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Thursday, May 30, 2024

I taught swim lessons in Okinawa, Japan

How did I spend my summer 2011? I taught swimming lessons by day and explored Japan by night. My summer was filled with beautiful beaches, hot sun, and enticing new cultures and customs – all thanks to a program run through UC Davis called Camp Adventure Youth Services.

Camp Adventure is a program that sends college students to American military bases throughout the world to run day camps and teach swim lessons to military children living abroad. From June 11 to August 20, I lifeguarded and taught swimming lessons on Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.

Okinawa is a 463 square mile wide tropical island about 400 miles off the southern coast of mainland Japan. It houses more than 10 American military bases from all branches of the Armed Forces. During my 10-week stay on Okinawa Island I met amazing people, swam in beautiful beaches, and tried some unique Japanese cuisine. Although even the entire California Aggie is not enough space to tell of all my adventures, I’ll highlight my top few.

The beaches on Okinawa were some of the most gorgeous I have ever seen. The water is a mix of greens and blues and is as warm as bath water. All the beaches are coral and are thus home to some amazing marine life. While there, I snorkeled many times and became scuba diving certified. I was able to swim with tropical fish, sea snakes, starfish and even some poisonous Habu jellyfish. Luckily I didn’t get stung!

The food on Okinawa was so delicious. My favorite dishes were Okinawan soba and sushi. Soba is a thick Japanese noodle made of buckwheat and and most often served as a noodle soup. As for the sushi, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually enjoyed raw fish! At first I stuck with some generic crab, shrimp and sticky white rice but as the summer progressed I moved on to salmon, squid and even octopus.

The sushi and soba were great but when it comes to food, the Japanese really know their sweets. My roommate and I fell in love with every type of Japanese candy. The nutritional information was of course in Japanese and thus unreadable due to my limited Japanese vocabulary, so as far as I was concerned, the calories didn’t count.

After my first week of work, I quickly learned that even SPF 100 was no match for the brutality of the tropical Okinawan sun. On day three of swim lessons, an Air Force dad came up to my sunburned, lobster-status self with a bottle of sunscreen wrapped in a bow. With a sarcastic grin he exclaimed, “Welcome to Oki!” Needless to say, I have some wicked tan lines that will last me well into winter.

By far, my favorite part about Okinawa was the amazing views. I felt like anywhere I stood I could see some gorgeous site, whether it was a stunning sunset, a beach or some beautiful terrain. Okinawa was, without a doubt, the most outstanding place I have visited thus far and I hope someday I will be able to return. But for now, as I bury my head into the books rather than my feet into the sand I am thankful for all the memories I have of the gorgeous tropical paradise that is Okinawa. Sayonara!

CLAIRE MALDARELLI can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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