KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Some Okinawan eighth-graders have opted to spend their spring break in the classroom.

Twenty students from Yamauchi Junior High School are checking out what school is like for their American counterparts at Kadena Middle School this week as part of an annual exchange program.

Kadena student Rachel Armstrong has been carrying her Japanese textbook around with her to help sort out the words.

“I’ve been asking her a lot of questions about her school,” Armstrong said about her exchange partner. “I messed up a few times and she laughed. It’s been fun.”

The students are at about the same skill level with each other’s language, both of which are taught in their respective schools, according to Hatsuyo Shimoji, Japanese language and culture teacher at Kadena.

“They keep stopping by my classroom, asking ‘How do you say this? How do you say this?’” Shimoji said.

The students said it takes a mix of Japanese and English — and a whole lot of miming — to communicate.

One important question to know: Where’s the bathroom? On Monday, the first day of the program, five girls didn’t use the bathroom all day.

“They were too hesitant to ask,” Shimoji said.

Kadena student Dominique Holcomb said she’s noticed the Japanese students are very shy.

“[My partner] always hangs back a little in the hallways. I keep losing her,” she said. “I think it’s very interesting to see how they are in our environment.”

It’s quite a change from a Japanese school, Yamauchi student Sakura Kinjo said with translation help from Shimoji.

“The class atmosphere is so different,” she said, noting that American students get fewer breaks and have longer classes, but they don’t have to do any cleaning.

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