Last summer several graduating seniors jetted off to Japan—in order to become “JETs.” The Japan Exchange and Teaching, or JET, Program was established by the Japanese government in 1987 to “promote grass-roots exchange between Japan and other nations.” The Department of Education selects college grads from around the world to teach English in Japan for a year or more at kindergartens, and elementary schools, junior highs, and high schools. It’s a great opportunity for graduates interested in Japan to go there with the full support of the Japanese government, which trains participants, places them, and provides housing and a comfortable stipend. About 4,000 graduates participate in the program each year, with about 2,300 of those coming from the U.S.
Applicants for this prestigious program go through a careful selection process, and this past year, William & Mary students had remarkable success. Five of our 2015 graduates will become JETs: Isabel Bush, Andrew Kim, Michael Le, Jack Powers, and Mark Zuschlag. We spoke to a few of them about their plans.
Isabel is graduating with a self-designed major in Japanese Studies. She describes the JET program as “the most logical career choice” for her. At the College, Isabel studied three years of Japanese language and took at least one other course related to Japan each semester. She also spent two summers conducting independent research on Japanese history and culture through the Charles Center. “I was able to do an internship with the Japan-US Friendship Commission during my junior year, and being part of an organization that helped foster exchange between academics, governments, and students and individuals of all ages really changed how I look at Japan and the US. I want to be an active part of that exchange, and teaching English while I work on my own language skills seems like the perfect way to do it.” Isabel hopes to improve both her language and professional skills while a JET. “I’m really excited to be a real part of a community in Japan, and to start putting my time at William & Mary to use in the real world!”
Andrew, who graduates with a concentration in East Asian Studies in the AMES (Asian and Middle Eastern Studies) Program, first heard about the JET Program from a colleague at a summer teaching program. “She was talked about the wonderful experiences she had teaching in Japan. I want to become a teacher in the future, so I decided to apply to JET in order to experience a foreign education system from a faculty position. In the five years I’ve spent here at W&M, I’ve learned so much from the wonderful teachers here in the Japanese Studies department. Under their guidance, I’ve not only developed the language skills I need to converse in Japanese, but have come to deeply appreciate Japan’s complex culture and unique history.” Andrew just learned that he’ll be teaching in the city of Takamatsu, on the island of Shikoku. “I’m ready to experience living in Japan as opposed to simply surviving,” he says. “I encourage all of you reading this to take the leap and do the same!”
Michael graduates with a major in Hispanic Studies and a minor in Japanese Studies. He began taking Japanese courses, he says, “in an impulsive fit of rebellion,” and initially viewed the JET Program as an unattainable goal. But through his Modern Languages courses, he says, “I really connected with cultural-theory work that looks to understand the complexities of representations and narratives. I gained stronger analytical and linguistic skills as well as a deeper cultural sympathy beyond my own.” At that point, it was only natural for him to apply to the JET Program. He was especially drawn to its emphasis on transnational exchange at a grassroots level. Michael, too, will be teaching on Shikoku. “I expect to rigorously challenge my worldview and culturally condition myself for the life of a translator and interpreter.”
If you’d like to know more about the JET Program, check out the website here, or speak to any of the Japanese Studies faculty. Congratulations to Isabel, Andrew, Michael, Jack, and Mark!