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Kagoshima high schoolers take English language immersion trip -- to Akita Prefecture

High school students are seen on Jan. 12 in the city of Akita learning English from a Japanese student of Akita International University, right. (Mainichi)

A group of high school students from the city of Kagoshima ended up taking quite a detour when their school excursion to Britain was canceled due to the synchronized terrorist attacks in Paris last November -- and they instead ended up on an English language immersion program in Japan's snow country region of Akita Prefecture.

    The program, which ran for two nights and three days beginning on Jan. 12, took place at Akita International University -- an institution that has an established reputation for its learning environment and its achievements to date, which include a rule forbidding the use of the Japanese language in the classroom.

    "It has become difficult to locate a safe destination for overseas school trips, so we are hoping to offer the opportunity for students to learn 'living English' right here in our own country," noted the organizers of the excursion, who have indicated that they are considering collaboration with a travel agency for future journeys.

    A total of 29 second-year students from the privately-run Kagoshima Shugakukan Senior High School participated in an off-campus program facilitated by Akita International University that is known as the "English Village."

    For six demanding hours on Jan. 12, the students studied English taught by a group of aspiring teachers that included nine Japanese university students, along with six foreign exchange students from countries including the United States.

    The students enjoyed English conversation exercises, including one where they were asked "How do you say 'risu' in English?" Even if they were unable to provide the correct response of "squirrel," they were permitted to use other English phrases that they were familiar with to describe the answer, such as "a small animal" or "something that eats nuts."

    "I had actually hoped to try using my English in London, but still, learning 'real' English in a different classroom setting than usual is an enjoyable experience," commented participant Yushi Hamamura, 17.

    While the students were scheduled to meet in London with counterparts from Oxford University, many parents began objecting to the plan due to the terrorist incident in Paris. Consequently, the high school began searching for alternate destinations where the students would be able to use all the information they had already studied.

    The plan was subsequently finalized to change the school trip destination to Akita International University. The institution is known for its unique atmosphere whereby students are required to spend one year studying overseas, and where more than one in four students are themselves foreign exchange students.

    "Nowhere else would students be able to study English at a level close to that of native speakers," Kagoshima Shugakukan Senior High School principal Keiichi Uchiyama noted optimistically. "I want this three-day experience to be one wherein students are reborn."

    The English Village, where language courses are taught exclusively in English, has been utilized by a total of around 460 elementary, junior high and high school students over a period of 15 different sessions since it was launched in January of last year. This is the first time that the facility has become the destination for a school trip.

    "The English program here offers an even higher-quality experience than that of going overseas," commented Hiroki Uchida, a professor with the Akita International University graduate school who oversaw the students during the program. "I hope that this will pave the way for a new type of school excursion."

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