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Rifle a home away from home for Japanese student

Mike McKibbin/Citizen Telegram
Staff Photo |

Nanami Doi did not know anything about Rifle before she arrived in August. But why would she?

The 16-year-old lives on the other side of the world, in Shiga, Japan, a prefecture of comparable size to Rifle. Shiga, northwest of Kyoto, is one of 43 prefectures: governmental bodies larger than cities, towns and villages.

Through the Rotary Club International student exchange program, Nanami has seen and done many things in the few short months she’s lived with a Rifle family.



Now, she doesn’t want to leave.

“After they’re done with this year, they will all have an incredible set of friends. They’ll have this huge bond because they all had such a sense of adventure.”
Jeannie Humble
Rifle Rotary Club officer

“I want to live here forever,” Nanami said with a big smile toward the end of an interview on Oct. 18. She speaks English haltingly, sometimes using a small computer translator that shows her the English word she seeks. Nanami said she sometimes finds it hard to understand long stories told in English.



Nanami found out about the Rotary Club program through her high school principal in Shiga. She was directed toward the United States, then Rifle, where the Rifle Rotary Club helped find three host families, who will take turns helping feed and shelter Nanami through the rest of the year.

Nanami’s first impression of Rifle came at the mutton busting event during the Garfield County Fair.

“I was very surprised,” Nanami said.

Ashley Kramer and her family — husband, Dustin and two children, Quentin, 6, and Ava, 4 — love having Nanami around as her first host family.

Nanami said the feeling is mutual. In Japan, she has a brother, just one year younger.

“I like the children and their two dogs, one cat and five chickens,” Nanami said.

“We always wanted to do something like this,” Kramer said of being a host family. “We had considered being a foster care home, then this came along.”

Nanami attends Rifle High School, where “everybody is kind. Very nice teachers,” she added.

Her favorite class is U.S. history, something Nanami said her teachers in Japan had talked about and she grew interested in learning more about.

Stories to tell

She also likes the fact Rifle High School has “lots of space” compared to her multi-story high school in Japan, Nanami added.

She also attended a Rifle football game and sings in the school choir.

When she returns to Japan, she will tell her friends and family about Rifle High School.

“Here in class, the teachers use the [projection] screen every day,” Nanami said.

In Japan, teachers do so only occasionally and rely more on lectures, she added.

Nanami said when she graduates from high school in Japan and goes to university, she wants to study nursing.

“I want to help people,” she said.

Coming from a city with much natural habitat and close to the ocean, Nanami said outdoor activities can be different. For instance, she rode horses in Japan. But on an outing to the Coulter Lake Guest Ranch north of Rifle, she rode a horse by herself instead of in a line of riders.

“She did well,” said Kramer. “At one point, she was going a little fast and just laughing and bouncing along.”

Nanami also cooked a traditional Japanese dish called okonomi, which Kramer described as a “Japanese pizza.”

“My kids loved it,” she said.

Nanami’s eyes light up when she is asked to name her favorite American food: hamburgers.

And like most teenage girls, Nanami said she likes to shop.

Kaaren Peck with the Rifle Rotary Club is one of Nanami’s Rotary contacts in Rifle and said Japan has no Walmart stores; there are many, much smaller, stores that sell different items.

“So she took a lot of photos when we went to Walmart, since it’s so big compared to what she’s used to,” Peck added.

When she first arrived in Colorado, Nanami met other Rotary exchange students from other countries across the world when they gathered in Colorado Springs. While there, she and others met members of the U.S. Olympic team.

Before she leaves Rifle, Nanami wants to ski and see a Denver Nuggets basketball game, since she met an Olympic basketball player in Colorado Springs. Then, she and other Rotary exchange students will take a bus tour of much of the West and Southwest, explained Rifle Rotary Club officer Jeannie Humble.

“After they’re done with this year, they will all have an incredible set of friends,” she said. “They’ll have this huge bond because they all had such a sense of adventure.”

The tour will also include a trip to Hawaii for some exchange students, Humble added. Most of the program’s expenses are paid by the families of students and Rotary International, Humble said, with local Rotary Clubs providing monthly stipends for “inbound” students, such as Nanami.

Peck noted Japan is a popular choice for “outbound” U.S. exchange students, with three of every four wanting to go to Japan next year.

“It’s actually pretty rare to get a Japanese student,” she said.


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