If there is one international language, it would be tea. Sharon Rector fills four mugs as we sit down in her kitchen with her two houseguests.
Sharon and her husband, Al, moved to Oxford in 2007 to be closer to one of their sons.
“We ski at Ski Wentworth and my mother-in-law lived in Great Village and my son, Corey, works at Ski Wentworth so it made sense to move here,” says Sharon, “and I found the old house that I loved.”
But Al passed away in 2012.
“I’m always saying it’s like the John Lennon song, ‘Life’s what happens when you’re making other plans’,” Sharon says with a shrug. “So now I’m alone.”
Not quite. Sharon and Al had talked about hosting an international student before he became ill so Sharon carried on with their plan.
“We thought it would be interesting and we have enough room here and there is a need,” Sharon explains. “Someone had approached us and said they were always looking for host families.”
Sixteen-year-old Yu Fukanaga came to Canada through a school program for good students; she had a choice of either west or east then her choice of province. She arrived in Nova Scotia from Osaka, Japan, last January -- in the middle of a Canadian winter -- and was hosted by a family in Springhill.
“My hometown doesn’t have any snow,” she tells me. “I was so excited for first day. All white! My first day of school was snow day. It was so cold, it was painful,” she laughs. “After a week, I was so snowy.”
By which she means, she’d had enough.
Allergies prompted a move to a new host family and she arrived at Sharon’s Oxford home at the end of August. She started at Oxford Regional Education Centre last month by herself because Sharon’s other houseguest, 16-year-old Marina Oliviera, had not yet arrived.
“Everything is sometimes hard,” Yu says. “Chemistry is hard for me. First day of school. Marina wasn’t there, she was still in Brazil. Who can I talk to? Very scared. I don’t know who is good to talk to. I talked to a girl and she was very nice. She eats lunch every day now with us. I was very lucky.”
Yu has been in Canada for 10 months but Marina only arrived September 7; she isn’t as chatty in English as her fellow international student.
“It’s really good,” she says about her first month in Nova Scotia. “When I come, in the first days, it was a little scary but now is okay.”
Marina came to Canada through a government program called ‘Win the World’.
“They pick the best students in each school and send them to another country to learn more English,” she says. “They choose the country.”
When I ask her what she thinks of Oxford, Marina answers, “It’s really calm. Quiet.”
Sharon jumps in.
“Brazillian people are very flamboyant and demonstrative,” she explains. “We’re more quiet.”
|Sharon Rector is flanked by Yu Fukunaga and Marina Oliviera.|
Both girls agree on one overall impression of our area: Everything is big. Which is interesting since the population of Osaka, Japan, is 2.5 million and Marina comes from a town of almost 50,000 people.
“Osaka has many buildings, it’s all tall,” says Yu. “There are lots of trains. It’s not like Canada. [In Osaka] I can walk ten, 15 minutes but we have stations everywhere. We use cars but my family doesn’t have any cars because we don’t need. Here is so big but so small,” she says.
Teenaged girls, living in a foreign country and being interviewed for a newspaper, overflow with smiles and giggles. Sharon must be enjoying their company.
“We went to Frenchie’s. Ah!” Sharon says with a big smile. “Well. The eyes! They love Frenchie’s.
Sharon doesn’t find it difficult to cook for them.
“They’re not fussy,” she says. “Yu likes to have rice. Now, when I went to my orientation, I was told they’re supposed to experience everything Canadian. But when they’re here this long, I don’t see the harm in making rice for her. Marina wants beans and rice.”
The girls already know their favourite Canadian foods: Yu likes banana bread and Marina likes poutine. Both girls like fish cakes.
When we get talking about food, Yu fingers her iPhone to show some photos of Japanese donuts.
“Your phone is in Japanese!” I exclaim then turn to Marina. “And your laptop is in...?”
“Portugese,” she replies.
What’s interesting is how many words Yu pronounces the way we do, but with a different inflection or accent.
“Some of the words are the same,” Yu says. “We say keetchen, chocorate, curtans, tabul. All similar. Cam-a-ra. We have many English words as Japanese.”
“What’s the word for tea?”
“We say ‘kotcha’…but we can say tea. When we go to MacDonald’s, we say, ‘Please want ice tea’. We use lots of English words in our life in Japan.”
I give Marina a new word to learn in anticipation of the coming cold weather: “You’re going to need a toque.”
Both Marina and Yu return to their home countries early next year, after exams. What will they talk about when they get back to Taquaritinga and Osaka?
“Everything is big here,” says Yu.
The same goes for Marina.
“Home, we don’t have really big yards,” she says. “Here, we have more space. It’s all green here.”