Kanna Momose is the first international student to compete in the Lady of the Lake pageant.

Kanna Momose is the first international student to compete in the Lady of the Lake pageant.

International student joins Lady of the Lake pageant

Like many Lady of the Lake candidates, past and present, Kanna Momose enjoys reading and spending time

Like many Lady of the Lake candidates, past and present, Kanna Momose enjoys reading and spending time with friends; she has a busy schedule between school, extra curricular activities and the many social engagements that come with being a candidate; and she loves animals.

What sets Momose apart from her fellow Lady of the Lake candidates, and all those who have come before her: Momose is the first international student to participate in the program.

“I never thought I would be doing it,” she admitted. She remembers seeing last year’s candidates take to the stage during Lake Days and at various community events leading up to it, but never would have dreamed she would one day don a black and white sash and join her peers in one of the Lake’s oldest traditions. She is sponsored by the Lions Club.

Momose is 17 years old and from Miura, a suburb of Tokyo, Japan, one of the 10 most populous cities in the world with more than 6,000 people per square kilometre. When Momose arrived in Lake Cowichan in September 2014, suddenly living in a town of less than 3,000 came as a bit of a shock to the system, however, the biggest obstacle she had to overcome was language.

“I felt so scared because I didn’t understand totally what people were saying. I couldn’t understand what they were thinking about, so it was really scary,” she said.

Over time, though, her English proficiency grew, thanks in large part to time spent talking to her host family and the friends she made at school.

Momose said she chose to study in Canada because she’d heard it’s a very safe country with good public education systems. She wanted to learn about a whole new culture and meet new people. Having been a shy and somewhat withdrawn teenager in Japan, she wanted to change or reinvent herself and thought studying abroad might be one way to do that.

Joining Lady of the Lake is a big step for someone who wants to come out of their shell, especially if that person is still learning to speak English. She said nothing like Lady of the Lake exists where she’s from, and when she explained it to her parents they were shocked.

“Yes, they were surprised,” said Momose. “At the same time they’re very happy because I used to be very shy. I couldn’t speak in front of a lot of people.”

All Lady of the Lake candidates attend weekly Toastmasters classes where a high-ranking Toastmaster from Victoria teaches them how to be better public speakers and communicators.

Denise Allan, chairwoman of the Lady of the Lake Society, said that Momose did express concerns about the public speaking aspects of being a candidate.

“Luckily Karen Armstrong, our Toastmasters lady, she’s ever so kind and patient and [has been] giving Kanna some tips and ideas,” said Allan, adding that other candidates have been helping out too.

Allan said she’s not sure why there has never been an international student participant in the past.

“It’s a question to ponder. I guess there’s just never been an international student interested. Because a lot of them stay and do graduate here.”

However, because Momose will be returning to Japan in January 2017, she is ineligible to win the title of Lady of the Lake, or first or second princess. Winners need to be at the Lake for the duration of their “reign” in order to fully participate in local events and activities.

“She’s just doing it for the experience, which we’re all great with,” said Allan.

Stacey Berry, Momose’s host mother, said she’s proud of the work Momose has been doing.

“Kanna really overcame obstacles,” said Berry. Because Berry and her husband both work in Duncan, Momose needed to get herself to and from school, and be able to function in the community without a minder always there to help her.

“She had to be a teenager and be self-sufficient, and she did a really good job at overcoming that,” said Berry.

Momose’s hobbies include reading about modern art and buildings (she hopes to one day study architecture in university) and horseback riding, which she does every week at Valley View Farms in Duncan. She admitted North American food took some getting used to but there’s one culinary discovery she can’t get enough of.

“I love poutine so much,” she said. “I went back to Japan for two months [last year] and I missed poutine so much.”

She said even more than poutine, she will miss the people of Lake Cowichan when she leaves for good next year.

“I love this peaceful community.”