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Okinawan students learn Devil Dog language

Date Posted: 2004-08-20

CAMP COURTNEY, OKINAWA, Japan – A half-dozen Marines spend 10 minutes trying to explain what a commissary is to 25 Okinawan students in a classroom.

“It’s where you buy food,” one Marine says, without one response from the students.

“It’s where you go to shop,” another Marine says, noticing more confused looks on each face.

Finally, one of the Okinawans offers hesitantly, “supermarket?”

The room erupts with laughter and clapping as the Marine answers, “Yes!”

This was the scene here as junior high to college students from Gushikawa, Ishikawa and Katsuren gathered at the education center Aug. 9-13 to learn or improve their English skills during the 4th Annual Camp Courtney Summer English Class.

Ichiro Umehara, community relations specialist here, started the class four years ago after receiving requests for an English class from several parents of Okinawan students whom he had previously taught in a local elementary school. Umehara was able to meet their requests and receive help from Marine volunteers.

The class helps bridge the language gap between the Okinawans and the Marines, according to Umehara.

Students learn how to introduce themselves, tell the volunteers where they are from and describe what their hobbies are.

Many of the Okinawan students said that the most difficult part of the class was reading a Japanese news article using English.

“It was hard to try and explain the (Japanese) article using English,” said Erika Gibu, a Ryukyu University student. “We sometimes had to try and use sign language.”

The class was able to transition smoothly from one topic to another as it went from explaining Japanese news articles to sharing family photos.

Students gathered around the Marine volunteers, who showed pictures of their friends and family in America. Okinawan students also brought in pictures of their families for the Marines.

“It is interesting for me to see people from all over the United States and exchange different culture (stories),” Gibu said.

Marines also had the opportunity to talk about their Marine Corps family, by explaining the meaning of different terms such as head, which means bathroom; cover, or hat; commissary; and boot camp, or Marine Corps recruit training. Some Marines barked like dogs while explaining the term, “devil dog.”

“Ever since I got here, I wanted to do something to interact with the people and the community,” said Lance Cpl. Michael J. Amorosa, a volunteer with 3rd Marine Division operations. “Teaching English was a way for me to do this.”

The event transitioned from classroom pictures, illustrations, and reading to adventure as the teachers and students toured the 3rd Marine Division headquarters, enlisted club, shoppette, commissary and the food court here. They also traveled to the American Forces Network station near Camp Foster.

“Life on base is different from what I thought it would be like,” Gibu said. “I thought there would be more Marines running around.”

“Some people think Marines are bad, but they are very kind,” Gibu said. “If other people can join programs like this, the community could change the way it thinks and feels about Marines.”

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