American, Japanese students bond at Kid Olympics
The children launched themselves forward at the signal of the official, each channeling their inner cheetah in an attempt to win the footrace.
More than 240 Japanese and American students participated in the Kid Olympics cultural exchange and sporting event July 27 at the Okinawa Amicus International Elementary School.
The event was designed to foster mutual understanding and familiarity with Japanese and American culture and enlighten each community’s perspective of the other, according to Rodney A. Pratt, the event coordinator.
“If you get a group of Japanese and American students together they are naturally going to gravitate to the group that they (verbally)communicate with,” said Pratt. “What we are doing here is pairing up American and Japanese students, so that they have to work with someone of another culture and another language … to achieve a common goal.”
The international pairs competed in several events, including water balloon tosses, footraces, basketball and tug of war.
The teamwork required by the sporting events fostered communication and created a bond, which gave the children a shared experience to help in building a lasting friendship, according to Pratt.
The friendships formed during the event helped the participants gain a new perspective toward their neighbors.
“I think it gives the people of Okinawa an opportunity to interact with us on a personal level as opposed to them strictly seeing us in our military role,” said Laura Novotny, a military spouse and the mother of two participants. “My sons are very curious about the island and its people, so this gives them a great opportunity to be able to branch out and make new friends.”
Bonds formed between children can also serve as a basis for parents to expand their social circle and get to know their international counterparts, according to Pratt.
“There haven’t been a lot of opportunities for Japanese families to actually see the American family unit, and (when they do) they realize there are more similarities than there are differences,” said Pratt.
By the end of the day, both Japanese and American students could stand proud and complement one another on a job well done, armed with the gift of new friendship.
“It was so much fun for me to be able to participate in the different activities and to make new friends,” said Kounosuke Ishikawa, a 9-year-old participant.
The opportunities presented by the event were valued by participants of both countries.
“It is very good to meet Americans and a great opportunity to connect and experience a different side (of American culture) from what many Japanese see,” said Inako Ishikawa, a parent at the event. “This gathering helps maintain the peace and harmony between our two cultures.”