By Marge Woodfin

Pilot Staff Writer

It was a surprise birthday party for Yasuhisa Kaga from Yokohama, who is the house guest of Harry and Barbara Horn of Brookings.

Yas, as he is called by the Horns and other Brookings friends, came to the United States through the International Hospitality Center (IHC) of Honolulu, Hawaii.

Also attending the birthday party were Oleg Chernishenko from Ukraine and Wipanee Winnie Akarapusit from Thailand, both high school students in the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program.

FLEX is sponsored by the U.S. Government through the Freedom Support Act, and administered by the IHC.

Oleg is also living with the Horns, and Winnie is staying with Janet and Dick Routson at their home up the North Bank of the Chetco River.

Janet Routson, who is the area contact for the IHC, is looking for additional host families for students for the academic year 2002-2003.

Oleg and Winnie are students at Brookings-Harbor High School where they will study until the current school year ends in June.

Yas, who was celebrating his 34th birthday, is in the United States because he wants to know the life of America.

Yas is here on an individual home stay. He said he discovered the International Hospitality Center over the internet, through the search engine Google.

He left his position as an engineer of electronic devices at Furukawa Electronics where he was employed for eight years, to come to the United States to prepare himself to become an entrepreneur.

I want to open my own business international information, technology and consulting, he explained.

He said he will first work with Japanese customers, but he wants eventually to have a company in San Jose or Seattle.

He said he left his firm because he has questions about the Japanese workers life.

I want to create products. My company doesnt support my ideas, so I decided to change occupations. I am studying to optimize design of electronic devices and software products, he said.

He wanted to learn more about the United States because, you have a very good system.

He continued, Americans can improve themselves. Its a very good system.

He also wanted to learn conversational English, he said.

Although he plans to open his business in a larger city, he had many good things to say about Brookings.

I like a big city, but a small city is also good. This area has everything, friendliness, particularly with neighborhoods, beautiful nature, with unexpected beaches and coastline, not built up, things money cant buy.

He said the things found in American cities, like big bars and big shopping centers, can be found in Japan, but he was surprised by the open coastline here without big buildings.

He was also impressed with the city hall, the library, chamber of commerce and the senior center.

He said in Japan, the city government would have 10 times as many people. He noted other differences as well.

In America the citizens can change themselves and the system, so its important to read newspapers. In Japan you cant change the system, so you dont need local newspapers. Japan is like the old social way with power concentrated.

Yas said things are changing in Japan, but very slowly.

He noted differences in greetings, here where everyone smiles and speaks and in Japan, no smile; serious, stone faces.

The birthday cake and ice cream brought comments about food differences as well.

Not much ice cream in Japan, and what there is doesnt taste the same. Japanese do not care for very sweet foods.

Japanese prefer bitter tastes, which leads into different slang for being cool. In Japan, if you are called bitter you are cool. And being called sweet is an insult.

Perhaps one of the reasons Yas considers Seattle as a possible location for his planned business is because he is a Seattle Mariners fan. I love baseball, he said, adding that he plays on an amateur team.

When the foreign guests were asked their favorite American foods, Yas listed salmon patties and green bean casserole, while Winnie said her favorite is spaghetti, and Oleg said, enthusiastically, Big Macs.

Both Winnie and Oleg will be required to finish high school studies when they return to their native Thailand and Ukraine.

Winnie is shy and soft-spoken. Janet Routson said the young woman recently answered the telephone for the first time since she came to their home five months ago.

The Routsons have been housing visitors through the IHC for 17 years, beginning when they lived in Hawaii. Until this year the visits have been short, three-week to improve spoken English.

Oleg, on the other hand, appears to be very confident and social.

With the interesting mix of personalities, countries of origin and native languages, Yas birthday party was an international happening, with goodwill, friendship and laughter prevailing.