Balmoral State High School, Australia, participated in a school exchange with Itami Municipal High School, Hyogo Prefecture. Callum Ferguson (17), a student of Balmoral, and accompanying teacher Veronica Seib share their experiences. Callum talks about the exchange program, his homestay with a Japanese family, and what he discovered through his communication with the Japanese students. Ms. Seib delves into the planning and preparations for the trip and shares advice for those considering educational travel and school exchange programs in Japan.

Callum’s school exchange experience

Harboring an interest in various aspects of Japan, from pop culture to history

I decided to participate in this educational travel program to Japan because I’ve been studying Japanese since the first grade of elementary school. I’ve always been interested in various aspects of Japan, from pop culture to history and tradition.

For the exchange, our school prepared presentations on five topics, and I was in charge of the presentation about the Australian Football League (AFL). In addition to creating the PowerPoint, we also took a ball with us to demonstrate how to kick and pass. We also let some of the students and teachers pick it up. I wish we had some time to play sports together. I think what’s great about sports is that it makes language barriers disappear in an instant.

About a week before our departure, I had my final exams, and the Japanese test happened to fall on the last day. That’s why my brain was more in Japanese mode than usual when I arrived in Japan. But there were still many words I couldn’t catch, and I struggled to speak in Japanese as well. I felt that I should’ve spent more time studying kanji characters.

Delving into high schoolers lives through activities from calligraphy to capsule toys

When we first entered Itami Municipal High School, we were so surprised by the warm welcome we got, with students waving at us from the windows of the buildings on either side. Then, we did a photo shoot with the boys wearing kendo uniforms and masks and the girls in yukata (traditional summer kimono). In the calligraphy class, we tried to write the characters for “dream” and “fun.” Although I struggled a lot, I have great memories of the event.

The presentation from Itami High School was about “gacha-gacha” capsule toys. It was so interesting! Some students even ended up buying a bunch of the capsule toys to take home afterward.

We were divided into groups of four, with two from each school, and played a computer quiz game where we had to guess the person. It spanned a wide range of genres, from historical figures to manga. That was also a lot of fun.

All of the students in Itami High School spoke English well, but when communicating in Japanese, they patiently explained things to us, using simpler words and sentence structures for our benefit.

Making everlasting memories through peer interactions and the homestay

On the day before the school exchange, I stayed overnight at the home of a student from Itami High School. I was able to relax at the school exchange seeing the familiar face of my host. I learned a few words in the Kansai dialect, such as “okini” (thank you) and “kamahen” (no worries), and they came to be very useful during the trip. I would like to learn more honorifics unique to Osaka. I was quite nervous at first, but after the second day, I found myself gradually getting used to the Japanese language.

Before coming to Japan, I had the impression that Japanese students were very quiet, but that completely changed. It is difficult to express yourself when you first meet someone, but I found that the students at Itami High School were full of character and energy. In the classes, it wasn’t just the teacher talking—it was a lively interaction with everyone involved. I thought there was a lot we could learn from this.

I was impressed by how history and traditional culture seamlessly blend into the modern cityscape—small shrines and temples that suddenly pop up amidst rows and rows of stores. Osaka Castle, the wooden temples of Nara and Kyoto that were built centuries ago, and the gigantic Great Buddha statue in Nara were all magnificent. I think the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima is a must-see for all visitors to Japan.

This trip inspired me to continue my Japanese language studies in university. I am still connected with my host family and friends from Itami High School. I plan to major in elementary education at university and hope to have the opportunity to teach in Japan in the future.

Interview with faculty

Veronica Seib

Veronica Seib teaches Japanese, English, and Social & Community Studies at Balmoral State High School. She has been teaching for 25 years.

Q.Tell us why you planned an educational trip to Japan.

A.Our school has been conducting educational travel programs to Japan every other year since 2016. This is the third time, but the first since the COVID-19 pandemic. Itami High School had previously visited our school for an exchange, and these exchanges have helped us deepen our relations.

Our school places great emphasis on Japanese language education, making it a compulsory subject for 1st to 2nd year junior high school students and an elective subject for students from 1st year of high school onwards. Classes start with fun games and origami, but from the third year of junior high school, the content becomes more difficult and in-depth, and that’s when students tend to lose their motivation to learn. The experience of actually visiting Japan plays a meaningful role. I have seen many students suddenly become interested in learning again after making friends in Japan and having engaging conversations with their host families.

Q.Tell us about the participating students.

A.A total of 28 students from the first to third grades of high school who are taking Japanese language classes participated in the program. In the past, students in the third year of junior high school could participate, but since it had been a while since the last program was held, we decided to limit participation to only high school students this time. I was one of the three teachers who led the group. I had previously lived in Gifu Prefecture as an exchange student. The other two teachers had lived in Japan for about 7 to 10 years each.

Q.Tell us about your destination cities and why you picked them.

A.The itinerary centered on a school exchange with Itami High School and overnight homestays with students from the school. We tried to maintain a good balance between urban and rural areas, historical heritages and modern society. Other activities included visits to TeamLab and Disneyland—places we thought would be fun for teenagers aged 14 to 18.

Q.How did you prepare for the educational travel program?

A.The decision to resume educational travel to Japan was made in January 2022. Since then, we began to incorporate more vocabulary in the Japanese language classes in anticipation of school visits, homestays, and shopping during the trip. Starting six months prior to the trip, we also held briefing sessions for parents every few months. In the three briefing sessions, parents provided us with the latest practical information pertaining to Japan such as SIM cards and card payments.

I’m in charge of the Japanese Club, a weekly extracurricular activity, and in the most recent semester, we used this time to practice using chopsticks, learn about our destinations in advance, and on packing advice. In preparation for riding the Shinkansen, we actually carried suitcases weighing 20 kg up and down the stairs of the school, and encouraged the students to keep their luggage as compact as possible.

We asked a travel agency to arrange the airline tickets and JR passes, but the school exchange and homestay accommodations were organized by the teachers of both schools through direct email exchange. I believe that this was possible because of our past exchange and relationship of trust between the two schools. However, because it has been several years since the last exchange, it took longer than usual to find host families. In the end, with the help of Itami High School teachers, all the students were able to stay with Japanese families.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it necessary to take extra health care and risk management precautions when traveling, and that was one of the challenges. We ended up sharing information about our students with allergies and asthma with each of the host families, and they were very kind in accommodating our students. Itami High School shared their cafeteria menu with us in advance, which was also very helpful.

Q.Tell us about this school exchange program in Japan.

A.The students from Itami High School were really friendly throughout the entire event. I am sure they were nervous, but they kept reaching out to us, and despite the short time we spent together, the bond between the students deepened. Australian students tend to be nervous and shy when speaking in languages other than English, but the Itami High School students were proactive and full of energy.

I think another reason it turned out to be such a lively exchange was thanks to the planning and careful preparation by the teachers of Itami High School. The interviews, quizzes, and other activities were designed to make the students feel relaxed and enjoy themselves. I was so moved to hear that even retired teachers participated on the day of the event in order to dress our students in traditional Japanese garments.

When the students of Balmoral State High School spoke in Japanese, everyone listened attentively. This provided a good opportunity for our students to gain confidence in their language skills.

Q.Would you like to do school exchanges in Japan again in the future?

A.Certainly. In 2024, Itami High School will visit our school, so it will be our turn to welcome them. Our students thoroughly enjoyed their exchange experience at Itami High School and have already expressed their desire to do their best when students of Itami High School visit our school. As a teacher, I would like to do whatever I can to make the next exchange at our school as exciting as this one.

Q.Finally, what advice would you give to those who are considering education travel or school exchanges in Japan?

A.What was particularly great about the itinerary was that the homestay and school exchange were held at the beginning. The students who had been feeling homesick immediately after their arrival regained their energy. It was a good opportunity for them to get used to Japan and the Japanese language. In addition, email communication between the students and the host families prior to the visit helped them get close quickly as soon as they met in person.

School Exchange Overview

Visiting School Balmoral State High School(Australia) open_in_new
Host School Itami Municipal High School(Hyogo) open_in_new
Date 27th November in 2023
Main Exchange Programs Intercultural Exchange, International Exchange
Age of Participating Students
Balmoral State High School : 14 to 18 years old
Itami Municipal High School : 15 to 18 years old
Number of Participants
Balmoral State High School : 31 people ( 28 students, 3 teachers)
Itami Municipal High School : 742 people ( 692 students, 50 teachers)

Educational Travel Overview

Itinerary 24th November - 13th December in 2023
Main Destinations Tokyo, Hyogo, Hiroshima, Kyoto