For the past nine years, Northwestern has had the pleasure of adding around a dozen students to its institution for a few short weeks from January to February. The Winter English Program provides seniors from Meiji Gakuin High School in Tokyo the opportunity to experience American culture, cuisine and community.
Yet, the program goes back further than just nine years. In the 1970s, a student from Japan named Nori Odate graduated from NW and made his way to Western Theological Seminary, a Reformed Church of America (RCA) affiliated seminary. After Western, he made his way back to Japan to teach at Meiji Gakuin High School – which was started by RCA missionaries years before.
In 2011, Odate contacted Kevin McMann, associate dean for intercultural involvement, with a dream. Odate wanted to reinvent a past NW program involving Japanese students being sent to the school to learn English and culture. The original program was a summer intensive held by a NW Bible professor, Dr. Lyle VanderWerff, but that faded out.
VanderWerff’s daughters, Kathy and Kristyn, grew up around the Japanese students and have fostered a love for Japanese culture since. They have been extremely involved from the first program to now with the current Winter English Program. Kathy Gabel is the American ulture teacher, and Kristyn Howe is the English teacher for the students.
“It has become a highlight of our year to have these Japanese students attend NW and to get to know each of them,” said Gabel.
This year’s program has 14 students, nine women and five men, living in Hospers and Fern. Each year, they are divided out into host rooms of students on campus who may not have a roommate or in empty rooms on wings. Anyone can apply to host, but the program looks for students who will be intentional in their interactions, who will watch out for the Japanese students who have never experienced anything like dorm life. On Sundays, the students also experience an American home and family experience through a local church host family.
During the week, their schedule is just as busy as their host counterparts. Typical weekdays include two morning classes, oral English and American culture, followed by an afternoon field trip to places like Diamond Vogel Paint, Blue Bunny or the Sioux County Historical Museum. Then they have an hour and a half of tutoring done by five NW tutors: Corinne Wiese, Brittany Kuiper, Anselmo Kim, Trey Harms and alum Seth Hernig.
“I chose to be a tutor because I love getting to know others. The program has been amazing! These students are so kind and hard-working,” stated Corinne Wiese.
Evenings involve various activities like board games, basketball, ice skating or Orange City Arts performances. Intermixed every week, the students will have the opportunity to try local cuisine from surrounding restaurants, and to honor Orange City’s Dutch heritage, they can try traditional Dutch foods like pea soup and pigs-in-a-blanket. Before the students head back to Japan on Feb. 7, they will perform a traditional Bon Dance in the I-club Cultural Fair on Feb. 1.
“It’s so much fun to get to know the students, to learn more about their culture and to introduce them to Orange City and Northwestern,” said Carrie Anderson, the program coordinator.
The Winter English Program has been putting people from different cultures together for many years and will hopefully continue to do so for many more. Currently, the connections are expanding ever further with the first-ever American Culture and Language Program being offered on campus from Feb. 15 to March 20 in which six students from NW’s Japanese sister college, Keiwa College, will have the same opportunity as the Winter English Program along with the ability to join NW students on a spring service project.
“We love having contact with these students for the three weeks, really getting to know them and sharing our lives and our faith with them,” stated Howe.