Japanese Student Fond Of Local Customs

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Atsuko Ikemune has a warning for any foreign-exchange-student-wannabes dreaming of visiting her home country of Japan.


Don't go at Christmas time. You'll only get one present. Placed by your pillow as you sleep. And that's it.


Beyond that nightmarish variation, Ikemune says, there's really not much difference in the ways Japan and the United States celebrate Dec. 25.


In Japan, families put up and decorate Christmas trees, stores have big sales, and gifts are delivered via chimney (or window) by a western-looking, bearded, fat guy called -- are you ready? -- Santa Claus, but with a hard accent on the "s."


No wonder this 16-year-old exchange student from the city of Kobe doesn't appear to be struggling through a severe case of culture clash.


Ikemune seems to be having the time of her life as student-for-a-year at Payson High School, where she's in the middle of her sophomore term.


And she's developed affectionate bonds with her American family: construction worker John Pfarr, his wife Laurie, a third-grade teacher at Payson Elementary School, and their son, Andrew, 17.


This clan takes the term "exchange student" quite literally. In 1998, Andrew spent six weeks in Japan as part of the Youth for Understanding International Exchange.


So last May, when the Pfarr's 19-year-old daughter Holly got married and left home, Laurie looked at her empty room and started thinking of bringing their exchange experience full-circle.


Deciding to invite a Japanese student to their home was a no-brainer, Laurie says. Beyond that, the list of candidates was quickly narrowed down by a list of compatibility questions which included, "Do you go to church?"


Because Atsuko answered "yes," she was on her way to Payson two weeks later.


That was just last August. But already there are signs that Atsuko is a fully Americanized teenager.


She shyly admits that she doesn't like to clean her room, and that she's written her mother only twice since leaving home.


But the big tip-off comes when Laurie assures Atsuko that she'll be receiving not one, but many presents on Christmas morning.


"Yipeeee!" she yells.

This girl isn't having any trouble adjusting to American culture.

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