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For one Campbell River student, Graduation in 2023 is extra special

18-year-old Kosei Sakai has battled cultural, language barriers on path to graduation
18-year-old Carihi High graduate Kosei Sakai came here as a Grade 9 international student from Japan. He’s stayed here for three years in Campbell River. Photo by Edward Hitchins/Campbell River Mirror.

Next month, students from Campbell River secondary schools will walk the stage in what is one of the single most important moments of their young lives: graduation.

The stresses of the celebration include plans for prom, final exams, and the entry into post-secondary school life, whether entering college or university or even getting into the work force full-time.

READ MORE: Carihi High, Timberline renew acquaintances as Carihi High basketball tournament starts

Now imagine that experience if you’re from another country.

Carihi student Kosei Sakai knows all about entering a different arena. A native of Tokyo, the 18-year-old Grade 12 student first learned of becoming an international student at his school in Japan. He admits he was absolutely nervous when first hearing about Canada.

“All I thought about when I heard ‘Canada’ was nature,” said Sakai. “That, and I knew the country, the size of it was very big.”

Coming to Campbell River as a fresh-faced teenager, Sakai said he much preferred the Rivercity over going to a larger city, such as Vancouver.

“I decided to come here, at the end of Grade 9,” said Sakai. “I was thinking about coming here, or maybe Vancouver. But I decided here. There’s too many international students in Vancouver. I thought maybe I wouldn’t speak English as much and speak more Japanese if I was in a big city like that.”

Settling on Campbell River, his first experiences with Canadian students and culture was drastically different from what he experienced back home, especially during hours he wasn’t at school.

“It was a different culture,” said Sakai. “I would get into a lot of trouble with my host family. When I was home, my mother was doing everything for me. But now I had different responsibilities. I had to do chores, like wash my plate after dinner and things like that. It was so different.”

Initially, Sakai was only supposed to stay for six months. Then, the COVID pandemic hit, stopping the world and shutting the door on a potential return home. Sakai decided then that he would stay in Canada and continue his studies.

He said schoolwork, especially compared to the structured education in Japan, was challenging.

“It was hard. I was so nervous about saying something wrong,” said Sakai. “I was nervous that students would make fun of me. But everybody was kind and Japanese people, we’re very shy. We don’t talk a lot. But here, everybody was so open-minded and talked a lot and was very caring. In Japan, when school is finished, the teachers will stay. But here, teachers stay, but I wasn’t used to going home from school in 15 minutes.”

Sakai not only stayed in Canada, but thrived. Sakai even played on the Carihi boys basketball team as a point guard.

“I always just played for fun,” said Sakai of basketball. “I didn’t take it serious. We didn’t have a team the first year I was here because of COVID, but working with the coaches’ help. I’m going to keep practicing with my coaches.”

With his graduation only a few short days away, Sakai is thinking of something else entirely — his mother and grandmother will be attending, and he says there is mixed emotions as he hasn’t seen them in three years.

“I’m nervous, but I’m also happy, obviously,” said Sakai. “I’ll be happy to see them. I feel like in this three years I’ve had to become more independent than I had before. I have confidence in who I am now, I feel like I am a better person.”

The Carihi graduation ceremony is scheduled for June 28, at 4 p.m. at Strathcona Gardens.

Edward Hitchins

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