Lacombe welcomes students from Rikubetsu

Students from Lacombe's sister community, Rikubetsu, Japan join dignitaries, the Rikubetsu Friendship Society and their host families for a group photo at Terrace Ridge School following their arrival in the community Saturday for a five-day visit. Ashli Barrett / jpg, LG

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Two different cultures came together in the City of Lacombe this week as the community welcomed a delegation from its Japanese sister city.

A total of 13 junior high school students and four chaperones from Rikubetsu – a rural, farming community in Hokkaido – arrived in Lacombe Saturday morning for a brief five-day visit designed to give both students from Rikubetsu and their host families in Lacombe valuable insight into each other cultures.

“You can’t put a price on learning about someone else’s culture,” said Marlene McQuesten, head of the Rikubetsu Friendship Society.

“You find different things about how they do life, and they find out how we do life. Some things are the same and some are different…. Today, diversity is so important and with diversity there’s unity and the world becomes a little smaller.”

Rikubetsu and Lacombe twinned in 1986 when both had populations around the 5,000 mark. Since, Lacombe has more than doubled, while Rikubetsu’s has been cut nearly in half as a result of technology improvements in the agriculture sector, and Japanese law dictating land use must be agriculture-driven.

While the towns themselves have changed over the past 33 years, what hasn’t is the strong bond between the two communities.

A delegation has visited Lacombe nearly every year, and while Lacombe has not always been able to send a delegation there, connections made have been remembered. McQuesten says during one trip to Rikubetsu, they met a young boy living on a bug farm, only to discover the same boy would be their host student years later. Another gentleman continued to write her husband, Bill, and always asked that he take care of his children and grandchildren when they visited the community.

In July, however, the friendship society did organize a trip to Rikubetsu, where they toured the community, and stopped at the Ginga no Mori Astronomical Observatory where they’re studying the Aurora Borealis, and visited a kindergarten class.

“They performed a dance and we had lunch with them,” said McQuesten. “It was really sweet because they didn’t have any inhibitions – they just talked Japanese to us and we tried to do our best engaging with them.”

As for those visiting Lacombe this year, they were treated to a wiener roast at Kraay Family Farm, a trip to the TELUS World of Science in Edmonton and a tour of the city, including the fire hall, police station and Sunny 94.

On Tuesday, a farewell banquet was held for the students before their departure on Wednesday.