Courtesy: Hawaii United Okinawa Association
“Hawai‘i is like Okinawa.”
That was my first impression of Hawai‘i. The warm temperature, a lot of palm trees and the warm reception from people in Hawai‘i were just like Okinawa. I never felt that I landed in a foreign country.
When I first met my host sister, we were so nervous and an awkward silence continued between the two of us, so I tried to speak in English as much as I could. Then, little by little, we felt relaxed with each other and I felt like I had a real sister. All the members of my [host] family were so mild and gentle. They said to me, “From now on, you’ll be a member of our family, so make yourself at home.” I felt warm and my nervousness about my first visit to the U.S. was completely gone, so I could relax at my host family’s home in Hawai‘i for two weeks. I am thankful for my great host family.
On my first visit to school, I wore my school uniform and I felt like every student was looking at me. However, by communicating with various students and teachers in various classes, they became interested in Okinawa and Japan. In return, they taught me about Hawai‘i and played the ‘ukulele for us. Even if we have different cultures and nationalities, trying to know more about each other and our cultures can break the wall between our different countries.
In my schedule, I went to a lü‘au, Polynesian Cultural Center, Arizona Memorial and Bishop Museum. From these places, I was able to learn a lot of Hawaiian culture, history and the relationship with Japan after the World War II attack on Pearl Harbor.
In the Arizona Memorial, there were a lot of names of people who were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor carved into the monument. There was also the stinky smell and muddiness of the sea from the leaking oil. I saw the extensive damage from the attack on Pearl Harbor with my own eyes. When I came into the memorial, I felt as though someone was looking at me coldly and there was a cold atmosphere around me. Even after World War II ended, there still remain a lot of problems and I think it’s not completely peaceful.
The weekends with my host family were fulfilling. I went hiking, attended a home party and went shopping, all of which I was able to experience the Hawaiian culture.
One of the first things I learned from this project was the importance of culture. At ‘Iolani High School, lü‘au and Polynesian Cultural Center, they taught me about the Hawaiian culture through hula and games. Learning from them, I could sense the feeling of people in Hawai‘i — how they care about their culture and history. In Okinawa, we don’t have many opportunities to experience our Okinawan culture, and the number of people who can speak Okinawan dialect is on a downward trend. By seeing the people in Hawai‘i, I learned it’s important to try to learn Okinawan culture, history and dialect — an experience that will stay with them in the future.
In addition to culture, I learned about the importance of having the ability to communicate. From my mother, I had a lot of opportunities to use English, so I am used to speaking English more than others. However, the less opportunities to communicate in English I have, the more difficult it is for me to speak English. In the beginning of my stay in Hawai‘i, I had a little anxiety of my English. Whenever I communicated with people, I had the chance to speak in English and they explained to me nicely when I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Since then, I learned that it’s important to try to speak English, even if I have anxiety. It can be said that not only in English, but also in Japanese. It’s important to not avoid expressing your opinion to others.
Lastly, I have a sincere feeling of thanks. Because of the warm reception from my host family, support from the teachers and my family, and the participation of students in this project, I could have great and rare experiences in my life. I learned it’s important to feel and express how thankful I am to the people who are supporting me and have given me such experiences. I’d like to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart.
From now on, I will make the most of the experiences I have and keep trying for my dream to come true. Also, I will tell my friends and family what I gained in this project, while hoping for a great relationship between Okinawa and Hawai‘i.
Shiho Hateruma is a student at Kyuyo High School in Okinawa City, Okinawa. She was among the 25 high school students from Okinawa who participated in the Hawai‘i-Okinawa Student Exchange this part March.