By Adam Brazeau
CORNWALL, Ontario - Miki Nakanishi is far from her family in Kyoto - a city with nearly 1.5 million people - but the 15-year-old still feels like she's home thanks to the hospitality of a Cornwall family.
Dan Lalonde, his wife Renee Seguin-Lalonde, and their daughter Ember, 12, have invited Nakanishi to live in their beautiful home until the end of the school year, through the Muskoka Language International (MLI) Homestay program.
Since they had such a great experience with their first exchange student for two weeks over the summer, it was an easy yes when they were asked to open their doors again, but this time for much longer.
Nakanishi arrived on August 30 and she makes her departure on June 30, 2015. Her new family hopes that's enough time to immerse her in the culture.
"It makes you appreciate what it is to be Canadian – because if you have an international guest, you’re going to go explore, not just sit at home and do nothing," said Lalonde.
Nakanishi has already tried some Canadian delicacies for the first time like poutine and a turkey dinner. But winter sports such as curling, maple syrup at a cabane a sucre, and a white Christmas are what she's really excited for.
"We celebrate Christmas, but not big like in Canada," said Nakanishi. "We do the tree and the gifts. Some houses decorate, but my house doesn’t."
Fortunately for her, Lalonde guaranteed this holiday season will include a big tree, stockings, advent calendars, a village in the living room, and a lot of lights.
Nakanishi started studying English at the age of 12. But both host parents and MLI Homestay Coordinator Tina Johnson helped her overcome the language barrier during the interview.
The temporary Cornwallite has also taken on an important leadership role in the household.
"Now that we have Miki around, I’m able to get my daughter out of her shell and into the kitchen more to help out," said Seguin-Lalonde.
"I don’t have any siblings so it's like getting a big sister from the other side of the world," added Ember, a Grade 7 Holy Trinity student.
Nakanishi studies at CCVS and is an avid tennis player. She considers cooking class one of the best parts about high school, especially after learning how to make pizza, apple pie, and tortillas.
But a small town Canadian life even with all its charm can be too quiet for the Japanese teen who is used to taking a bus and train to school six days a week for up to 12 hours of classes and activities.
"My host family is great, but sometimes I do miss my family and friends," said Nakanishi.
With up to four hours a day of extra time to fill, she's counting the hours until a winter wonderland presents itself with promises of tobogganing, snow angels, snowball fights, and plenty of snow to dig.
"When planning to come here, she was very excited about the snow," said Johnson.
She says the program is relatively new to the area and that she's the first coordinator for Cornwall.
"This city has a lot to offer international exchange students and host families are always in demand, especially those who also speak French," Johnson added. "It's not for everyone, but a lot of people really enjoy the interaction and the cultural experience."
For more information about the MLI Homestay program and how to host an international exchange student, visit www.mliesl.com.