CAMP ZAMA, Japan – More than 20 Japanese university students graduated from this year’s summer internship program Thursday after working closely with American and Japanese staff here.
The monthlong program, which was created in 2013 and organized by U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public Affairs, provides students the chance to experience an American environment and hone their English skills with native speakers.
Col. Christopher L. Tomlinson, commander of USAG Japan, presented certificates to the interns during a graduation ceremony at the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s J-14 auditorium here.
“This educational program has been a unique opportunity for the U.S. Army to build positive relationships with young adults in Japan,” he said, “while also providing college students a chance to learn more about American culture and practice their English language skills in an international setting.”
The interns, who attend universities in the surrounding area, served as unpaid assistants in various offices in U.S. Army Japan and USAG Japan.
“This year we partnered with U.S. Army Japan to have the most successful year ever in the nine-year history of this program,” said Tomlinson, adding that 23 students, 11 universities and 19 workplaces participated.
One of the students was Aiko Kuriiihara, a junior at Otsuma Women’s University, who worked at the Camp Zama Library.
“I was interested in working at Camp Zama, because I’ve come here several times for festivals,” she said of the Bon Odori and Cherry Blossom open-post events. “I also wanted to use English and I hoped to improve my skills through this internship.”
While at the library, Kuriiihara helped with the behind-the-scenes duties of stamping books and maintaining them. She also researched an idea of hers to potentially expand the Japanese “manga” comics section in the library at Sagamihara Family Housing Area.
Kuriiihara, who majors in comparative cultural studies and would like to one day work at the Camp Zama Library, said she appreciated learning more about American culture during her time in the program.
“Working here is very interesting,” she said of the installation. “All of the experiences have been new to me.”
She found the community members here to be very kind and respectful, and was even impressed when they would greet her or open the door for her.
“One thing I really like is that American people are so open to anyone,” she said, smiling. “I am such an introverted person, so it was very helpful.”
Haruna Imamura, a senior at Sagami Women’s University, said she was also surprised with how community members acted toward her and others.
“I didn’t know the people, but they would say ‘hello’ to me and ask me how I am,” she said. “I didn’t know them, but they were so friendly.”
Imamura, who joined the program to practice her communication and English skills, worked the front desk at Yano Fitness Center.
At first, Imamura, who hopes to be a scuba diving instructor in the future, said she didn’t fully understand the significance of customer service until she came to the gym.
As part of her role, Imamura conducted tours of the facility and answered questions from guests.
“After working with customers here for the past four weeks, I learned that [customer service] is important,” she said. “It is so important for guests, and the guests are so happy. They thank us for helping them and it makes me feel happy that I’m able to do so.”
During the ceremony, Tomlinson said the organizations that participated also gained a lot from their interns, who were energetic and willing to support their mission.
“We hope you learned about the strong relationship and what we’re doing with our alliance between our two countries,” Tomlinson told the interns. “And who knows? Maybe a few of you will be part of our team here in the future.
“As you prepare to return to your respective universities to begin the new school year, please keep this experience in mind and help us spread the word about this opportunity to your classmates and peers.”