This is the first article in our series this year, ‘Opening our homes and minds: West Hartford’s AFS foreign exchange students and their host families.’
Interviewed and edited by Ruby Michtom, sophomore at Hall High School
Meet Kosei Suganuma from Toyokawa, Japan. He is one of the AFS exchange students living in West Hartford this school year.
Hi, Kosei! Tell us about yourself.
I’m a senior at Hall High School and I live with my host sister, Maddie, and my dads John Brancato and Tom Richardson. I love playing piano, singing, and listening to songs. I like to play basketball. Since coming here, running is one of my new hobbies. I also like watching the NBA. I want to be a software system engineer when I grow up. I want to do this because I find it fun, learning the field, and I enjoy it. Coding is fun because it is from the imagination. In Japan I also joined a school for computer science, and we got to make what we wanted with no rules which was fun. I am also taking coding here in West Hartford.
Why did you want to be an AFS exchange student?
I initially wanted to study abroad mostly to learn English and also to watch the NBA and see Broadway. But after I came here, I found other reasons like experiencing life with my host family. It’s really important and meaningful because they give me a lot of experiences and help me to think differently. For example my host sister is really kind to everyone, even when I have to ask her the same question over and over, she is very patient. I’m learning to be kinder and more patient. And I wanted to learn other ways of thinking and know more about the world and know about daily life and school life in other countries.
What are the biggest cultural differences between Japan and here?
I think a really big difference is how important the sports teams in the school are here. I joined the cross country team, and even though it’s so big the bond is so strong. The captain is really friendly and the overall character of people here is so friendly and kind. Of course Japanese people are kind, but I am continually shocked by how kind everyone is. Americans are more cheerful than the Japanese. And one more thing, one time when we came back from the meet, and we played the music in the bus back from the meet and loud sounds and sang along boisterously. Most Japanese people wouldn’t think it’s proper to be so loud in a bus, and it’s shocking, but it makes the team bond so strong, so I loved that moment.
What have you liked about Connecticut and West Hartford?
I like how safe it is to go running even in the early morning. And while I’m running I can see the really beautiful trees, the squirrels, and I even saw a bear in the neighborhood! I’ve been hiking several times with my host father and with the other exchange students to Heublein Tower on Talcott Mountain which was really cool. And the view is so beautiful and I felt very happy and it was very meaningful.
What do you do outside of school here?
I’m in Unified Soccer and Unified Theater. In Japan we don’t have clubs like that, so it’s a good experience to know how we help each other, with people with disabilities, and how we get together with everyone and have fun. A lot of the exchange students are in these. Every Wednesday and Thursday I feel excited about that club because we are not competitive and just focus on having fun.
Every weekend my host parents or my friends do something! One of my favorites was canoeing and camping for three days with my host family at the end of September. It was my first time canoeing and we went to a campsite in the middle of a lake and it was so beautiful. I was surrounded by nature everywhere. There was no light except the fire so we could see really beautiful stars.
What would you like people reading this to know about:
Japan: I live in the rural area of Japan, so I can talk about how beautiful Japan is. Most of the images of Japan are Tokyo, but there is also really beautiful nature. We also have four seasons! Each season has a special color. Spring is pink from cherry blossoms, summer is green, fall is red or yellow, and winter is in some areas white from snow. And each season has an event for entering the season, so based on the season or the flower like the cherry blossom and sometimes watching the moon, so each season has a celebration connected to nature of that season. I think that’s really cool. And the most exciting time to visit Japan is in fall or winter when it’s getting cold because we have hot springs and we have a lot of volcanoes. Sometimes it means there are earthquakes but in daily life we can have hot springs and enjoy those. I really want other people from around the world to visit for winter.
Hosting an AFS exchange student: It’s an amazing experience to share your culture with foreign students! You have to be patient. I think I’m not very good at speaking in English, but my host family is so good because they are so patient. Sometimes I ask the same question, if someone has an exchange student they should be patient but not be too kind, but sometimes they should point out when your vocabulary is wrong, you will have misunderstandings which isn’t good, so the parents are important, it’s difficult but it’s worth it.
Being an AFS exchange student: It’s a really good experience to know about the country you’ll go to. You learn about the daily life and you can learn a lot from it, like the bond between friends or between family. The shape of it is different around the world, so it’s good to know the other type of culture And then you can share the experience when you go back, so it’s a good effect for all.
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student, or if your high-school aged student would like to participate in an AFS exchange, please visit afsUSA.org.
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