It all began from a single decision.
I was 19 and working part-time at a Mobil on the Run gas station in the Spring of 2001. I thought it was just another day.
Then, a woman dressed in her Air Force officer uniform had come up to the counter where I was running the register. I had started some chit chat with her, and she said she’d just got back from an Air Show. I asked her what it’s like being in the Air Force. She said she enjoyed it because it’s kinda like a 9-5 job, except better because you can experience different parts of the world, meet all kinds of people, and get help paying for college. All while serving your country.
I was intrigued, so much that the next day I called an Air Force recruiter in Mattydale, NY to talk about the possibility of joining the military. I was invited to the recruiting building, where I was asked to sit in a small side office and take the “ASVAB” which is a standardized vocational skill proficiency test. After I took the test, the recruiter had me sit and watch an outdated looking video, what seemed to be from the 80’s talking about what it was like going through basic training and life in the Air Force. I can tell you now – it wasn’t accurate. It was much more difficult than they were making it out to be.
About a week later, I nervously went back to the recruitment building to discuss the results. The recruiter said based on my scores I could work on the aircraft engines (PROPS) as they were currently looking for more people in that field. I wasn’t excited about being a mechanic, as I had never even picked up a wrench before.
What did excite me was the fact that I could get help paying for college and I’d have a full-time job since I figured it was the only way I could afford to attend. My parents were not going to help me pay for it. Besides, I was always the independent type. I was taught from a young age to make my own money. The first money I made was mowing lawns and shoveling snow on a regular basis for people in my neighborhood including one local hair salon named Hair by Vincent’s a few blocks from where I grew up.
After thinking it all through, I agreed to join the military. After completing a physical fitness test and medical exam. I was made an appointment on May 18th, 2001 to visit the Federal Building in downtown Syracuse, NY to fill out enlistment paperwork and get processed.
I arrived at Tech Sargent Volkmer’s corner office with windows overlooking the city. His desk was facing the door. I walked to his desk and after a short greeting, we got right to filling out the paperwork. It was at least 30 pages to go through! After I was done crossing T’s and dotting I’s, I made an oath of enlistment with Captain Budoh (raising my right hand) to serve on active duty in the armed forces of the United States. The next thing you know, I’m at the MEPS processing station on the second floor. My recruiter shows up unexpectedly and asks me if I want to be an Aerospace Grounds Equipment (AGE) mechanic instead. He told me I would have to sign up for 6 years instead of 4, but I’d get a $10,000 bonus when I arrive at my first duty station after finishing 6 weeks of basic training, and 6 months of tech school. Plus, you won’t have to crawl up in an engine. I was sold and said yes to him. I thought to myself eh what the hell – what’s another 2 years. I’ve already committed to this anyway. On May 30th, 2001 my mother had taken me to the Syracuse Airport and waited with me until I had to go past the gates to wait for my plane on my way to San Antonio, TX for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base.
Fast forward about 7 ½ months later, another life altering moment happened. It was a long six months of training, learning and taking tests on all types of electrical and mechanical systems. My job was to perform all types of inspections and maintenance on powered and non-powered support equipment for the planes. Our motto was “No Air Power Without Ground Power.” Somehow, we all passed the classes without flunking out. Even the person that was moved to the night classes graduated. I had felt very accomplished seeing that I had never done anything mechanical until attending this school.
On the last day of school, I was sitting in my tech school classroom at Sheppard AFB, TX with the other students. We were all kinda goofing off while waiting for our orders. Drawing funny things on the whiteboard, doing hand stands against the garage bay doors, and making sounds in the hose vents, exchanging contact info, and just chatting away.
Out of the blue, I said to the student sitting next to me “I’m probably gonna get Japan”. I don’t know where that idea came from. When the teacher came back to the classroom several minutes later with orders in hand, I opened the envelope to discover this wild prediction was absolutely correct!
I had arrived in Japan on January 7th, 2002. Shortly after, in July 2002 I met Akiko who became my Japanese girlfriend, and eventually my wife. We met at a place called Club Salsa on “Bar Row” near the base in Fussa.
I was in Japan with my wife Akiko from 2002-2005. We went to live back in the US and eventually returned to Japan at the end of June 2018.
My goals in life were about to change forever.
I was sent to Japan with NO understanding, background, or knowledge of the Japanese language.
I really wanted to…
I was looking forward to making new friends with American people on base and the local Japanese people. I also wanted to explore Japan, and experience all that the country has to offer.
I wanted to be able to get around Japan without having to carry around books, and electronic dictionaries. Smart phones didn’t exist then. I had owned a flip phone that was ahead of American technology at the time though. Using devices and books interrupt the flow of a live conversation.
I was really feeling…
I wanted to prove to myself that I can take on such an intimidating challenge to learn a language much different than my native language English.
I wanted to overcome my insecurities and gain the confidence necessary to hold great conversations with other people. This would force me to turn my weakness into a strength.
I wanted to build better relationships with people.
I wanted to be able to communicate better because I wanted to impress my friends and people I met while traveling in Japan.
I wanted my family to be proud of me for something other than joining the military.
I wanted to earn the respect of my wife’s family, especially her dad.
I wanted to have a great story to tell my family back home in the US about how I learned Japanese.
My first attempt at Learning Japanese.
My plan was to throw myself into it.
I took about 5 college classes to learn Japanese on base at Maryland University from beginner to intermediate level. I also tried to immerse myself in the language by hanging out mostly with Japanese people to try to learn to speak faster.
My plan to learn Japanese was not as good as I thought.
It was hard to stay focused and stick to a regular study schedule. I tried to study with textbooks from class, but I just couldn’t get into that way of learning. I hated having to learn grammar too. The best part about one of the college classes was that I learned how to read and write the Japanese Alphabet in just a few days.
As a result of college not helping me become fluent, I was left frustrated because my retention was not that good. Plus, I barely passed each class.
When I went out to hang with my Japanese friends, they all wanted to learn to speak English from me.
At the time, I only had picked up a few Japanese words and phrases. I was struggling to retain and piece together what I learned. Sitting and trying to follow a conversation in Japanese made my head spin. I wanted to ask what things meant, but I didn’t want to interrupt the conversation by asking them every little thing I didn’t know. That would be annoying to them! I was afraid to start a conversation without being able to fully communicate what I wanted to say. Embarrassing myself by sounding dumb or goofy.
To my dismay, even having a Japanese wife didn’t help me learn any faster and that was my fault. I was having trouble retaining or applying what I learned to practice the language with her. Sometimes the situations I was in didn’t require the Japanese I had just learned either.
I tried piecing together different types of study material online, software/apps, audio and video but it was extremely time consuming. I ended up taking many breaks for months on end between trying to learn Japanese again. I was in a vicious learning cycle – I’d be motivated to learn on my own, and then after a couple weeks to a month I’d lose motivation and focus again for various reasons.
I discovered something…
I discovered that the way I was being taught in college was not the most effective way to learn Japanese. I realized that there are so many others struggling to learn beginner Japanese just like I was. I needed one resource that helped me with listening, speaking, reading, vocabulary and grammar.
Hunting for the right study materials on Google became very tiresome and frustrating. Using boring repetition-based flash cards wasn’t for me. When I had a question – I had no one to ask, or it would take forever to find the right answer online.
Eventually, I learned beginner Japanese the hard way after many years of struggling and wasting time. I became inspired to prevent the same thing from happening to other beginner students.
I achieved the lifestyle I wanted.
It feels so freeing now that I can communicate with local Japanese people. I’m able to thrive in most everyday situations and participate in conversations. (Now my wife tries to speak faster, because she knows I can follow along with what she’s saying to her friends). I’m almost at conversational level. The Japanese are always impressed with how much I know and appreciate me trying to learn their language. Japan is one of the greatest cultures to immerse yourself in.
I became a better person so that I could help others learn Japanese faster than I ever did.
I initially started a company back in 2012 to teach beginner Japanese with a lesson style unlike any other I’ve seen. I created a Japanese course with themed lesson topics. Akiko and I were teaching students via Skype. Our students really enjoy our teaching style and their retention skyrocketed.
Last year, I was determined to make the perfect learning environment for beginner Japanese with all the tools they need to succeed. I wanted to prevent people from wasting time and struggling to learn. I wanted to make it affordable too!
And so, I turned our proven themed lessons into visually stunning video lessons with native speakers to make it even easier for students to learn on their free time. It uses the power of phonics, vivid imagery, colors, dark theme, and a native speaker to increase your learning speed. As we add more themed lessons, they’ll included free with a onetime membership fee.
To make it fast for people to learn how to read, write, and pronunciation the Japanese alphabet we’ve created course materials for that – and included free with membership too.
It includes an 1:40 min step by step lesson on how to write the alphabet, MP3 with pronunciation practice, video flash cards with native speaker, and a downloadable pdf to practice writing on your touch enabled device. We are also offering free live beginner Japanese grammar lessons via our private Facebook Live group for students. Students will also have the paid option of private tutoring if they desire a more 1-on-1 approach.
Akiko and I have spent the last five years fine tuning this approach that will get you up to speed quickly and powerfully so you can focus on enjoying the culture and life of living/visiting/working in Japan. This was the real gift learning the language gave me, a full and happy life.
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