Danielle Sczesny has discovered that shopping is the universal language of teenage girls.
Her family is hosting one of 16 Japanese exchange students who have been visiting St. Ursula Academy in West Toledo for the past two weeks.
After discovering that the Japanese student she was hosting loved to shop, Miss Sczesny, a senior at the school, planned a trip to Chicago so they could spend time together checking out the city's many stores.
"Hosting a student is a lot of fun," said Miss Sczesny, who lives in Waterville. "They bring you all these presents and you get a taste of their culture."
St. Ursula Academy established an exchange program about 15 years ago with St. Ursula High School in Hachinohe, a city of 245,000 people at the northern tip of Japan's main island. Canadian missionaries took the Ursuline religious order to Japan in the 1930s.
Japanese students visit Toledo's St. Ursula Academy every two years. The program has been so successful that officials at the Japanese school hope to create a similar exchange with St. Francis de Sales High School or St. John's Jesuit High School in Toledo. The Japanese school has about 450 female students, but is planning to become co-ed next year, teacher Takayuki Hori said.
During their visit, the Japanese students, who are all 16 years old, attended regular St. Ursula Academy classes for part of the day. They spent the rest of the school day in a separate class practicing their conversational English.
Yui Miura said she thinks St. Ursula Academy is very beautiful.
"Everyone is very kind with us," she said.
The visiting Japanese students have varying levels of fluency in English, and most were shy about trying out their language skills. They carried around small computers that can quickly translate Japanese words to English.
"It gets easier to find things to talk about. You figure out ways to explain things," Miss Sczesny said. "You become a big thesaurus."
Last week, the Japanese students got to experience the highlights of Toledo with a few of their St. Ursula Academy hosts. The group toured the Toledo Zoo, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Old West End, the downtown waterfront, and the University of Toledo campus. They also met briefly with Toledo Mayor Jack Ford.
Miwa Kudo said she had a good time at the zoo.
"I liked the tigers," she said.
The exchange students are scheduled to leave today for a three-day tour of Washington before they return to Japan. Earlier this week, they said good-bye, or "sayonara," to their Toledo hosts with an assembly at St. Ursula Academy that featured traditional Japanese songs, dances, and crafts.
"I really like learning about other cultures," said Stephanie Wiezbenski, a senior from Toledo who hosted a Japanese student. "It's nice to introduce them to new things and see their reactions."