AOB-ICR – the Navy’s Japanese Life Seminar

It is Tuesday here, and we just completed Day 2 of our ABO-ICR Course. ABO-ICR is a week-long seminar that acculturates us to base life and Japanese life. There are 30 newcomers to base in our class, including enlisted personnel, officers, dependents over the age of 18, and DoD personnel. Most people take this class within the first month of their arrival in Japan, and probably 75% of us have been here for a week or less.

The first day is the AOB (Area Orientation Brief) portion. During AOB, we are hit by a military information truck; +20 services from around base gave us 5-45min presentations about what they offer to service people and their dependents. It felt like a college activities fair, except that instead of us rotating to each activity group, the activity groups came to us. It’s not nearly as fun or exciting as a college activity fair, but I did learn about a LOT of activities that I am interested in volunteering for, classes that I want to sign up for, and I even heard about 2 jobs that I applied for yesterday. For example, I can train to become a sexual assault advocate, an Ombudsman, a family financial planning advisor, or an English teacher – all for free and all on base. There are organizations that I would then volunteer for with my new skills. There is a free dental hygienist degree program through the Red Cross on base. I am qualified to teach online courses to enlisted personnel seeking AS or AA degrees. I could join the JATA, which is a Japanese-American Friendship Society on base, or I could join intramural sports on base. I could attend daily fitness classes. The MWR offers trips, classes, and activities that I can take part in. There are SO many options for things to keep me busy, and for that I am extremely thankful. I am glad that we don’t yet have kids – if we had kids, my focus would have to be on the kids, and I’m not ready to relinquish my selfish interests yet. So, consider me full-speed-ahead in getting involved in things on base. Hooray.

ICR (Intercultural Relations Class) is all about learning to live in Japan and it is taught by two local natives. Today was basically “learn to speak Japanese day”. It was wonderful for me – it was an almost comprehensive review of Japanese I! However, I think most of the students couldn’t follow much of the information – and I don’t mean that as a knock on their intelligence or anything. I was surprised with how fast the instructors zoomed through very complicated material, and I feel like they should have spent more time explaining very basic conversational things, rather then trying to teach us how to read the language. Yes, knowing how to read Japanese writing is very helpful, but it’s more important for us to be able to converse then it is for us to read or write. There are free weekly Japanese classes on base, so if people would like in-depth knowledge, they have those opportunities. I just thought that today went too fast and too much information was given.

The rest of the week promises to be be much better, though. Tomorrow we learn about some history of Japan, social norms, local culture, and how to get around in Japan. Thursday is the best day of the class – we are taken by bus to the train station, given a quick guided tour of the train station, and then we are set free for an adventure of our choosing. Michael and I are thinking about riding the train all the way to Tokyo, having lunch and dinner there, and then riding back. It’s at least a 90 minute train ride, but we have all day to do it. The only downside is that at some point on Friday we have a driving test and get licensed! That’s right, hopefully I will be a licensed Japanese driver by Friday afternoon! Please keep your fingers crossed for me. Driving here is crazy scary at first!

During a break in class today, I asked one of the instructors to write a few sentences for me on an index card about my shellfish allergy. I don’t trust myself to explain my allergy to a non-English speaker – there’s just too much at stake. While my professor was writing for me, one of the other “students” approached me with a laminated card that he bought online that explains the allergy in English and Japanese, and it even includes pictures!!!! I HIGHLY RECOMMEND CHECKING OUT THIS WEBSITE IF YOU HAVE A SERIOUS FOOD ALLERGY!!!! Actually, if you plan to travel internationally to any country in the near future, I recommend going to that site, SelectWisely.com, to look at their products. It is handy to have a few medical translation cards “just in case”. The student was kind enough to loan me a duplicate of his card. High five to him for being a great person.

After class, we went to the NEX on base so that I could buy a bigger wallet. One thing about Japan – the money takes up WAY more space then American money because the currency includes mostly coins. Also, credit cards aren’t accepted everywhere like they are in the US. For example, the train station doesn’t accept credit cards for adding money to the train cards! Also, there are a lot of small businesses, street vendors, and places that don’t have credit card readers at all. So, basically, it’s important to carry cash at all times. On the other hand, pick pockets and petty theft is not a social norm here, so it’s safer to carry cash here then it is in the US, which is one of the main reasons that I mostly use credit cards in the US.

For my first “Hey, It’s Okay” post in a few weeks, I only have one thing to say. Ready? Hey, it’s okay if:

– I don’t want to do any extra activities to get to know new people after these long days at AOB-IRC class. Really, my brain hurts afterwards.

That’s it! That’s all I’ve got. Hey, it’s okay if I get back to doing this for real next week. 😛

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