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Thursday, September 21, 2023


Veteran alumni experience Japanese culture

On his first night in Japan, United States Marine Corps Captain Joel Saravia had missed his connecting flight to Hiroshima. During the ride on the shuttle bus, Saravia said to himself, “What have I gotten myself into? I can’t believe I’m in Japan.”

Four and a half years later, he feels at home.

“I’ve been here for so long that I almost feel Japanese in a way,” Saravia said. “A lot of the things I do, a lot of the things that I say, a lot of reactions that I’ve had, I’ve noticed are starting to blend into the population. So now, I actually feel like an outsider when I go back to the United States. ”

Political science and English alumnus Saravia attended Officer Candidate School in 2006 in Quantico, Va., where he was commissioned as an officer of the Marine Corps. He preferred to be stationed overseas, and he got his wish.

“I wanted to get out of the United States and see something different,” he said. “I always wanted to travel, so that was a surefire way to get out of the States.”

He took four years of Japanese in high school, so he was a little prepared when he arrived. He admits that it was a huge culture shock when he got off the plane.

“When you get off at Tokyo Narita, you’re in Japan. There’s no doubt about it,” Saravia said. “Tokyo by far is my favorite.  It’s a 24-hour kind of place. No matter what time of day it is, there’s always something going on.”

He visited the Park Hyatt Tokyo, where “Lost in Translation” was filmed. The hotel is located in one of Tokyo’s busiest districts and stands on 52 stories.

“You really do feel like you’re on top of the world when you’re there,” Saravia said, “just because you can see the entire Tokyo skyline, and if you’re there on a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji from there.”

Nutrition junior and former active duty Marine, Natalie Avina was stationed in Okinawa for two years. Unlike many of her peers at the time, she listed overseas as one of her duty station preferences as well.

“I wanted to go; I didn’t want to be stuck in North Carolina or South Carolina, where much of the training was held,” Avina said.

An orientation on Japanese culture, where Avina learned key phrases, was presented to service members before making the long plane ride over.

“Beforehand, I was a huge Japanese anime person, so I knew very little,” Avina said. “On the outside, a lot of the facilities are painted beige or white, but on the inside, it’s really beautiful and really clean.”

One of the places Avina visited daily was the beach.

“The ocean is so beautiful out there,” she said. “It’s the bluest blue I’ve ever seen. You see it in pictures, but when you get there, I fell in love with just the ocean.”

Okinawa is known to be one of the best diving sites in the world, and she earned a certification snorkeling license during her time there.

“I will miss the water, the weather, all the different kinds of food, the way they’re presented,” Avina said.  “It’s a strange place. Even their fashion is weird, but they’re so much more advanced than us.”

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