SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A ceremony Wednesday at Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force Camp Ainoura introduced the camp’s freshest batch of students to their new English-teaching sensei — U.S. Navy volunteers.

“I don’t know about sensei,” said lead program coordinator Navy Lt. Fernando Navarro. “That’s a term of deep respect — someone far above from where I am.… Usually they just call me ‘sir.’”

The program is the Basic Enlisted English Course. It links base personnel here with Self-Defense Force members to help Japanese polish their conversational English skills.

Wednesday marked the beginning of Class 23.

Students and volunteers will meet from 1 to 3 p.m. every Friday for the next three months, said program coordinator Yuko Kawaguchi, also from the base’s community relations department.

Each week has a set topic, such as “My Family” and “Hobbies and Sports,” Kawaguchi said.

Japanese students prepare what they will talk about, and when base volunteers arrive, the conversations begin.

And that, Navarro said, is when friendships begin.

“It’s awesome,” said Navarro, also the base weather office’s officer-in-charge. “When you go to these classes, and you see them interacting, it’s just amazing.”

About 10 base volunteers regularly make the trip, Kawaguchi said.

Navarro noted most of the group are lower-rank enlisted sailors.

“They’re the ones that interact the most,” he said. “They’re pretty much the same age level.”

He said several volunteers usually make friends with the students, adding, “The bonds go beyond the classroom. It’s an excellent opportunity to make some Japanese friends.”

The course does have a topic schedule, but it’s the students’ personal stories that help Navarro get to know them, he said.

A trip to the Navy base here, scheduled for Dec. 18, also is on tap for the students. They’ll tour the base, eat at Harbor View Club and visit the bowling alley and other destinations.

It’s not to late to help teach, Kawaguchi said. Volunteers are needed and accepted throughout the course’s duration. Navarro said anyone interested in teaching can call him at DSN 252-3864.

Top students from each course may qualify for advanced English study in Tokyo, Kawaguchi said, and use the knowledge gained there to train for a job in the Self-Defense Force.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now