Sister Cities (Ashoro and Wetaskiwin)

Pipestone Flyer


Note from Barry McDonald – A WWII veteran who had experienced front line action shared some wisdom with me. He stated that the war took him from a small rural community across the ocean to a different country. He wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but knew he would be facing danger. He described how he was in the trenches in a different county, rats were crawling over them, the difficulties they had trying to sleep in the rain and mud, the ongoing uncertainty of what was going to happen next and most of all comrades were being shot, wounded and killed right next to him. He had a life-changing experience. But, what he found cynical was that when he returned home, locals were still discussing and arguing about the same petty issues as they had before he left. To him, they now seemed insignificant. 


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.


As 26 year old Ian Ruskowsky got into the family vehicle and headed east from the family farm near Falun, 15 minutes west of Wetaskiwin and headed to the International Airport, his thoughts reflected on his visit with his family and friends. He had returned home for a short visit after spending 10 months in Ashoro, Japan. 

“This past July I had my first experience going home to Wetaskiwin for a visit to see my family and friends after being gone for 10 months.  It was really peculiar being a visitor in my own home, having my mom ask me what I wanted for dinner every night, having to schedule in time to play with my sister's children and trying to avoid my dad putting me to work on the family farm. He (Ian’s dad) did manage to get in the odd comment in regards to me jet setting so much that I haven't helped with making hay for 3 whole years. Actually, since I have been gone so much my four year old nephew has developed this habit of pointing at airplanes when they fly overhead and saying, there's Uncle Ian.”

Ian is fortunate to have a family that is so supportive of his ‘travel bug’ because he has returned to Japan and won’t see his family and friends for another whole year. Ian is serving as the Coordinator of International Relations, Wetaskiwin/Ashoro Sister City. 


How the program benefits Wetaskiwin/Alberta/Canada

The Wetaskiwin/Ashoro exchange program has been in existence for over 20 years and since then there have been numerous delegate exchanges from Wetaskiwin visiting Ashoro and vice versa.  As Ian describes, “The benefits of this sister city program and what it means for Wetaskiwin, and on a grander scale Alberta or Canada, would be obvious if you ask anyone who has been involved.  In fact, when I was visiting home this summer I happened to run into the father of one Wetaskiwin’s past delegates. He said that his daughter had an experience of a lifetime and is even interested in how to get a job in Japan when she has completed high school.  Furthermore, he said that his younger daughter was now on the list for the next trip to Ashoro coming up in the spring of 2013”.  

This example clearly illustrates how this sister city partnership is encouraging our youth to get involved in community, both local and international. Participants in the exchange are provided a unique opportunity to share in culture and mutual understanding of partnering countries, Canada and Japan. “It (the exchange) opens their eyes to all of the opportunities there are in the world and that they can dream big.”  

“When I got the CIR job offer they had asked me to commit to working in Ashoro for at least two years.  This offer came not long after the Tsunami hit Japan in March of 2011, so of course I was little hesitant and my family I think at times thought that I was crazy even to consider going .   After being here for a year now these concerns have long passed and my nieces and nephews have gotten used to waiting for the next care package from Uncle Ian in Japan, containing Japanese sour plums, weird action figures and instructions on toys that they have no clue how to read!”


Ian describes his role as coordinator.  

“Being an avid traveller and an advocate for the importance of sustaining local community, I could not have found a better suited opportunity at this point in my life.  It is cliché to say but it is "an opportunity of a lifetime" for me to live in another country all while being encouraged to think outside of the box to strengthen the 20 plus year bond between the City of Wetaskiwin and Ashoro, Japan.  

Since I began my position of CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) last September the breadth of my role here seems to be growing along with the amazingly positive impact it is having on me and the local community professionally and personally.  The little things that I notice that still set me aback are what I am finding continue to make this experience one of a kind.  For example, going to the local grocery store on any given day results in at least three to four kids that know me from around town hanging off of my grocery cart and saying in broken English, ‘Hello, how are you?’, until they are blue in the face.  These little things like forgetting to drive on the left side of the road or hitting my head on the door frame while exiting a room are the physical reminders that I am not in Wetaskiwin. But ultimately, the people of Ashoro are what make the experience.  As anyone can attest who has been on an exchange through the Ashoro/Wetaskiwin Friendship Society, the pleasantries, ear to ear smiles and eagerness to help are what make Ashoro such a special place.” 


Honour and sincerity is apparent in every interaction experienced in Japanese culture 

‘Residing in Ashoro and seeing firsthand the respect, honour and sincerity that is apparent in every interaction experienced in Japanese culture has made huge impact on me.  Seeing this has really made me understand how all of my actions and decisions affect others either positive or negative and has given me an ideal to strive for.  I have experienced a realization that although Ashoro is on the other side of the world in Japan, it is just like Wetaskiwin in terms of sense of community, rural and urban influences and the citizens being proud of where they come from.   Ultimately, I have come to understand the importance of sharing our similarities and celebrating our differences. 

  Now that Ian is back in Japan, he shares his thoughts, “Back home, I have even heard the word proud here and there when talking about the courage it takes to work on the other side of the world”.  A bold young man continues on his life changing experience. Watch future editions of the Flyer and share more insight into Ian’s life altering adventure.

For more information contact Ian directly in Japan: