CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan – It’s 9 p.m. Class is over, but instead of rushing out, U.S. service members and Okinawan students casually chat.
The loitering doesn’t bother Master Sgt. Anthony M. Camina, a native of San Antonio, Texas. In fact, he created this beginner English class primarily for this purpose.
“I think this class is a great bridge between the U.S.-Japan alliance because it builds meaningful relationships between one another,” said Camina, an electronics maintenance management chief with 3rd Intelligence Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group.
Camina’s desire to strengthen ties between U.S. service members and the local community comes from his love of Okinawa. Camina, who is serving his second tour here, said he enjoyed his initial experience so much that he chose orders back as an incentive to deploy to Afghanistan. Looking back over his 24 years of service in the Corps, Camina said the courtesy and hospitality of Okinawa make it “the best place I’ve been.”
Camina and his wife Michelle, who share a desire to serve the community, spoke to every community relations representative throughout the island about volunteering here, he said.
Camina eventually met Takayuki Kayo, Camp Hansen’s community relations specialist, and collaborated with him to start the Kin-Hansen Friendship English Class. The class has now been running for approximately one year, with approximately 30 people regularly attending.
“(Camina) is just truly dedicated, thoughtful and so willing to give something back to the local community,” said Takayuki.
Camina, who says he speaks “cave man” Japanese developed through years of interacting with Okinawans, can’t teach the class by himself. Senior Okinawan students act as a communications bridge, speaking in Japanese to explain difficult language concepts to new students. English-speaking volunteers, mostly U.S. service members, provide oversight and pass on more advanced knowledge to the senior students.
Fumino Nakama, an intermediate English speaker who can converse without an interpreter, said, “I like this class because I learn English, and I can make new friends here.”
The informal class is getting more popular. It started small, at Richamocha Café in Kin Town, but circumstances caused Camina to relocate to the Kin Town Central Community Center.
“We ended up getting more people showing up than we anticipated,” Camina said. “We outgrew the coffee shop; then we moved to a classroom in the community center, then into a bigger classroom because the class was getting bigger and bigger.”
Today, the classes take place each week, Tuesday, at 7:30 p.m.
Camina said he hopes the class will do more than just build stronger relationships with the community. He also hopes it will enhance Marines’ personal and professional development through opportunities to teach periods of instruction and mentor students one-on-one.
“Here’s a young Marine who’s teaching a 60 to 70 year-old person who’s been around the [block],” said Camina, “and they’re looking at him for guidance.”
The young Marines look back, searching faces for sparks of comprehension as they instruct. They search for common ways to express information unfamiliar to their audience, cycling between the roles of speaker and listener in a friendly tug-of-war where the roles of teacher and student intertwine.
Meanwhile, Camina recalls the awe of stepping into a new culture for the first time, and relives his experience each week as an English instructor.