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Exchange student is an American culture fan

One of Momoka Ito's favorite experiences in the U.S. so far has been a trip she took to Chicago with host mom Carrie Brittain, and her host aunt and host great-grandma. From left are Chrissie Briggs (host aunt), Lois Hanson "GG" (host great-grandma), Brittain, and Ito outside the Chicago Theater. Submitted photo.1 / 3
Momoka Ito is shown on the first day she arrived in River Falls with her host silbings. From left are Adelyn Brittain, Momoka Ito, Jacob Brittain, and Matty Brittain. Submitted photo.2 / 3
Momoka Ito attends prom with Muneeb Kamran. She said Prom was another highlight of her year in America. Gretta Stark / Rivertown Multimedia3 / 3

Back home in Japan, Momoka Ito has been learning English for years. She said that's split into four areas of focus: reading, writing, speaking and American culture.

"I love American culture," Ito said.

That, she said, is why she decided to do an exchange trip to the United States.

Ito said her family at home, including mom Yoshiko, dad Toyokazu, and 10-year-old Hiroto love American culture too.

The year abroad has been a good one, Ito said.

So far her favorite memory is a trip to Chicago she took with her host family.

"It was a trip with my sister and my grandma," said Ito's host mom Carrie Brittain. "We went for 'Dancing with the Stars.' So, we saw the show, and we kind of did some sight seeing."

One of the highlights of the school year for Ito was prom.

"I loved it," she said.

Her host family includes Carrie, Travis, Matty (8), Adelyn (4), and Jacob (2 1/2) Brittain.

Carrie Brittain said her family lived in Japan for four years, returning to the U.S. in 2012. Matty was actually born in Japan, she said.

"When we left there, he was 3," Brittain said. "So he doesn't really remember much, but I have all these books and things in Japanese, so (Ito) was able to read to the kids, so they were able to hear authentic Japanese and stories."

Brittain said she's glad Ito was able to share her culture with her family, and she's glad she's gotten to share American culture with Ito.

Ito said America is different from Japan in many ways.

One of the biggest differences? Food, Ito said.

Even the sushi she's had here isn't the same, she said.

"That is American sushi," Ito said. "So I can't compare."

Japanese sushi, Brittain said, is more simple, with fewer ingredients.

The foods Ito misses most from Japan are rice and yakiniku (a grilled meat dish), she said.

She hasn't had a chance to make very much Japanese food for her host family yet, but she did prepare some Sapporo ramen for the Brittains.

"Her city in Japan is famous for the ramen," Brittain said. "So her mom had sent her ramen."

Brittain's kids also tried a Japanese ice cream treat and some Japanese candies.

Brittain said they plan to make yakisoba soon — fried ramen-style noodles with bite-sized meat, vegetables and sauce.

However, they've been eating a lot of foods popular in America at home, including Mexican and Italian food — or the American version of that.

Another big difference between Japan and America, is school, Ito said.

"American high school is very free," she said.

Japanese students aren't allowed to change their hair color, paint their nails, nor choose their own subjects in school.

The students also stay in their classrooms and teachers come to them.

This year was Ito's first time riding a school bus. Ito said she was nervous at first, but not any more.

"I love it," she said. "The driver is very nice, and I have friends on the bus, too."

Ito's time in America hasn't gone without rewards. Her English has improved and she's learned to do laundry — something she hadn't done in Japan. She's also learned a bit about herself.

"Don't be afraid," Ito said.

Brittain and her family have also learned a lot from having Ito here. She said she'd recommend hosting to anyone thinking of it.

"I think it's such a cool experience, and just talking to other people who have had exchange students," Brittain said, "the things that you can learn from their culture."

She said she thinks it's good for the community too.

"It's also really cool, because she became part of our family," Brittain said of Ito. "It's not like, you just have this stranger that you have in your house. She's like one of our kids now, and my children call her sister."

The whole family will miss Ito when she goes back to Japan June 5. Ito said she'll keep in touch with her host family and American friends, even after she returns to Japan.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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