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Participants pose for a group photo during a Host Nation Summer Program event on Camp Kinser, Okinawa, Japan, June 22, 2024. This program hosted a cultural exchange that included challenges and games for U.S. Marine volunteers from the Kinser Single Marine Program, local Okinawa volunteers from Kaiho High School and Lions Clubs International, students from Kinser Elementary School, and participants from Akata Town Children’s Club. This was the second year that local Okinawa participants joined the program hosted by Kinser Elementary School. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jesse Davis)

Photo by Cpl. Jesse Davis

Camp Kinser Host Nation Summer Program

28 Jun 2024 | Cpl. Joanna Stauss Marine Corps Installations Pacific

CAMP KINSER, OKINAWA, Japan – Kinser Elementary School held the annual Host Nation Summer Program on Camp Kinser from June 11 to 28. This program is a series of morning classes that facilitates a cultural exchange between elementary school students from both the U.S. and local Okinawa communities, held with the support of Camp Kinser and Marine Corps Installations Pacific’s G-7, Government and External Affairs Branch.

“The culture exchange is one part of the program that is unique,” said Ayano Shimojo, a Kinser Elementary School teacher. “It lets us get together and have fun and build the mutual relationship between our nations.”

Most DoDEA summer school programs are held Monday through Friday, but Shimojo received permission to host the classes Tuesday through Saturday to allow local students to attend on Saturdays.

Only KES students attended on week days to learn Hiragana and Katakana, participate in gym stations and learn about Japanese culture.

“I participated in my first culture exchange when I was in sixth grade. That experience left me with a positive feeling and wanting to do something better for the community,” said Shimojo. “I believe this is my opportunity to keep it going so that the next generation also gets to experience this.”

Upon arrival for Saturday’s session, children from Kinser Elementary and the Akata Town Children’s Club were sorted into teams led by volunteers from the Kinser Single Marine Program, Kaiho High School, and the Lion’s Club.

They started with an icebreaker called shoe toss. Participants and volunteers each removed one shoe and threw it to the other side of the school gym when instructed. After all the shoes were thrown, they needed to grab someone else’s shoe and return it to its owner. The goal was to introduce yourself to the other person in their native language.

“This is the first time some of the local students are getting to use English in conversation with native English speakers,” said Akiko Hentona, a teacher from Kaiho High School. “They’ve spent about six years studying English in the classroom. This is a very precious experience for them to use it, especially for the small children.”

The next activity was working together as a team to complete eight stations to collect key words needed to complete the secret final station.

“My favorite part was the chopstick drop and the paper airplanes,” said Eito Yamuchi, a student from Jonan Elementary School. “I thought it was interesting that we could communicate with each other even though we didn’t speak the same language.”

After completing the final station, the teams each had a piñata to break while waiting for the other teams to finish. The children took turns being blindfolded and trying to hit the piñata with a hockey stick. Once the last piñata was broken the children gathered together to take a group photo before being released to their parents.

“Every year after the event happens we attend several meetings to build the program and make it more successful for the next year,” said Shimojo. “If we keep doing great things together as a community it helps us grow the program and reach more people.”

The same events were repeated each week to reach a new group of students. Most of the volunteers continued to assist every week.

“I measured the success of the event based on the kids' faces,” said Shimojo, “At the beginning they look so nervous but after all the events, they look so happy, and they started playing with each other and talking to each other. It’s a great feeling as a teacher.”