Exchange student will miss American ‘freedom’

Published 3:07 pm Tuesday, May 25, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Life as an American teen-ager was a big adjustment for Japanese foreign exchange student Kanade Ochiai, but that does not mean she is ready to go home.
After a year full of making new friends, attending high school sporting events, doing homework and going to school dances, Ochiai will be celebrating one last hoorah by walking with the rest of the Class of 2004 at the Niles High School graduation on Thursday.
On June 11, the 18-year-old senior will be travelling back to her hometown of Miyazaki, Japan, after spending nearly a year with her host family, the Bonners.
Last fall, Niles High School junior Kaylee Bonner brought the idea of being a host family home to the rest of her family. Her parents, Bud and Darlene, and her brothers, Dustin and Chad (who were temporarily away at college), all agreed that it would be a good experience for the family.
Darlene Bonner, who played the role of "host mother," said it was not hard for Ochiai to become a member of their family.
When asked about her favorite part of being in America, Ochiai replied with the simple one word answer, "freedom."
She went on to explain that as a student in Japan, it was required that she wear a uniform everyday and she could not wear things like makeup or jewelry.
Bonner agreed that the independence and freedom of American teenagers was one of the main cultural differences, stating that Ochiai was surprised to see her high school friends jump into their cars and go out to eat and go shopping.
Another thing that jumped out at Ochiai, was the large houses, yards and wide open spaces found in America. This was a big difference for her coming from a country with a high population density. She said Japan had about half of the population of America in a country the size of California.
She was also surprised by the amount of hugs and signs of affection displayed between families and friends and by the fact that many Americans actually work to get suntans.
Though there were many differences between life in the two countries, Bonner said being a teenager surpassed many of the cultural boundaries.
One of Ochiai's favorite American pastimes was going to the mall. She is a frequent shopper, who has already been sending boxes of clothes and accessories back to Japan.
She was also active in school athletics, earning her varsity letter in golf and acting as the manager for the varsity volleyball team.
Another highlight for Ochiai came this spring when Niles High School hosted a group of students from Japan. She played the important role of translator for their week long visit.
Ochiai, who is unsure of what she will study in college, said her decision to visit America as a foreign exchange student was largely because she wanted to improve her English.
Bonner said this mission was accomplished as Ochiai is now "completely fluent" in English.
Going home will be a bittersweet experience for Ochiai. She is excited to see the family that she left behind a year ago, but will also miss her host family and all of the friends she has made here in Niles. The Bonners are happy they decided to become a host family and look forward to keeping in contact with Ochiai while she is in Japan.