Gardnerville couple’s son wins contest in Japan |

Gardnerville couple’s son wins contest in Japan

by Mellisa Murphy

Ryan Armstrong, son of Charles and Linda Armstrong of Gardnerville, recently won the Japan Foundation President’s Award in speech competition for non-native speakers of Japanese.

Armstrong, 24, began studying Japanese in high school. He graduated from Colgate University, in New York, with a Japanese language and culture degree, and currently works as a coordinator of international affairs for the governor of Takamatsu, Japan.

The contest, aired on Japanese television, was open to participants ages 15 and older, with presentations limited to seven minutes. Armstrong’s speech was one of 12 from across Japan.

Armstrong tackled the concept of “internationalization,” a term which he defined as a way of thinking, as opposed to learning facts.

He described how some Japanese might read a book on American history and believe that they are “international” as a result.

Armstrong explained in his speech that in one region of Japan, he was asked questions such as “Can you use chopsticks?” and “Can you speak Japanese?” In another region, he was asked, “Do you have a place to stay tonight?” and “Have you eaten yet?”

He gleaned from these differences that the second set of questions reflected a more “international” way of thinking than the first, because realizing a person’s differences and treating him or her as another human being, rather than a foreigner, is more enlightened than merely being exposed to another country’s culture.

“I was raised in Saudi Arabia, and was slightly familiar with the Middle Eastern way of doing things,” Armstrong responded via email. “I took particular interest in Asia. The more I learn, the more interesting and complex it becomes.”

Armstrong labeled his position with the government as a “jack of all trades.” His responsibilities include translating and interpreting, organizing and leading seminars, public presentations, teaching international understanding courses, visiting schools, taking out garbage, making tea, and acting as liaison between foreign and Japanese populations.

“He’s always been a traveler,” said Linda Armstrong. “He grew up in the Middle East, went to high school in California, and attended college in New York.”

He highly respects the Japanese people and their culture, she said.

“His future is exciting to me. He’s always been exceptionally successful at whatever he does.”

“I like challenges,” Armstrong said. “Understanding Japan is definitely a challenge.”

He has signed on for another year of service with his position, and said he is unsure of his plans after that term is complete.