When We Met
This past October was the first time Seika Yamashita celebrated Halloween.
Seika had never dressed up, trick-or-treated or carved a pumpkin.
In her hometown, Halloween is not celebrated.
Seika, 17, is a foreign exchange student from Sasebo, Japan — a city about the size of Boise — and a student at Twin Falls High School.
She said she decided to enroll in an exchange program because she wanted to become fluent in English. She also has plans to learn how to speak Korean. Her goal is to become a flight attendant.
This is her first time visiting or living in the United States.
“I’m so excited. It’s so different,” Seika said.
How You Might Know Her
Seika is living with Elara Smith of Twin Falls, who is a first-time exchange student host. Smith said she has always been fascinated with the Japanese language and culture. She recently traveled to Japan to watch her favorite musician, Gackt, perform in concert. Smith described him as the Elvis of Japan.
So having a Japanese student come live with her for almost a year was an easy decision.
Smith said her goal is to help Seika learn English, and in turn, she helps Smith with her Japanese.
The two have traveled to Boise a couple of times and visited a number of Magic Valley attractions like Shoshone Falls.
Smith has also introduced Seika to her favorite cuisine — Mexican food.
“We don’t have Mexican food in Japan,” Seika said.
Her other American favorite? It took her a second to remember its name, but hash browns are now a treat. And while making friends can be difficult at times because she is learning English, Seika has become involved in extracurricular activities like city league volleyball and karate.
Seika is a black belt and has been involved in karate for more than 11 years.
“She’s quick. She can take on our instructor,” Smith said.
What’s Next for Her
For Thanksgiving, the two will travel to visit Smith’s family in California.
And while Christmas is a big deal in the United States, Seika said in Japan it is just another day. People still go to work and children attend school.
Christmas Eve resembles Valentine’s Day in her country. Seika said people spend time with their significant other and put presents under each other’s pillow.
New Years in Japan is the equivalent of Christmas in the U.S. Children receive a gift and some people climb Mount Fuji to watch the first sunrise of the new year.
“We cook rice cakes, eat a big dinner, families get together and we give cards to family and friends,” she said.
Seika won’t go back home until June, but the two are already planning a reunion that will be more than 5,000 miles away from Idaho.
This time, Seika will be the guide.
Tell Tetona Dunlap whom she should meet next for her weekly column: 735-3243 or tdunlap@ magicvalley.com.