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University students, Marines tear down language barrier

3 Jun 2013 | Lance Cpl. Nicholas Ranum

NAGO, Japan - When traveling and living abroad, there are certain items on everyone’s to-do lists. Visiting historical monuments, cultural landmarks, shopping districts, and experiencing a different natural environment are just a few examples.

Marines stationed at Camp Schwab decided to forgo the sight-seeing for a day and instead participated in a cultural exchange with students of the Meio University English club May 21 in Nago.

The university was founded April 1994, and the club formed shortly after its opening when two students wanted to improve their English-speaking skills and asked for help, according to Catherine C. Latham, an English professor at the university.

To facilitate a fruitful experience and to increase the students’ proficiency, Marines assigned to Camp Schwab began volunteering to help teach English. The tradition has continued for nearly two decades.

“Marines and sailors from any unit are free to participate, and we usually have four to eight individuals volunteering every week,” said Lance Cpl. Ricardo Gonzalez, a Marine Air-Ground Task Force planning specialist with 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “I started volunteering for the English classes when the school year resumed for the university.”

The visits allow the students and volunteers to learn about the similarities between their cultures, according to Gonzalez. 

This week’s exchange involved the students and Marines talking about their hometowns, favorite music, foods, books and video games.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” said Gonzalez. “The service members demonstrate to the students that they are individuals who have families, friends and hobbies. Students see them not just as Marines and volunteer teachers but also as friends.”

The students were not the only ones to gain an understanding of their peers from across the Pacific.

“The exchange is also a great activity for the Marines in the sense that many of their friends are in the U.S.,” said Gonzalez. “They are able to meet a group of people who are the same age and have similar interests.”

Learning about Japanese customs is one way for the Marines to increase their knowledge of their host nation, according to Gonzalez.

“There are many reasons that this cultural exchange is beneficial for both the students and the Marines,” said Gonzalez. “The best part of the exchange is that the students and service members see it as something to look forward to every week.”

The club has grown since its inception from six to 70 students and now includes participants from numerous countries.

“We have students in the club from different places in South America in addition to Japan,” said Latham. “Some want to be English teachers and others either want to learn English for their jobs or for themselves.”

For some students this is not only an education in English but also the U.S. military.

Some of the students are from Niigata, which is on mainland Japan, according to Kanae Miyouta, a university student. 

There are fewer opportunities to interact with the U.S. military in Niigata, but while studying at the university, they can learn about U.S. service members and their unique culture, she added.

Exchanging information allows for learning to be enhanced across both spectrums of participants and increases the understanding of two different groups, according to Latham.

“The students enjoy it and find it very motivating,” said Latham. “I know that the Marines also enjoy coming out to volunteer. Overall it is an excellent experience for everyone involved.”

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