Dr. Avnish Jolly, Aizu-Wakamatsu, 11th December, 2008 :The Aizu-Wakamatsu International Association, or AWIA was founded about 12 years ago in an effort to: provide assistance to all foreign nationals living in the city of Aizu-Wakamatsu and promote exchange between all citizens, regardless of nationality.
From its outset, the association has been a hub in the community, providing a place for foreign nationals to meet and network, as well as serving as an international educational resource for Japanese citizens. It is comprised of five staff members, three of whom are Japanese, one of whom is Chinese, and one of whom is American. As surprising as it sounds, these five people go about serving mainly some 700 non-Japanese nationals living in and around the city of Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fukushima prefecture, Japan. Some of its services include: translation, interpretation, counseling, promotion of international relations at the community level, and coordination of exchange programs and seminars. AWIA also offers opportunities for all citizens?regardless of nationality?to meet and strengthen relations with each other and the community at large through various events and volunteer activities. The association currently has around 600 members.
AJ: Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
BG: My name is Brian Gueyser and this past April I started working here at the International Association. ItÂfs only been 8 months, so everything is still new to me, but slowly I think IÂfm getting the hang of it. I usually go by my nickname?Indi?at work because IÂfm originally from Indiana in the United States (among other reasons). As for the job itself, it requires a lot of different things. Sometimes IÂfll be called upon to translate or interpret, other times IÂfll help people find different resources in and around the city, area, or country. Of course as our office is a space open to the public, we do a fair share of explanation about the association and its activities to those who drop by. Many times, we field various questions related to foreign language study and/or travel. In the midst of this, we also help coordinate a two week youth exchange program for jr. and sr. high school students, sponsor Japanese language courses, and coordinate various home-stays throughout the year.
AJ: It sounds like your office does a lot of things. How did you come to be interested in this type of work?
BG: Hmmm. Well, I guess I decided to start working here because IÂfve experienced first hand what it is to live in a different country. Language aside, learning different systems of communication and associating is not always as easy as one might expect. Even the most basic, mundane tasks or duties required of an adult become enormous obstacles when they must be performed in an unfamiliar cultural context. My role is to provide the necessary assistance, resources, and information for unraveling and decoding this new context people find themselves in. In short, I guess I want to help where I can.
AJ: Could you tell me, what is the foreign population in Aizu-Wakamatsu, and how does this compare to the overall population?
BG: The population of Aizu-Wakamatsu is about 130,000 people. The number of foreign nationals registered here is about 700 people.
AJ: 700 is a pretty big number considering the fact that this is primarily an agricultural area, wouldnÂft you say?
BG: Quite. A large number of our foreign national population is comprised of wives of Japanese nationals, exchange students, and families who have moved into the area to work at the university or foreign owned computer software company.
AJ: You mentioned systems of communicating, and association. Could you elaborate?
BG: Hmmm. Ah, letÂfs say school. How does one go about getting an education in this country? What are the necessary procedures for enrolling a child, does a child need citizenship to attend school? This is knowledge adults take for granted in their ÂghomeÂh cultures, but the same assumptions and systems of operation may not be applicable in Japan. This I think is especially true for European nationals. What happens to older children who suddenly find themselves having to attend school in a new language? We help navigate parents through these things. Another example could be tax, labor, or marriage and divorce laws. In each of these cases there are standard procedures to be followed. Those knowledgeable of such procedures are of course better able to function socially.
AJ: Okay fine. So, tell us some other challenges of your job. What is the biggest personal challenge you face?
BG: Personal challenges? Okay, for me, answering the telephone is probably the biggest challenge.
AJ: IÂfm sorry, did you say the telephone?
BG: Yes. The language you use for making and answering phone calls in Japanese is specific and markedly different from the language you use in everyday speech. Native speakers have had a lifetime (or at least 12 years of formal education) to learn this way of speaking, but I myself havenÂft. And though I can understand more or less perfectly, speaking that way doesnÂft come automatically for meÂcI have to think, and while doing so I generally end up stumbling over myself linguistically.
AJ: How long have you studied Japanese?
BG: Well, thatÂfs a difficult question to answer. I suppose the best way to say it is that IÂfve been speaking the language for 12 years. I first came to Japan as an exchange student, and that was how I came to learn the language. To be honest I really didnÂft do anything special, I picked up the language like I did my native language. After my initial year in Japan, I did do some self study and then upon entering university, took some classes so I would have the chance to practice using the language.
AJ: Okay, well thank you so much for talking with me today, is there any thing you would like to say to our readers.
BG: Not at all. I hope this helps. To the readers: if youÂfre ever in Aizu-Wakamatsu, please stop by for a chat! WeÂfre open every day from 9:00a.m.-5:00p.m. except Mondays. We look forward to meeting you!