Note by Barry McDonald: Travel is a character changing experience. When we return home, especially from a major international trip, we view our home town, province and country differently than before we left. Ian Ruskowsky will be a changed person when he completes his two year term in Ashoro, Japan as coordinator of the Wetaskiwin/Ashoro exchange program. The Pipestone Flyer is proud to be working with Ian to create a series of articles and follow his experiences while living in Japan. The Flyer is proud to be able to share these with our 23,000 + readers.
Lorne and Verna Ruskowsky
As parents, “We were concerned when he was going to Japan with the nuclear reactor going up. But he went for a year, was back this summer and then signed for another year. He was a shy little boy and didn’t even like to stay overnight anywhere. People laugh at me now and say “ now that shy little boy is gone”. These are the comments shared by Lorne and Verna Rudkowsky as they describe their emotions surrounding Ian leaving the small community of Falun for a second term in Japan as the coordinator of the Wetaskiwin/Ashoro Exchange Program.
Ian’s Mom, Verna admits to mixed feelings about Ian’s second term in Japan. “I was apprehensive to see him go because he is such a nice kid to have around and we really miss him a lot. But the connection is so good with the telephones and Skype. Ian is a such a caring person. When he returned home he wanted to hook up with his friends and grandparents to talk to them. He makes a special phone call back for their (grandparents) birthdays. When I see how happy he is being there and what he is learning (it is o.k.). He has made many friends in Japan. One of his best friends is 82 years old, he has a girlfriend, work friends and a young fellow his age and his family have adopted him as their own”.
The joke among the family is that Ian is going to miss another year of haying. However, as Verna stated while walking past the balers, “That yellow one is Ian’s when he is home and mine the rest of the time”. The Ruskowskys farm 1500 acres with a crop rotation of hay, oats and barley. “We raise cattle. We have 175 cow-calf pairs and then replacement heifers that we background and feed grain the first year. We usually sell off the calves in the fall.”
How Ian caught the travel bug
“I think he really caught the travel bug when he first went to Thailand with the University of Alberta, Play-Around-the-World program,” explains Lorne. “The next time he went with the University to Central America teaching for 4 months. That is where he kind of got the bug by helping people there. He was able to teach kids how to play and have fun out of a tire tube or stick and that you don’t need all the electronic stuff”.
The Play Around the World program was a perfect fit for Ian who already had a history of travel to, and exploring new places. The program provides opportunities to offer play and recreation to underserved populations (people with disabilities, young offenders, orphans etc.) A central component of the program is for U. of A. students to broaden their world view, as they live, learn and work in a different culture.
But as Verna points out, “It started with 4-H. I think our kids learned what 4-Hers are about. Head, Heart, Hands and Health. 4-H prepared them for their future experiences. They learned to work by themselves, manage money, value of friendships and learned value of cooperation. Through 4-H he went to the States and really loved that. Then to the west coast with the School on a fishing boat and started to see the world and just fell in love with every aspect of how people live. He also spent 4 years at Goldeye and learned so much about people and dealing with them.”
Parents observations – changes in Ian
“We stay in touch regularly by phone and Skype. Works good but sometimes there is a pause so we have learned to be patient. He is interested in what is going on here and compares the farming in the rural area of Japan where he is at. Farming is similar but smaller. Smaller scale of machinery and they use all their space.”
“I think his views of Canada have changed. I think he will appreciate more of what we have..open spaces, freedom, easy living here. He is conservative on his money spending but with the high costs there, it will help him even more when he returns. He finds prices so reasonable here.”
One of the requirements of the exchange program is to learn the culture. Ian has undertaken learning the skill of drumming and he is learning the language. His goal is to overcome a language barrier to enhance a touring experience when his parents visit Japan later this year.
Ian’s parents have noted that Ian has strong views on how the Japanese differ from Canadians. “People over there are so respectful. There is little crime and hardly any drugs. The kids are respectful and easier to teach. Kids are more needy here, I guess. He is having a bit of a reverse cultural shock.”
Parents views overall
“Overall it’s going to help him tremendously. I think he is a more rounded person as a result of the experience. He has always been pretty respectful. Yes, respectful and appreciates his support from his family. He really enjoys when he is home and is always willing to help out when he is around. He misses that.”
Will Ian be able to shake the travel bug? As Lorne suggests, “And, he can always come back. Like the old saying goes -you can take the boy from the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy. Farming opportunity is here but you have to want it.” Verna hopefully noted, “He wants to go back to university so at one point when he makes that choice he will likely return home.”
In the meantime, whenever Ian hears a sound similar to home, or smells a smell similar to home, it will remind him of home. Just like rice cooking here reminded him of Japan.
The twinning of Wetaskiwin and Ashoro on September 5, 1990, created a connection between two cities a world apart, but also opened up a cultural exchange that will forever change two communities. During the 20 years there have been numerous delegate exchanges from Wetaskiwin visiting Ashoro and vice versa.
The Town of Ashoro hires a University graduate from the Wetaskiwin area to fulfill a year-by-year contract to be the Coordinator of International Relations. The CIR helps teach English, facilitates the student and adult exchanges, assists in after school and evening programs and overall facilitates cultural exchange between the two cities year-round.
Mr. Ian Ruskowsky is the current CIR and has officially committed to staying for the second year of a two-year term through September 2011 to September 2013.
For more information contact Ian directly in Japan: firstname.lastname@example.org