Lance Cpl. Luis A. Melendez Irizarry, a motor transport operator with Ie Shima Training, corrects student’s grammar Sept. 13 in Ie Village, Okinawa. The weekly cultural exchange started in February was initiated with the purpose of finding ways for students to practice the English they learned in class. (Photo by Nika Nashiro)
Lance Cpl. Luis A. Melendez Irizarry, a motor transport operator with Ie Shima Training, corrects student’s grammar Sept. 13 in Ie Village, Okinawa. The weekly cultural exchange started in February was initiated with the purpose of finding ways for students to practice the English they learned in class. (Photo by Nika Nashiro)

Ie Village students learn English through interaction with Marines

by Nika Nashiro
U.S. Marine Corps

IE SHIMA, OKINAWA, Japan – Students at Ie Middle School hosted Marines from Ie Shima Training Facility for a cultural exchange Sept. 13 at the school in Ie Village, Okinawa. The Marines participated in two back-to-back English classes.

The weekly exchange started in February and was initiated by vice principal Minako Akamine with the purpose of finding ways for students to practice the English they learned in class. Marines come out once a week for two hours to interact with students either in their English, home economics or physical education classes.

“I enjoyed interacting with the students today,” said Lance Cpl. Tanner Lynch, an aircraft rescue and firefighting specialist with the ISTF, who was volunteering for the first time. “I could tell that these students were really interested in learning English. It was definitely a humbling experience.”

Students were assigned to form a group to brainstorm a skit in English with the help from their teachers and Marines. The Marines assisted the students in coming up with the story, spelling out words to write dialogues, and going over their pronunciations while students read their lines.

“I think this is a great opportunity for students to learn English through frequent engagements with the Americans,” said Yousuke Uchima, an Ie Middle School English teacher. “The students are always looking forward to their visits. One of the positive outcomes of this exchange program is that there are more students who are wanting to study English so they can have more conversations with the Americans.”

Ie Village has been putting effort in English education as their school board motto reads “dream for the world but, keep home in your heart.” Ie Village is accessible only by ferry and is located nine kilometers off the west coast of the main island. Because the island does not have a high school, once the students graduate middle school, they need to leave their hometown for high school. As part of the school’s agenda, teachers provide opportunities for students to gain life skills to be independent, according to Hirofumi Shingaki, the Ie Middle School principal.

“I think it’s fantastic watching students interact with Marines who come from different lifestyles than them,” said Shingaki. “One of the skills we focus is communication. We want students to learn different cultures and study abroad and be able to come back to their hometown and contribute to the island’s development. One of our education principles is to focus on English education. Because we believe English education is necessary and is important for students to be exposed to practical English, we link up with the Marines stationed in Ie Village to have these cultural and friendship exchanges.”

Simple casual greetings from local residents out in town can develop friendship. These ongoing exchanges with the shared Okinawan community will only enhance the bilateral relationship.

“These exchanges help build the relationship with our local community,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher W. Allard, a staff non-commissioned officer in charge for ISTF who has been volunteering since April. “It’s a warming feeling when these students wave at me and say ‘Hi Chris,’ when they see me out in town.”

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