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A U.S. Marine talks with a child during an English activity at the National Chuo Youth Friendship Center’s fourth annual English camp Nov. 21 to Nov. 22.

Photo by Katie Gray

CATC Camp Fuji Marines and Sailor guide local children through English lessons, culture exchange

1 Dec 2020 | Staff Sgt. Katie Gray The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

U.S. Marines and Sailors with Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji participated in the National Chuo Youth Friendship Center’s fourth annual English camp in Shizuoka, Japan, November 21-22. Approximately 30 children ages 11 to 12 had the opportunity to practice their English with the U.S. service members through a variety of lessons.

This year, students even “visited” the United States; after a short lesson and practice with their language partners, the students “left” Japan and went through “immigration” in the U.S., where the service members stamped their lesson passports and asked what camp activities they were looking forward to the most.

The English camp has grown exponentially over the years, with the number of applicants outnumbering the available seats. This year the camp was postponed from its usual summer timeframe due to COVID-19. In addition to being shorter and smaller in scale, all participants were required to wear masks and practice safe distancing.

Its structure, using native volunteers local to the base, allows the students some one-on-one time with native English speakers. Due to this aspect, Takahiro Tsuchiya, Youth Center Chief Senior Officer for Planning and Training, said the service members are instrumental to creating such a unique experience for the children.

Closing Ceremony Photo by Katie Gray
Gunnery Sgt. Edward Underwood thanks attendees at closing ceremony of the National Chuo Youth Friendship Center’s fourth annual English camp Nov. 21 to Nov. 22.

In addition to lessons, students and service members bonded by playing English games, before visiting Camp Fuji to test some of their newfound vocabulary by ordering from restaurant.

Gunnery Sgt. Edward Underwood, CATC Camp Fuji Provost Sergeant, recognized the value the games played towards breaking down the initial shyness from both the volunteers and participants. “Whenever you add some different things other than just sitting down at a table and then talking to each other, you actually get up and do things together, it breaks that ice really well,” he said.

Breaking down those barriers is crucial. Munehiro Kuwayama, Youth Center Deputy Director, said that despite everyone’s limited ability to speak the others’ language, seeing the Marines and children trying their best to communicate and share information about their culture bit by bit in English and Japanese is his favorite part of the annual event.

With the Camp Fuji volunteers, Deputy Director Kuwayama hopes children who attend the English camp will step out of their comfort zone and have the courage to remain actively involved.