Friday, March 23, 2018

Exchange students line up on a staircase outside the Big Horn County News office. From the left: Alice Kato, Hiroki Omichi, Cienna Kim, Riko Yamaguchi and Ryo Yuhara.

Asian invasion

5 new exchange students arrive in Hardin and Custer
For Jill Dale of Hardin, hosting an exchange student from a foreign country has been an annual event for the past 14 years, and summer 2017 is no exception. Three other families joined her in this pursuit and, as a result, five Asian exchange students have traveled to southeastern Montana – four reside in Hardin and one in Custer.
Dale had the opportunity to meet her exchange student Alice Kato during a trip to Tokyo, Japan from mid-June to mid-July. Alice, in turn, traveled to the United States through the LEX Language Project.
“Japan fits in Montana; by land-space, we are greater than Japan,” Dale said. “Japan has 127 million people to our just over 1 million.”
Tokyo contains nearly 9.3 million people, making it about 2,500 times more populous than Hardin. The main way for people to get around the colorful Japanese city, Dale said, is by public transportation where “you’re [crammed in] like sardines.”
“Just when I think you can’t fit another person,” she said, “they have employees on the platform backing up into the train to squish a couple more in.”
Alice will attend Hardin High School this year, along with Cienna Kim of Seoul, South Korea, who arrived via BFE – her country’s version of LEX. If anything, Hardin is even smaller to Cienna than Alice, as her hometown of Seoul contains nearly 9.9 million people. Both of them will be juniors.
The three other exchange students – all from Japan – will reside in Montana until Aug. 17: Ryo Yuhara, Riko Yamaguchi and Hiroki Omichi. Ryo, like Alice, arrived via LEX, while Riko and Hiroki arrived through a Japanese youth organization called Labo International Exchange.
“I want to study English and know American culture,” Cienna said, “and I want to introduce South Korea’s culture, too.”
Alice, for her part, wants “to experience Halloween and Christmas” in the United States. She said people wear costumes during Halloween as in the U.S., but Christmas just involves giving presents.
“I believe in Santa Claus,” she said, “but my parents don’t.”
Both are still getting used to the summer climate, which they said was hotter and dryer than Japan and South Korea. In addition, Cienna misses eating rice on a regular basis.
Aside from Dale, the other families who adopted exchange students are taking on the task for the first time: in Hardin the Noteboom family has Ryo, and Morse family have Cienna and Hiroki; in Custer, the Yochum family – due to pleading from the children – have Riko.
“I have a hamster and she thinks that’s really cool – she’ll stare at it and the hamster will run around,” said Charlie Yochum, who will be a freshman this year at Custer High School. “I have cows and she wanted to use a pitchfork the first day we had her. She wanted to do chores and all this stuff.”
Jochum added that Riko also “has humor,” such as when she pretended to put a baby doll’s dress on her while shopping. It doesn’t happen often, Yochum continued, but when it does, it’s rather funny.
At this year’s 4-H Youth Fair, Riko had the opportunity to show one of the Yochum family goats and a rabbit. As “designated sister,” Yochum helped her through the fair and attempted to keep the squabbling among her three younger sisters to a minimum.
The Notebooms, in the meantime, are playing “a lot of tennis” with Ryo, who has played the sport since he was a young child. 
Soon after Ryo arrived in the United States, photography shop owner Cabel Noteboom said, his family has taken him boating at Yellowtail Dam in Fort Smith and they visited Little Bighorn Battlefield in Crow Agency.
Noteboom said taking on an exchange student has been fun for both him and his family.
“He’s very polite and very nice,” Noteboom said. “It’s good for our kids to see.”
For Hiroki, this may be his first time in the United States, but he had it on good authority from his sister that the trip would be fun. According to Hiroki, she arrived in Texas in 2014.
Though he hadn’t been in the U.S. long at the time of the interview last week, he had already found a liking for hotdogs.
To learn about the 4-H International Exchange Programs, go online to