A special white hat ceremony was held for 29 students on August 11, with Calgary being the first destination in Western Canada able to welcome Japanese students back to the country.
The youth group was welcomed to Calgary with a show of warm hospitality through the long-running Muskoka Language International (MLI) program.
The international student visits were paused for the last three years as a result of the pandemic.
Tourism Calgary held a special White Hat Ceremony at the French International School in which the 29 high school aged visitors became honorary Calgarians.
“These are Japanese students from Osaka that have come to Calgary to learn English with local teams throughout the day, but also to come here and explore our city as well our attractions, our parks, our experiences here in the city,” said Jeff Hessel, senior vice president of marketing at Tourism Calgary.
“We’re really happy to see the return of Japanese travelers to the city.”
Hessel said that Tourism Calgary tries to give the white hats to all sorts of travellers to the city.
“Sometimes it’s delegates, and sometimes it’s celebrities and officials,” he said.
“But we would love to white hat anybody coming into the city—it’s very important for us to welcome people properly to show them our hospitality, as well as making them part of our community and really welcoming them as honorary Calgarians.”
MLI Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Lee said anticipation has been building up year-after-year, making the visit quite special.
“It’s a great opportunity to welcome young people to get to know what it is to be part of a Canadian city, and they’re in high school, they’re young, and they’re very much absorbing everything around them and learning from the great hospitality of the families that host them,” she said.
Students spending two-weeks in Canada
Lee said, the 29 Osaka Meisei school students arrived in Calgary on August 2 from Osaka, Japan. They will be spending two-weeks with Canadian families.
“They’re taking the English that they’ve learned—the writing, the reading, the little bit of practising—and now they’re surrounded by the sounds of local people speaking the language, and getting a chance to practice and put their words into actual sounds coming out of their mouth rather than just the idea of reading those words,” said Lee.
According to the Osaka Meisei teacher, Daisuke Nakano, the students, the teacher chaperones, and the school are quite excited and humbled by the Calgarian hospitality they have received since their arrival.
“We would like to express our gratitude for welcoming us and the Meisei students to the Calgary international program,” said Nakano.
“I’m very grateful for all the staff members of MLI, the teachers and also the younger Canadian cool guys, now our buddies.”
Nanako said international relations are important for building better futures.
“This program is normally for learning English, but it has also encouraged students to form a strong mindset and goodwill,” he said.
“The goal is not only to succeed in this program, but also to build up our happiness, let’s get together to create a sustainable future.”
Coming together from all corners of the globe
Nanako also expressed his gratitude to Canada and the families that have welcomed the Meisei students.
“Canada is a symbol of diversity, and this is shown with a warm heart welcome we received from the families,” he said.
According to Ward 8 councillor, Courtney Walcott, having two different groups of people from two sides of the world come together is what Calgary is all about.
“An event like this is the most important part of making an inclusive Calgary,” said Walcott.
“How we’re teaching and demonstrating to our next generation that they’re going to be leaders and take that inclusive vision to the next level is important, and having these partnerships and its diversity from around the world and coming together in kindness and care is where it starts.”
The students were happy with their white hats, and remarked on how much it meant to them.
“I like the hat very much, it’s my favourite hat, said Toru Kada, one of the Osaka Meisei school students.
Kada also gave a speech of thanks and gratitude to the Canadian families, and his new Canadian friends during the ceremony.
“The experience is a lot of fun and just a wonderful experience overall,” said Kada.
The ceremony ended in a line dance performance by the Osaka Meisei and Canadian students.
Tourism to Calgary affected by pandemic
According to Hessel, tourism declines to the city were very much a part of the overall global declines seen as a result of the pandemic. And although the results have been devastating for local partners with Tourism Calgary, he said, the industry has been recently seeing improvements in those numbers.
“Our partners are seeing travel again, they’re seeing people again, and we are seeing people from international markets again: UK, Australia, we’re even seeing people from India this year, with the people that have been walking around the streets.
“We can hear all kinds of languages on Stephen Avenue and it’s great to have tourism coming back to the city, and around the world.”
Hessel said even though Calgary has had a successful summer with the full return of the Calgary Stampede and other festival, it’s still going to take some time to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic.
“It’s going to take a couple of years, and certain markets we won’t see back until about 2025–2026, and it’s all about air access, and it’s all about restrictions in each country and how easy it is to travel,” he said.
According to Lee, the student exchange program has also been affected by the pandemic causing it’s full stop for three years, and only returning in August of 2022.
“I would hope that by this time next summer, we’re going to see it coming closer to what we remember in 2019,” said Lee.