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Helping Hands Japanese Students Join In Community Service
Aside from finding most things in America bigger than they are in Japan, a group of high school students is fitting right into their new surroundings, visiting this area for a three-week 'homestay' with families in the region.

Coming to Escalon through the PeopleLink program, the teens and their advisor/chaperone are staying with families in Escalon, Modesto and Riverbank as they enjoy a cultural exchange in the Central Valley.

The group of nine girls and one boy from Kyusyu, students at Miyaki Senior High School, arrived July 22 and head home next week, Aug. 11. Among the stops on their itinerary are the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, Stanford University, a Modesto Nuts baseball game and more. Rev. Wayne Warren of the Pentecostal Church of God in Escalon is working with PeopleLink again after a hiatus of a few years, and had the student group taking on a community service project, helping the City of Escalon.

They were busy one day this past week painting the bollards - the short posts - lining the sidewalks around the landscaped plaza entryways into Escalon in the area of the Highway 120-Escalon Avenue-McHenry corridor.

"To stay with the host families is the most interesting," said chaperone Rumi Oshida. "They want to study and talk English. Japanese people, we read English but don't speak it too much."

The students wanted the chance to immerse themselves in the culture and increase not only their English language skills but also their understanding of a new country.

At Stanford University, said Oshida, the group planned to meet with Japanese students who came here for college. Oshida herself was a homestay student some 20 years ago in the San Jose area and was happy to come back to the U.S., and is especially looking forward to riding a cable car.

"I have taken students to Australia, Europe," she added of her work now with the tour program. "I really wanted to come back to San Jose - San Francisco area."

The students range in age from 15 to 17 years old and some have already been part of a home stay program.

Taiga 'Tiger' Kotani, 15, is the lone boy on this trip and is marking his second voyage to the United States.

"I like to eat," he said with a smile, offering his thoughts on his favorite activities here. "Tacos."

He also enjoys the daily English class that the students take part in and said he is thinking about coming back to attend college here. He is staying with the Frank family while here, leaving his parents and a younger sister, 13, back in Japan.

"I miss them a little," he admitted.

But he is enjoying the home life here as well.

"They're very kind and my grandma's (host mom) food is very delicious," he added of the Frank family.

Sixteen-year-old Sakie Mukai is staying with the Warren family and this is her first time visiting the states.

"I'm surprised about big," she said, explaining that the most discrepancy can be found in food, where Americans seem to go big with flavors and portion sizes. Ice cream, specifically, she said, you can get three scoops here if you want instead of just one small one.

Warren agreed, saying even that the shopping carts in Japan are much smaller than those here.

Mukai is looking forward to visiting the Golden Gate Bridge when the group heads to San Francisco for a day and said one of her favorite things to do here is "watch baseball games with father (Warren)."

The group received tickets from the Modesto Nuts, Warren said, to go watch the minor league team play, something the entire group is looking forward to doing.

Mukai - who is thinking of pursuing a career as an international clothes buyer so she can keep traveling - has a 14-year-old sister at home in addition to her parents but is having too much fun to miss them, she said. Both teens stay in touch with family, through calls and texts.

Warren said each day is full for the group, from studies to community service to sightseeing.

"They have English class, four times a week for three hours, we've also visited child care sites and we're going to do some origami and singing for senior citizens," he said. "They want to bring their culture."

The group will tour the Japanese Museum in Sacramento, is planning a barbecue and day of fun at Woodward Reservoir and also went to the fair.

The bollard cleaning and painting project, Warren said, was a way for the students to give back to the community. They learn about community service in the classes and Warren said it was a project they could take on with supervision from the city.

Gene Espitia of the city's Public Works Department was on hand with the group to oversee the project.

"Altogether, they've done about 25 or 30, wiped them all down and painted all of the bollards around the perimeter of Highway 120 and Escalon Avenue, they've done a great job, following instructions very well and working hard," Espitia said, not to mention the man hours saved for the city.

"It's okay," Kotani said of spending a few hours cleaning and painting in the hot California summer sun. "I like helping out."