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American and Japanese students work on a project during a cultural-exchange camp at Matthew C. Perry High School on Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021.
American and Japanese students work on a project during a cultural-exchange camp at Matthew C. Perry High School on Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (Jonathan Snyder/Stars and Stripes)

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — Thirty American and Japanese students gathered at this base near Hiroshima over the weekend for a cultural immersion program designed to help them grow as global thinkers.

Two-day Global Friendship Camps are taking place at several U.S. military bases in Japan, the Department of Defense Education Activity announced last month. They involve hands-on activities that aim to develop problem-solving skills, encourage a diverse perspective on the world and sensitivity to accept others’ differences.

At MCAS Iwakuni’s camp on Saturday and Sunday at Matthew C. Perry High School, students taught each other greetings in their native languages before working in teams to design and create artworks representing the friendship between the United States and Japan.

One group incorporated a white snake, which is native to the Iwakuni area and is considered to bring good fortune. It was included with the American and Japanese flags drawn into the shape of a heart.

“It can be very nerve-racking at first to talk with people, but once you do it’s just like talking with anyone else,” ninth-grader Teresa Taylor, 14, told Stars and Stripes on Sunday. “There is a little bit of a language barrier, but we work towards a middle ground. I learned how to get out of my shell, and I also learned more about Iwakuni from a different perspective.”

American and Japanese students present their project during a cultural-exchange camp at Matthew C. Perry High School on Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021.
American and Japanese students present their project during a cultural-exchange camp at Matthew C. Perry High School on Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (Jonathan Snyder/Stars and Stripes)

The students were also given free time to talk and interact.

“One of the things I’ve enjoyed watching most about this is the unstructured activities, where the students are exchanging social media contacts and just engaging in play by themselves without scripting and just building those relationships with high-fiving and cheering each other on,” M.C. Perry’s principal Latressa Renee Cobb, told Stars and Stripes on Sunday. “It’s a great partnership we see developing over the two days.”

The event ended Sunday with a ceremony where students received awards for their projects from Iwakuni city major Yoshihiko Fukuda, MCAS Iwakuni commander Col. Lance Lewis and DODEA-Pacific chief of staff Todd Schlitz.

Upcoming camps are slated for Oct. 23-25 and Feb. 5-6 at Sasebo Naval Base; Nov. 6-7 at MCAS Iwakuni; Dec. 4-5 at Misawa Air Base; and Jan. 22-23 at Yokosuka Naval Base.

Middle and high school students can apply for the program, and the Japanese students, who must have some English-speaking ability, are chosen from schools near the bases that are hosting the event.

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