Two Reedsburg teens are ambassadors, part of a group welcoming 81 Japanese students.

Shelbi Stowers and Loren Tock are helping Japanese students navigate a crash course intended to enhance their English-speaking skills and understanding of American culture. The Japanese students were on the University of Wisconsin-Richland Center campus July 30 through Aug. 8. After this orientation, the Japanese students will travel to various parts of the United States to spend the coming year as high school exchange students.

While language teachers and other staff plan and lead lessons, area teens play an important role in helping their counterparts from Japan. The local teens live, study, eat and learn 24/7 with the Japanese students, especially focusing on their assigned small group. They’re question answerers. They’re study buddies. They’re cultural interpreters.

What’s different between U.S. and Japanese culture, other than language? In just a few minutes, a group of four young women from Japan listed food, bathing practices, the extent and way we express feelings, humor, the extent of diversity within the culture, how we socialize and who we socialize with. Along with gaining comfort in speaking English, the Japanese students are gaining understanding of and practice navigating American culture.

Alex Mortimer of Richland Center said he enjoys being a mentor.

“I try to keep in mind that this is their first impression of America,” he said.

As he works with the Japanese students to help them improve their English, he added, “When I see that light come on in their eyes, that’s really cool for me.”

He said the communication skills he’s honing may be useful in his intended future career as a software engineer.

“You have to slow down and think, about how we change our language and still understand each other,” he said.

On-site coordinator Jessica Laeseke said she appreciates the work of the mentors.

“They have a challenging job in that they’re helping students who are about the same age as they are,” she said. “It’s rewarding for them, too, because they learn about another culture, and, in contrast, about their own.”

To learn more about the UW-Richland Japanese summer program, including ways for area teens to take part in 2014, visit and follow the links to community/outreach>continuing education>youth programs; go to; or call the Office of Continuing Education at 608-647-6186, ext. 227.

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