We met and became best friends in Connecticut twenty years ago when our husbands worked for the same international bank in New York. A few years ago our families both retired to Williamsburg, and we started looking for a meaningful volunteer opportunity to do together at the College of William & Mary. In the fall of 2009 we found just what we were looking for through the International Spouse Network’s Conversation Partners program. We were attracted to the program because of the opportunity to get to know international families and to help them feel more at home in our community. While Carolyn lived in Singapore she was an English as a Second Language teacher and thought she could bring those skills to this program.
In the past three years we have enjoyed the pleasure of knowing two sets of Japanese conversation partners. Our first conversation partners were from Japan and had been at William & Mary for a year when the program was started. We met weekly for eight months with Reiko Kitagawa and Yoko Tajima, and Yoko’s young children Hinata and Sota, until their husbands graduated and they moved back to Japan. We still keep in touch via email and holiday cards.
Because we enjoyed our first experience with the program, and because we received back so much more than we gave, we wanted to accept two more conversation partners. Our current conversation partners are also from Japan. They are Tomoko Nakada and Izumi Suzuki, as well as Izumi’s adorable 4-year-old daughter Kokoro. We have been meeting with them since September 2010. Tomoko’s husband Takao and Izumi’s husband Hiroyuki are studying for their MBAs at the College of William & Mary’s Mason School of Business.
Tomoko and Izumi have impressed us greatly with their willingness to practice speaking English, their interest in American culture, and their excitement in going on outings in the area. We try to take them to the museums, historic homes, and parks on the Peninsula. These outings give us an opportunity to explore our area together and to talk about what we are discovering in our historic community. We all learn something every time we are together! We also meet in our homes so that they can experience American homes and traditions. It has been a joy for us to see the progress that these women have made in their English while spending two years in the United States. It has been especially fun to see 4-year-old Kokoro flourish in our culture and become very comfortable speaking English.
Tomoko and Izumi sometimes prepare traditional Japanese food for us and enthusiastically teach us about their traditions, holidays and culture. They have shown us around the Asian food markets in Newport News, made lovely origami ornaments for us, taught us Japanese words and calligraphy, and shown us how to wear their yukatas. They have included us in International Festivals and pumpkin carvings at the Reves Center, and a Japanese Culture Night (Matsuri) at the Mason School of Business. We have so much fun together!
We have gained so much from being a part of the International Spouse Network’s Conversation Partners program, and from the privilege of knowing these lovely Japanese women and learning about their country and culture. We talk about so many diverse subjects and share our cultures and traditions. We hear about their travels and adventures. We talk about our families, and what we have learned is that there are many more similarities than differences between us.
We will miss Tomoko, Izumi and Kokoro when they move back to Japan in the spring but it is nice to know that we have good friends to visit if we are ever lucky enough to travel to their beautiful country!
Anita Lowe grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and graduated from East Carolina University. After college she married her husband, Rocky, and they raised three children. Anita has lived in several U.S. cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Darien, Connecticut. Carolyn Lodzieski grew up in a Navy family and lived all around the United States. After graduating from James Madison University she met and married her husband Ron. Carolyn lived in Europe and Asia for 20 years with her three children.