Connecting Culture during a Pandemic

Selfie of Joshua Cohen
Joshua Cohen, Special Olympics Employee and Athlete.

I interviewed a girl from Japan named Sayako. She was very nice and easy to talk to. I interviewed her on Special Olympics, the coronavirus and how it’s impacting us, and our personal interest, including Japan. This was the first time I got to connect with someone from another country and learn about their culture. I’m really into Japanese culture and it was great to connect with someone from there. It was also a lot of fun hearing her stories and sharing experiences.

The way we got connected was from our jobs, which is Special Olympics. I work at Special Olympics International and Sayako works at Special Olympics Japan. We also have both competed in Special Olympics. I’ve worked for Special Olympics for 6 years and she’s worked with Special Olympics Japan for 3 years. We both did basketball. I was a traditional Special Olympics athlete when Sayako “participated in basketball programs as a Unified partner.” We talked about travel for work and Sayako told me “I traveled to Chicago for the Unified Cup (football/soccer) and Abu Dhabi World Games.” I have not yet gotten to travel for work, but I think it would be AWESOME to travel for work, especially to Japan.

Sayako standing on the sidelines of a soccer field with a SO Soccer practice taking place in the background
Sayako, Special Olympics Japan Employee and Unified Partner.

While all of us are experiencing challenges from the coronavirus, one positive thing that has come out of this pandemic we’re in for me is getting to connect with Sayako. Because we are both experiencing the same pandemic, but in a different country, we talked about the similarities and differences of how it is where we live and how we are personally dealing with it. Sayako says social distancing is “calm and quiet” for her while it is hard for me. I feel more alone and my anxiety is really bad and I hate being forced to be alone and don’t feel like I have my freedom. I miss be able to go places and feel less motivated to do anything. Sayako says “I miss going on trips the most.” I miss that too and Ramen restaurants. We talked about ways we can help each other and our friends get through social distancing and identified two key suggestions from things that have helped us. The first suggestion is to reach out to your friends to talk about how they are doing, the good and the bad. The second suggestion is to have video or phone calls with friends and do an activity together, such as play video games or movie watch parties where you can do something together and talk about FUN stuff. I get together with a coworker every Saturday and watch Anime together and talk.

After we talked about Special Olympics and the coronavirus, we moved on to our personal lives and the Japanese culture. One of my favorite things is Anime and I found out Sayako is into Anime as well. It was a lot of fun talking to her about Anime and sharing similarities and differences from Japan to U.S. She explained that “some Anime and Manga do a really good job at explaining the Japanese culture like Inuyasha with being a samurai.” I’ve watched both of these before and was really interested to hear that they are realistic to the Japanese culture. We also discussed Japanese to U.S translations between Anime like titles, character names, etc. Sayako and I both do karate and she also likes to do volleyball. I told her I really want to visit Japan one day. She gave me some advice about visiting Japan—“Know the culture, (Japan is known for being polite), know some Japanese language, and plan ahead for what you want to do”.

Sayako and I live in different countries around the world but we’ll definitely keep in touch through email. When I visit Japan, I’ll meet up with Sayako. It’s great to know someone who is from another country and culture.

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