Living in another country is always an adventure. There are challenges to conquer, new experiences to make, opportunities to find awesome friends, a new language to learn, and a different culture to figure out. I moved to Okinawa in 2009 and I love it here.
But as a gaijin (Japanese for foreigner), life can become quite challenging. Knowing Japanese is essential when you want to live in Japan and it is a hard language to learn. There is so much attached to the cultural phrases you start to learn and many things in Japan work differently than in your own home country. How can you connect with others in the community? How can you find out what is going on around you, when you don't speak the language? How can you find local news in easy Japanese?
A few years ago, simple daily things became challenges for me. I couldn't read the documents that were sent to me from hospitals or the city office. I didn't know who to contact when I had problems or needed translation. Announcements over the city speakers were a pain because I couldn't understand a word.
Around that time a lady walked in to my workplace and invited me to the free Japanese class "Nihongo Circle Okinawa" in Ginowan. It is hosted by the NGO Center Okinawa. I was interested and went for the first class.
My life here in Okinawa has improved so much since. Every Saturday I join their free conversational Japanese class that is held at the local Oki-koku-dai College. I have made many friends from different countries all over the world at the class. I connected with many Japanese students, got to know translators from the city office that helped me whenever I needed information about paper work or the such.
The class also focuses on helping foreigners integrating into the culture. We translate documents into easier Japanese, talk about what we need to do when there is an emergency situation and how to communicate at the hospital or the city office. The class has many volunteer tutors so the students that come can learn at their own pace and even receive translation into English, German, Tagalog, Chinese or Spanish if they don't understand.
The NGO center hosts many cultural events as well which are always fun and I meet many other gaijin that live in Okinawa. I enjoy the classes and events very much and it helps me more to feel at home and not be isolated from the community anymore.
Here is some information for you, if you live on Okinawa and would like to join us for class and make more friends in the area:
The class takes place from 2pm to 3:30pm at Okinawa International University (沖縄国際大学) in Ginowan Okinawa. Find building 5D on campus, classroom 303 and start with us through this year's conversational Japanese class. We are happy to help you with any problems when integrating into the Okinawan culture.