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A sixth-grade student from Yonabaru Elementary School takes his turn at the “dizzy izzy” during a field day with fellow sixth-graders at Amelia Earhart Intermediate School on Kadena Air Base on Wednesday. More than 110 Yonabaru sixth-graders visited the school during a cultural exchange day.
A sixth-grade student from Yonabaru Elementary School takes his turn at the “dizzy izzy” during a field day with fellow sixth-graders at Amelia Earhart Intermediate School on Kadena Air Base on Wednesday. More than 110 Yonabaru sixth-graders visited the school during a cultural exchange day. (Fred Zimmerman/ S&S)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Sixth-grade students from a Department of Defense Dependents School here and a local Okinawan elementary school recently proved that, despite a language barrier, they could learn cultural lessons from one another and have a little fun.

More than 110 students from Yonabaru Elementary School visited Amelia Earhart Intermediate School on Wednesday for a cultural exchange.

Sarah Gatus, Amelia Earhart’s sixth-grade level chairperson, said the Kadena students visited the Yonabaru school in November and had such a good time that they wanted to reciprocate the hospitality.

The Okinawan students were treated to an American-style lunch in the school’s cafeteria and a concert by the school’s choir and handbell group.

They spent most of the rest of the day outdoors participating in a field day with their American counterparts, with events like the “dizzy izzy” and a tug-of-war.

Holding events like this is a great way to build relations with neighbors, Gatus said.

“This is a great way to foster better relationships with our host nation country,” she said. “It also gives the students a better perspective of the foreign culture. Some students never go off-base, so we provide them with the opportunity to learn about the culture.”

The base trip also was a first for many of the Yonabaru students, according to Isao Kinjo, Yonabaru assistant principal.

“Teachers have told me that students enjoyed the visit,” Kinjo said. “It was the first time most of the students saw America inside the fences.”

Kinjo said many students were blown away by how large the base was and how big the school buildings and playgrounds were. Language differences seemed not to matter for the students.

“They were playing soccer or jump rope together. There must be some language that only children can understand,” Kinjo said.

As part of Yonabaru Elementary’s integrated-learning classes, the students learn about international understanding. This year, interacting with the American students was the main activity, Kinjo said.

The students also learn English approximately five to 10 hours a year, with the program focusing on English communication skills.

“This was a great opportunity to actually try it,” Kinjo said, adding that many students enjoyed the visit. “I hope we will have a long interaction with Amelia and hope to do this again next year,” he said.

Kinjo provided some entries from the journals the students keep at the school.

Serika Nagayama, 12, wrote, “The first thing I thought when interacting with Amelia elementary school was that the school was big. I had a lot of fun playing together although our languages and cultures are different. I hope to see people from Amelia school sometime in the future and play together.”

Nana Uehara, also 12, recalled how friendly the American students were as they were quick to try and communicate with her and asked her to sit with them when she couldn’t find a seat during lunch.

“I am very happy that we had international exchanges,” she wrote. “We were able to have fun because people from the school were creative.”

Kanna Goya wrote about how big the school was and that the playground was big and grassy. She also commented on the choir’s performance.

“Although it was in English, their voices were beautiful,” she said.

She also expressed her appreciation for the visit.

“Amelia Earhart school’s hospitality was great and I appreciate them for inviting us,” she wrote.

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