Monday, November 15, 1999

Electronic translator not needed for friendship

Electronic translator not needed for friendship
The Ann Arbor News
By Pamela Appea
Clinton family hosts Japanese student in exchange visit

It has been a whirlwind autumn for 13-year-old Steven Denuyl.

After being accepted to the Lenawee Intermediate School District’s Japanese Exchange program in late September, the Clinton Middle School seventh-grader and his family began plans for hosting a Japanese exchange student.

Junjii Matsuo, 14, from Moriyama, Japan, arrived in late October and stayed for a week with Steven’s family.

Despite the facto that Junji didn’t know much English and Steven doesn’t know Japanese, the two teens hit it off right away.

Armed with his electronic translator, Junji made green tea and miso soup for his host family after taking a day or two to bounce back from the 13-hour time difference. Steven and many of his five brothers and sisters have learned how to say thank you (arigato) in Japanese along with several other greetings.

Steven said he plans to really buckle down to study Japanese before his trip in next May, since he now has a better idea of the language barrier in Japan.

Described as being “kind and generous” by several Clinton Middle School teachers, Steven was one of the first Clinton students selected to be one of eight “ambassadors” for the program.

“He’s so concerned about making up for the work already,” said Ann Dunham, his English teacher.

Legally blind, Steven does not spend time feeling sorry for himself or feeling insecure, said Bridget Kelley, Steven’s mother, a part-time nurse for Saline Community Hospital.
Originally published Monday, November 1999

His condition is called Stargardt’s disease, a juvenile form of the untreatable macular degeneration, which Steven has had since the third grade.

Steven says having limited vision does get frustrating at times. But he can see well enough to read and write with a special pair of glasses. Steven’s central vision is most affected and the progressive effect is a roughly circular area of blindness. To read, Steven must hold a book as close as two-three inches away from his face. In school, teachers say, Steven goes up to the blackboard to take notes.

Junjii arrived at Clinton Oct. 26 and left Nov. 1. Bridget Kelley said the whole experience was better than what the family expected. She said the night Junji arrived, the family was surprised by the number of gifts Junji had brought.

“Half of his suitcase had food in it (to give away),” Bridget Kelley said.

“And the other half was filled with presents … I don’t know where he fit his clothes,” Steven said.

Described by the Kelleys’ as a friendly and polite boy, Junji loves playing games, making origami and—at least while in Clinton—eating super-sized McDonald’s meals. According to Junji, Bridget Kelley said, in Japan the largest size a person can order for French fries or a soda would only be considered a medium here in the United States.

“We’ve figured out that Junji is really a ham,” said Mike Kelley, Steven’s stepfather.

The Kelley-Denuyl family found explaining Halloween to Junji wasn’t an easy task. Junji liked the novel experience of trick-or-treating at different houses, but Mike Kelley said Junji kept on offering money in exchange for the candy to people at each door.

“They don’t celebrate Halloween in Japan, so it was a new thing for him,” Steven said.

The family also took their Japanese visitor to the haunted house at Wiard’s Orchads in Ypsilanti, Michigan Speedway in Brooklyn and to the Pighopper’s Farm in Clinton, where Junji saw farm animals for the first time.

Nina Howard, coordinator for Japanese programs for the Lenawee Intermediate School District, said Junji is thoroughly “a city boy,” like the other Japanese exchange students who are all from the same state.

The exchange group going to Japan next year will include other middle school students from participating towns in Lenawee County, including Adrian, Tecumseh and Hudson. All students will stay with the families of the students they hosted.

According to a bilingual tourist brochure given to each U.S. host family, Moriyama in Shiga Prefecture has grown in the past 20 years from a town of 35,000 to 60,000 people. The city is about a 60-minute train ride to Kyoto, Howard said.

Moriyama also is one of several cities in Shiga Prefecture to have a sister-city relationship with cities and towns in Michigan, including Adrian.

Steven and the other students were picked to participate in the program, said Howard, to learn more about cultural differences and to form relationships with people from other cultures.

“We’re looking for students who are curious and open to other cultures and students who will be good ambassadors to the U.S.,” Howard said.

Bridget Kelley said Steven has saved up $250 so far for the trip and they will be sure to give him plenty of film and presents for his trip to Japan next year—and an electronic translator just like Junji’s.

Photo Caption: Japanese exchange student Junji Matsuo, 13, left, stayed at the home of Clinton Middle School student Steven Denuyl, 13, in Clinton for a week. Steven will head to Junji’s hometown in May.

Originally Published Monday, November 15, 1999