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Whistler youth head fundraiser for cultural exchange to Japan

Ten local teens to visit Whistler's sister city, Karuizawa, in October



Fourteen-year-old Whistler Waldorf School student Garrett Riley knows they do things a little bit differently in Japan, where he's headed this fall on an exchange to Whistler's sister city, Karuizawa.

Like, for example, the washrooms.

"I've read so much about how different it is, like going to the washroom and all that stuff, so I just want to see what all the different things there are," he explained.

Of course, learning about the squat toilets common to Japan isn't the only area of knowledge the Grade 9 student hopes to beef up on during his week-long trip to the mountain town this October. Besides improving his Japanese, he's hoping to experience a culture radically different from the one he's used to, and is organizing a community fundraiser next week to help cover some of the trip's expenses.

"I went to an information session and they talked about going to Japan as if it was an everyday thing," Riley recalled. "But it sounded so crazy to me, I don't know why. I said, 'Mum, I really, really, really want to do this,' and I was fortunate enough to be chosen."

Riley was selected along with nine other local students aged 14 to 16 to represent Whistler as ambassadors in the cross-cultural exchange. A group of 10 Japanese students visited the resort from Karuizawa in March and participated in a range of what Riley called "tourist-y stuff," like zip-trekking, ice skating and snowshoeing.

The students have been corresponding on an almost weekly basis ever since, and, despite not speaking the language, Riley is proud to call the Japanese teens his friends.

"The language barrier was difficult at first, but once I got to know them they were very cool," he said.

The fundraiser will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 12 at Creekbread, with a portion of every pizza sold after 5 p.m. divided equally among the program participants to offset transportation costs while in Japan. There will also be a 50/50 draw and silent auction.

Since 1999, Whistler youths have been taking part in the municipality's exchange program with Karuizawa. The two mountain resorts are similar in geography and population and have both hosted events during the Olympic Winter Games.