyed the lunches, I don’t know why some students don’t like them. I ate the vegetable wrap and quite enjoyed it. However, the small number of choices for a school lunch is a concern,” Kaho said. 

In both Japanese and English, the college students lectured about traditional Japanese cuisine, healthy eating habits, and how to prepare healthy snacks that are common in Japan.

“What they brought was more than just nutrition, but they’re also talking about the manner and the way in which you treat food and treat other people and treat yourself. If students really think about this, it could have a positive impact on their lives,” Shaler Area Japanese teacher Mr. Steven Balsomico said.

Along with nutritional advice, the Doshiesha students provided a great opportunity for Shaler students to listen to and practice with native level Japanese speakers. 

“I study Japanese. I’ll never be perfect, I’ll never be a native speaker. So the ability to hear natural flow, and natural words from native Japanese speakers is incredibly useful for the students. Also, let’s face it, it’s more exciting to talk to a native Japanese person than it is to talk to me, so it gets students more excited and interested in having conversations in the language,” Mr. Balsomico said. 

This privilege was not lost on the Shaler Japanese students however. There have been near unanimous positive reviews about their lectures among students. 

“The entire experience was super cool to see how actual Japanese people speak and teach. I learned a lot about the food culture in Japan and I learned what they defined as healthy food. My girl Nanami was actually the GOAT, I made her tea,” Japanese level three student Will Emmons said. 

Thankfully, the Doshisha students’ trip to America wasn’t exclusively limited to visiting Shaler Area. Before teaching at Shaler, the college students visited some of America’s most famous tourist destinations. 

“Before coming to Shaler, I visited Disney World in Florida with my classmates which was a ton of fun. My favorite part had to be Epcot, and I bought a lot of souvenirs, especially in the Norway section of the park. Also, some other students went to New York City before coming to Shaler.” Kaho said. 

Inevitably, there was some culture shock for the Doshisha students who now had first hand experience of the American way of eating. Their small appetites were no match. 

“The portion sizes were definitely a shock. The doggy bag culture at American restaurants is very surprising. Not to mention the complementary chips which makes it difficult to eat all that you were given,”  Kaho said. 

Along with the portion sizes, the college students took a liking to some local Pittsburgh cuisine as well as some American dinner staples. 

“I thought the Pittsburgher from Primanti Bros was huge and delicious. This isn’t necessarily American food, but I really enjoyed eating hard shell tacos which I ate with my host family,” Kaho said. 

Despite their mostly positive experience in Shaler Area, one issue in which the Japanese students were taken aback by was the amount of food waste. 

“The fact that we as a society only recognize and do nothing to change our food waste problem is terrible. The Japanese students absolutely loved Shaler; they talked incessantly about how much they enjoyed working in this building and meeting the students. Even still, they were absolutely shocked by some of the things they saw regarding food waste,” Mr. Balsomico said.

The Doshiesha students’ visit to Shaler Area serves as a great example of the positive effects of cultural exchange. Shaler Area students learned about the health benefits of Japanese cuisine while also enriching their own view of American culture as it takes an outside eye to truly see the truth of what we live in.  


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