Technology helps local family in hosting Japanese student

Kristin and Bernie Arnoldi and their children, Mark and Jacqueline Arnoldi and Frank Meyers, hosted Hiroaki “Hiro” Matsumoto, a Japanese exchange student, for four weeks in their Mechanicsville home. Hiro, who is 13, roomed with 11-year-old Frank. While Hiro does study English, a translation app used to help the Arnoldis communicate with their guest.

MECHANICSVILLE – Maybe there is a universal method of communicating.

Hiroaki Matsumoto, a 13-year-old from Kyushu, the third largest island of Japan’s five main islands, wrapped up a four-week exchange program on Saturday as the guest of the Arnoldi family in Mechanicsville. He roomed with Frank Meyers, 11, the oldest child.

He prefers to be called Hiro, and, despite the occasional puzzled look during the interview, he was at ease as host Kristin Arnoldi used a translator app to provide him with the questions. He entered in responses in Japan and they were then translated into English.

Hiro was among 30 students, known as delegates, and three adult chaperones that came to Virginia through the 4-H International Exchange Program.

Without hesitation, Hiro said he came to the United States “Because my English teacher forced me to apply.”

He has been studying the English language for 11 years, but said, “I can’t speak too much.”

Hiro admitted that he didn’t do much research before arriving in the States, but did say that the country is what he expected.

The positives he pointed out included the ability to experience nature, as well as play basketball, tennis, swim, and walk trails.

The Arnoldis – Bernie, Kristin, Frank, Mark and Jacqueline – were dedicated to providing the Japanese teen with as many experiences as possible. The most memorable for Hiro was visiting Washington, D.C. He said he would share that trip with his classmates.

He proudly showed a souvenir he had gotten from the Natural History Museum.

At this stage, Hiro isn’t particularly interested in returning to the U.S., because, as is typical for his age, he has many friends in Japan.

He would, however, encourage friends and classmates to take part in an exchange program.

Kristin said her family decided to host an exchange student after she received an email from a home school group of which she is a member. She said they were in “desperate need for host families, and it was Hiro and two other boys.”

Descriptions were included of the boys and she said Hiro seemed to be an ideal match for Frank.

For Frank, “It’s an interesting experience; it’s very different than what I’m used to.” The two boys have done their best to come to terms with ways to communicate. It has been difficult to communicate, but Frank said they have managed.

Their bond is such that Frank is planning to go to Japan as Hiro’s guest.

Kristin already plans to apply as a chaperone, “so whenever we think he’s [Frank] ready to go, I’m going to volunteer to be a chaperone.”

When Kristin was a sophomore in high school, she traveled to Norway and Germany as an exchange student. After her own experience, she said she is “already familiar with the process.”

“Overall, it’s been a great experience,” Kristin said. “He’s taught us a lot about the Japanese culture, but also that even if you speak a different language -- even without the translator -- you can communicate.”

Just like any family, she said, “We laugh around the dinner table; expression is like 90% of communication.”

Hiro is an only child and quiet. Kristin said it took him awhile to become accustomed “to the sounds of a lively house.”

The Arnoldis are relatively new to Mechanicsville. They moved here in February because Frank, who had been home schooled, wanted to attend middle school. “We were looking to either stay in Fredericksburg or move to Richmond. Hanover County has awesome schools, so we decided ‘Let’s do it.’ ”

Kristin explained that States’ 4-H International Exchange Programs is a non-profit organization headquartered in Seattle, Washington. “We work with 4-H Youth Development Centers of Cooperative Extension in the U.S. and a network of international partners around the world to conduct cultural immersion and exchange programs. Since 1972, our exchanges have impacted nearly 60,000 youth and their families in 31 countries on 6 continents!”

The organization’s mission is “Enhancing world understanding and global citizenship through high-quality 4-H international cultural immersion and exchange programs for 4-H aged youth.”

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