Cultural immersion in the Land of the Rising Sun

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Yumiko Guajardo has reason to be pleased about the cultural and language immersion program. She and a group of cadets recently returned to the Air Force Academy from a stay in the island nation, during which cadets visited major cities as well as smaller communities such as Wakayama, a small town on Honshu Island. 

She sent Capt. Brett Huyser stories of cadets who have been featured in a Wakayama newspaper and being invited to the mayor's office. Captain Huyser works in the Academy's Department of International Studies. 

"Here is another occasion in which our cadets in Wakayama acted as ambassadors for friendly US-Japan relations," Ms. Guajardo wrote. "News Wakayama featured one of our extracurricular activities. Our cadets are shining heroes here in Wakayama. Everyone in this community is very pleased to have met our cadets, and they are quite popular." 

Among the shining heroes were Cadet 2nd Class Stephen Donaldson and Cadets 3rd Class Geoff Simkin, Siobhan Hulslander, Daniel Klimkowski, Christin Burrows, William Remington, Joseph Kuensting, Timothy Nash and Kevin Rowe. 

June 18 stands out. 

"We had the cadets' presentations in front of their host families, community volunteers, YMCA teachers and staff, followed by a formal ceremony," Ms. Guajardo wrote. "The YMCA college president decided he wanted to give a certificate of completion to each and every one of the 14 cadets individually instead of giving one. It was something like a graduation ceremony. Afterwards, they had a formal farewell party for our cadets." 

Cadet 3rd Class Jonathan Plyler, a physics major with Cadet Squadron 9, volunteered for this trip. 

"This is my second trip to Japan, so I knew a little bit of what to expect," said Cadet Plyler, a native of Guy Mills, Pa. "It is always still a surprise. Wakayama is a 'country' town. This means that foreigners are a little rare. It the big cities, we weren't noticed at all, but in Wakayama, we stuck out. But it was fun as people would stare and wave at us. 

"The culture and way of thinking are different. Japanese people are very gentle, polite, and accommodating. The technology over there even surpasses the United States," he added. 

The Academy travelers went to a baseball game in Osaka with the Yomiyuri Giants and the Orix Buffalos. 

"The fans have so much more energy than in the states," said the cadet. "Every player who came to bat was greeting by cheering. They had a band and someone who would lead all the fans in a cheer for the batter. I just sat there enjoying the atmosphere." 

They ate octopus and squid sushi, sukiyaki, curry rice, and tacoyaki. They held most of their conversations in Japanese. 

"As much as I could speak Japanese, I did," Cadet Plyler said. "I had a host family mother who was a former English teacher, so I could ask how to say something in Japanese when I got stuck. Some people weren't so lucky, but the dictionaries the Academy gave us definitely helped." 

The cadet group returned to the United States June 19. 

"I'm very pleased to see the outcome of this brand-new Wakayama program," Ms. Guajardo said. 

"I understand the Japanese way of thinking and culture a little bit better now," Cadet Plyler said. "I also improved my language skills. It's good to get a different perspective on life. If you ever get a chance, go to another country and learn the culture and language. It will forever change your life, and you'll make good friends in the process."