A mixture of cultures and countries filled the room, with some students playing a friendly game of ping pong, sone huddling around a game of Jenga hoping the blocks don’t collapse, and others finishing up their English courses.
Then at the strike of 2 p.m., the first floor of the Kaplan International building swarms with students.
Sitting at the front desk, Student Services Coordinator James Fukaye ‘11 spoke about the importance of international exchange. “This year we are trying to really close that gap between Kaplan students and Whittier College students to really give them the opportunity to learn English first-hand and get a taste of American culture,” Fukaye said. “The courses are self-fit for each student’s English proficiency, and with our conversation starters program every Wednesday they are really able to practice.”
Huddled around the game of super stackers was Naoki Akiyama from Naruto, Okayama Japan who joined the Kaplan family two weeks ago. “In Naruto, where I am from, there are big tidal whirlpools beneath the Naruto Bridge,” Akiyama said. “Back home I would always play basketball. I especially like to play with American people; they take the game seriously. I play at the courts they have here.”
Yuki Sakaiwho sat next to him knodded in agreement to Akiyama’s response. “He always keeps his basketball in my room,” Sakai said jokingly.
Sakai, from Nishinomiya, Japan entered the program in April. Sakai has been on excursions and has participated inprogram activities, including trips to Huntington Beach, Little Tokyo and most recently to Universal Studios Hollywood Horror Nights.
“It was so freaky and crazy,” he said with his hands on his mouth. “Freddy and Jason; the costumes and mazes were so scary.”
When asked about their homestay and accommodations and whether they felt homesickSakai and Akiyama both answered in unison with a big confident no. “I do miss my Japanese food,” Yuki admited. “The menus are the same everywhere. You go and it’s just hamburgers and pizza, all the time. There are no vegetables.”
“I worry about my health sometimes when I eat American food and want to know why are there are no vegetables,” Sakai added.
They both looked ateach other and conversed in their native tongue to find the right words to explain their favorite hobbies. “We like to hang out with our American friends and party full-time,” Sakai said as he put his hands up as if dancing.
Prior to Kaplan, both revealed their hesitancy to speak English in Japan, which was a minor part of their curriculum in their home country. “We never had the chance to speak English until we came here,” Sakai said. “It’s funny because we sometimes visit the Japanese class and we say ‘hello’ but they just respond ‘Konnichiwa’ back. We want to learn English but they just want to speak Japanese. So far it has been fun to learn the different idioms and slang words Americans use.”
While overhearing the conversation, Turkish student Umut Serhatkulu asked, “Are there any drums on campus I can play? Because that would be really cool! I love to listen to all types of music and play to rock and pop songs that are really popular in Turkey.”
Pointing at his shirt, Sarkai talked about the meaning of the logo Robotica, which is related to one of his unique talents. “I build robots for fun,” Serhatkulu said. “ I have been in a lot of world league competitions back in Turkey. Three years ago I recieved honorable mention at LEGOLAND California for my customized robot.”
Although Umut Serhatkulu grew up in Turkey, he was born in Idaho and had visited California several times. “I miss my friends, family and food but I have made hfreinds here,” Serhatkulu said. Walking by was student Daniel Henao wearing a backward cap. “‘Paisa,’ that’s what we call us Colombians from Medellin,” said Henao when asked where he was from.
After being told by a friend in Colombia about the Kaplan program in Canada, Henao went to a Kaplan admissions office in Bogota. When he found that there were issues in obtaining a Canadian student visa he decided to study English in Southern California.
“I have been here for six months and at first it was really hard,” Henao said. “I did not understand anything and told myself, ‘what are they talking about,’ but now I feel really at home here.”
*The interview found below was translated from Spanish to English for the purposes of this article.
Just out of high school, Henao hopes the program will allow him to learn English proficiently along with another language, so that he will easily transition into a University here in California. “I miss my friends and family back home but I get to talk to my parents everyday who tell me, ‘hechale ganas al estudio que si se puede (work hard on your studies, you can do it).’”
Henao, who started at level one of Kaplan’s English proficiency program, is now at level five, and his English competency program is almost finished. “What has been most difficult is pronounciation [of English words] like most other students,” Henao said in his rhythmic Colombian accent. “I was for a while the only Latin American student here at Kaplan because most are Japanese and Chinese but it was good for me because it forced me to speak English and zero Spanish. But we are here in California and there are Spanish speakers everywhere.”
Henao’s favorite part of Whittier College is being able to use the Graham Athletic Center, the Lillian Slade Aquatics Center and the soccer field. “My favorite hobby is playing fútbol, swimming; all sports,” Henao said. “ I am a big fan of Barcelona and Colombia Atlético Nacional which not many people know about.”
According to Henao, he might be a prospective student of Whittier College. “Es muy bonito (it’s really pretty). Compared to other US universities, it’s very small, but compared to the universities in Colombia, it is supremely large. I think it has a lot of resources of College. Despite our dormitories not being very nice in Campbell, the new constructions in Turner Hall and the science building is really nice. Everyone is really friendly. Some just walk by but most are super friendly. I have made great friends with all the Japanese students who are really goofy and funny.”