By Zane Davis
The Towner family, of Weiser, have opened up their home and hosted two foreign exchange students from Japan during the past two school years. Participation in foreign exchange programs is a common occurrence in Weiser, and Weiser High School generally enrolls 3 to 4 exchange students every year. However, the Towner family has taken the “exchange” in exchange student to a whole new level.
Not only have the Towners enabled two young men the opportunity to experience life in America, but their own son, Wyatt Towner, will be travelling to Japan as an exchange student on June 15.
The Towner family participates in the 4-H International Exchange Program, and their current exchange student, Kotaro Furukawa has been with the Towners since August 2015. Kotaro hails from Chiba, Japan a city of 410,000 people outside of Tokyo. Kotaro’s first American experience came with his attendance, shortly after his arrival, at the Washington County Fair. He was in awe of “the many hills”, and really liked living in a rural area because he had only every experienced city life.
Kotaro decided to participate in the 4-H International Exchange Program because he has always been interested in travel and other cultures from a very young age. He was very interested in experiencing American High School, and the freedom that American kids take for granted.
During his time here, Kotaro states that the “food and T.V. were very different at first”, but has since grown to appreciate the differences, and really enjoys American pizza, stating that “pizza is [his] favorite”. He also enjoys watching America’s Got Talent.
Kotaro also was able to participate in athletics and clubs while at Weiser High School that are not available in Japan. Kotaro ran cross country, played basketball and tennis for Weiser. He had some experience in tennis, but had never ran competitively or played basketball before. He stated, “Sports are not as popular in Japan, and there are lots of good players [here].” Regarding his athletic experience, Kotaro says, “The people are funny and it was a really nice experience” to be able to participate. Kotaro also was able to play in the Weiser Band and participated in Choir. Ironically, he had never played an instrument before, but was allowed to learn how to play the trombone. He was also in the Christmas Musical, which he says was, “Really fun!” The extracurricular activities available to the students at Weiser High School was Kotaro’s favorite thing about his experience in America, and he is very proud that his English has greatly improved during his stay.
Kotaro has been away from his parents and his younger sister for over ten months, and he readily states that the most difficult part of the exchange program is missing family. He also adds, “I’ve missed the food, too.” Despite his joking about missing the food of his homeland, Kotaro says he would definitely encourage other students to participate in a foreign exchange program. He says, “It has been a really good experience.” He says that he kept in touch with family and friends via Facebook, and he plans to do the same with the people of Weiser when he returns home.
Kotaro says he has met a lot of really great people during his time in Weiser, and when asked what he will miss the most when he returns home, he immediately says, “All of the people in Weiser, and the Towners.”
Kotaro has to return to Japan on June 18, and since he is currently 19 years old, he will graduate in Japan based on his grades while in America. He plans to attend “University”, but Japanese students are required to pass an extensive exam to be accepted. Therefore, he will begin studying for the entrance exam once he returns home. He hopes to focus his education on International Studies, and eventually have a job that allows him to travel and “communicate with foreign people”. Kotaro states that he hopes his future career involves travel back to the United States.
Apparently hosting two Japanese exchange students has made a big impact on the Towner family in more ways than the obvious fondness that comes with sharing your home for nearly a year with a foreign student. Wyatt Towner, one of Noa and Eric Towner’s twin sons, will be leaving his parents, brother and sister and heading to Japan on June 15, 2016.
Wyatt’s exchange experience is also coordinated through the 4-H program, but Wyatt will only be in Japan for 8 weeks.
When asked why he would leave home to go to Japan, Towner states that his initial interest spawns from his 10-years of participating in the Japanese sport of judo. Wyatt explains that he has always wanted to travel to Japan, and hosting Japanese students and learning more about their culture has made his desire even stronger. Wyatt is anxious to experience the average life of the Japanese people. He says that he is very interested in the culture, entertainment and especially the architecture in Japan.
By hosting students, the Towners were able to receive a credit toward Wyatt’s outbound experience, to help defer some of the costs, and Wyatt states that he also received scholarships to make the trip possible.
Towner will spend his first 4 weeks with a family inside Tokyo, Japan, and his last 4 weeks outside of Tokyo. He will spend much of his time in his first month in language classes, but is very excited about his upcoming experience.
Although Kotaro Furukawa and Wyatt Towner have taken the “exchange” in exchange students quite literally, the trade-off is not required. However, host families in the Weiser area are always in demand. It is possible to host a student through the 4-H International Exchange Program for as long as an entire school year or as short as one month. If you are interested in hosting a foreign student, you can contact the Washington County Extension Office at 414-0415, or Judith McShane, the Idaho Program Coordinator, at 208-454-7655.