Japanese students immerse themselves in American culture at Clifton school

Sponsor and teacher Kiyo Nishikawa alternates between the English and Japanese languages when teaching at Christian Community Schools, a private school at 615 Interstate 70 Business Loop in Clifton. Above are Japanese exchange students Yutaka Okubo, Yoshi Masaka and Airi Miyamoto. The fourth student is an American, Nicholas Hill.

It has been Kanako Horie’s dream to study in America since she first heard her mother speak English.

“I thought it was so cool,” Horie said.

The 16-year-old’s dream came true last fall when she arrived at Christian Community Schools, a K–12 private school at 615 Interstate 70 Business Loop.

Horie came from Japan to Grand Junction for the full American experience, but she gets plenty of reminders of home at her school. Six of the high school’s 25 students are from Japan.

The tradition of having multiple foreign-exchange students at Christian Community Schools began in 2001, when the school was split into Cornerstone Christian and Genesis Christian. The school has taught students from Brazil, Germany and South Korea, but most of the foreign-exchange students have been from Japan.

That’s mainly because of Kiyo Nishikawa, a Grand Junction resident who serves as an agent for students from his home country of Japan to attend Christian Community Schools and sometimes local public high schools.

Unlike public schools, private schools can enroll foreign exchange students for all four years of high school if they like, something plenty of exchange students have done at Christian Community Schools in the past, according to Nishikawa.

Private schools also have the advantage of making sure new students seeking to improve their English don’t get lost in the shuffle.

“It’s a much smaller school, and teachers can pay more attention to them than in a public school,” he said.

Nishikawa teaches an immersion class for American and Japanese students at the school. During each class, he alternates between speaking Japanese and English.

Isaac Labig, 17, said he enjoys being in the Japanese immersion class because it helps him learn a language alongside native speakers.

“Their point of view of history and small cultural things” offer a unique experience, he said.

Aside from helping them perfect their English, Nishikawa provides housing for the Japanese students. He owns three homes and lives in one of them. The male exchange students live in the second home, and female exchange students live in the third one.

Students cook for themselves on the occasions when Nishikawa doesn’t, and they have a college student living at the home to rely on when they need a ride somewhere. Some say they enjoy the freedom, but it doesn’t really make them feel more grown up.

“I feel like 18-year-olds in Japan are treated more like adults than here,” said student Yoshi Masaka, 18.

Each of the six Japanese students is from a different area of Japan, and none hails from the zone that experienced a 9.0 earthquake last month.

Grand Junction isn’t exactly what any of them pictured when they applied to become an exchange student. Many had visions of New York and Los Angeles. But they’ve found things to like about Colorado, including Mesa Mall, the quiet of the smaller city, and even Wal-Mart.

Having multiple exchange students is good for the school, according to Cheryl DuCray, director of Christian Community Schools’ middle and high schools.

“The other students get to experience another language, another culture, and food from the students’ homes,” she said. “It breaks down those barriers between cultures.”


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