NORTHEAST Miss. (WCBI)- Robert Davinson is the manager of UMI’s Japanese Restaurant in Columbus. He remembers moving to America in his early 20′s and the obstacles he faced living in a new country.
“I went to school a couple of years to learn how to speak English and write English so at the beginning it was pretty difficult. The food is different, there was no Japanese restaurant at that time, the weather is also different,” said Davinson.
Those are things several Japanese families are likely to encounter. Officials estimate between 50 to 60 people will move to Northeast Mississippi as West Point prepares for its new Yokohama Tire Plant. Columbus Chamber of Commerce Vice President MaCaulay Whitaker says local leaders are taking extra steps to ensure Japanese families make a smooth transition.
“We have hired a relocation consultant who will be working with families directly, showing them each individual community and making sure they gather all of the information that they need. We have reached out to local businesses who employ Japanese translators as well as Columbus Air Force base to make sure we have the language barrier taken care of. Lastly we’re working with our local community colleges to set up international orientation programs,” said Whitaker.
Schools are also doing their part. Several of them, like Oak Hill Academy in West Point, are teaming up with Mississippi State and MUW’s second language departments.
“I can’t imagine coming from a different country. It’s tough for a child to move in from a different city. So what we want to do is make sure they’re nurtured here, that they’re loved here and cared for and they’re given the best possible education here. What we’ll like to do is find Japanese speaking students to come over and maybe mentor these new students who come in, depending on their degree of what English they do know,” said Oak Hill Academy’s Headmaster Yandell Harris.
Robert looks forward to the new plant’s arrival and a growth in Japanese population and culture.
“Just like Tupelo, there’s much more Japanese in Tupelo right now. I feel excited. I’m going to meet more Japanese. Maybe even become good friends,” said Harris.
Officials plan on having 6 Japanese Cultural Orientation Programs. 2 of each in Columbus, Starkville and West Point.