- Associated Press - Sunday, October 1, 2017

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - While a Japanese exchange high school student has been introduced to football, prom and snacking in class, he’s introduced his host family and fellow students to a Japanese sport: Kendo.

Shodai Okamoto, 17, is spending the school year at Northside High School. He had never been to the United States.

“I want to study English,” Okamoto said, noting that he enjoys learning about other cultures.

The Times Record reports that Okamoto has participated in kendo since he was 7 years old and recently went to Dallas for a kendo event with a Little Rock-based kendo group, where he met Takahiro Nabeyama Sensei, a well-known kendo instructor. In kendo, participants, wearing protective gear, score points by hitting each other’s arms, necks, heads and bodies with bamboo swords.

Okamoto taught his English class about kendo, something that was completely new to them, English teacher Lee Currie said.

“Having Shodai lends a global perspective,” Currie said.

Currie usually has at least one foreign exchange student in class each year, and the class is always fascinated to hear about their experiences, he said.

Okamoto wrote all of the students’ names in Japanese for them.

“He’s fun to have in class,” Currie said.

Classes are more relaxed here than in Japan, Okamoto said. The teachers are not as strict. On his first day at Northside, another student sitting by him in class asked Okamoto about himself, and upon learning that he was new, introduced him to the class. Now, they’re friends.

Okamoto’s host parents, Beth and Michael Greenfield, are trying to spend as many weekends taking trips so Okamoto can see more places in the U.S. and have new experiences.

“We are trying to see as much as we can,” Beth Greenfield said. “We are planning a trip to St. Louis.”

They also have plans to visit Memphis and recently went to Mount Magazine.

“He hiked his first mountain,” she said.

Beth and Michael Greenfield do not have children, but Beth grew up in a busy house full of kids, so being a host family brings some new life into their home, she said.

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Information from: Southwest Times Record, https://www.swtimes.com/

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