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    Emily Canning with her husband Glen Hobbs and children, from left, April, Thomas and Charlie and their Japanese exchange daughter-sister Hono Naiki.

Opening new doors | LifeSTYLE Wimmera

By Lotte Reiter

When Emily Canning welcomed Japanese exchange student Hono Naiki into her family, she was unaware of how quickly her own world would change.

As part of a Japanese language program at Horsham’s St Brigid’s College, the Matsudo International High School student lived with Emily, her husband Glen Hobbs and children April, Thomas and Charlie for three weeks.

From Halls Gap Zoo to a classic Australian fish ‘n’ chips lunch, Hono became a member of Emily’s family, incorporating her English study into experiences of Australian life, sights, food and culture. But it was an adventure Emily never intended to have. 

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At the start of the year, when Emily’s oldest son Thomas asked if the family could host a student, her response was immediate: no! 

“We had just moved out to my husband’s family farm, and we’re crazy in the mornings because we’ve got that extra drive. I didn’t feel like we would be the right fit,” she said.

“But Thomas just kept hassling me and really enjoying Japanese studies. He was learning it in his own time, borrowing books and audio tapes and I said to him, ‘put our name down just to scope it out’. Before I knew it, we had pretty much signed up and I really started to warm to the idea.”

Hono, 17, provided the family with its first experience in hosting an exchange student, and Emily said the unknown had her creating excuses.

As Hono’s date of arrival drew closer, though, she said she began to realise her worries were unwarranted.

In fact, opening her home to the world could offer her family a chance to ‘take a step back’ from themselves, reinvigorate their love for their surroundings and their interest in each other.

“It just worked out 100 times better than what I ever could imagine,” she said.

“I know it might sound silly because it was such a short time, but Hono had an impact on each and every one of us. 

“Sometimes when you get busy you don’t always sit down at the tea table at the same time, and you might not have all those chats that you might like to have. 

“Whereas when we had Hono, every night we all sat down and we’d have discussions, sometimes until 9pm. We’d be sitting there for hours, talking about our day, about Hono, about different things.

“It made us look at where we live in a different way as well, because we were talking about why we love the Wimmera and all the different landmarks and the history. We were taking more of an interest in what we were doing, our life and hers.”

Part of the family

Emily said Hono, a ‘spirited girl’, was adventurous and prepared to try anything, especially Australian food.

“Hono was always smiling, always happy, and always ready to give everything a go,” she said.

“But I know she really enjoyed the food here. The last night she was here I took her to Safeway, and she was there for an hour just exploring the isles. And she loved broccolini. At least one child enjoyed their greens.”

Like any experience, there were still challenges that arose for the family and Hono.

Despite using Google Translate, Emily said Hono would sometimes get lost in conversation at the dinner table, and she worried what would happen if there was an emergency.

But that language barrier also became a way of bringing them closer together.

“Some days I would have to pack a lunch for her. I would pack healthy snacks, and every day she would come home, and everything was eaten,” she said.

“But one day I had given her raw carrot sticks and she came home and was very apologetic. She said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t eat’. And I said, ‘that’s okay – you don’t like carrot?’, and she went on, ‘ah no, no, I don’t eat raw… I only like…’. She was getting her words mixed up and eventually said, ‘I only eat raw cat’.

“I said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t dish that up’. She was getting raw confused with cook, and carrot confused with cat, but it was a moment where we just looked at each other and burst out laughing and we carried that joke through for the rest of her time here.”

In life, sometimes expectations can exceed results. Other times, as in the Hobbs’s case, results exceed expectations.

And while the experience was short, Emily said it was clear that Hono, and all the other exchange students, had left a lasting mark on their host families’ hearts.

“My middle son, Charlie, had to give up his room when Hono was here. On the last day when Hono was leaving, he said he would gladly give up his room for the rest of his life if she could stay,” she said.

Emily said she understood that families might have reservations about hosting exchange students.

“They will probably say they’re busy and don’t have time, and I did wonder about how we would go. But in the end, it was just natural and fell into place,” she said.

“We have excuses for everything, don’t we? But take that leap of faith, because it can have a really amazing result. We’ve all made a life-long friend in Hono.”


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The entire Lifestyle Wimmera Edition 5 is available online. READ IT HERE!