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Former JET Teachers Reunite at 2016 Shinnenkai


• Many JET alumni and their friends enjoyed a reunion with Japanese culture and food at the 13th annual New Year Shinnenkai (party) on January 16 at the Japan Information Center in the Consulate General’s office. The event was hosted by the JET Alumni Association (JETAA) of Chicago and the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago.

• JET is the acronym of the program called “the Japan Exchange and Teaching”, where native English speakers teach English to Japanese students or work with local institutions. It provides Japanese students opportunities to communicate with native speakers while JET participants have opportunities to experience life in Japan.
• Most JET participants stay in Japan for two years or so and return to their home countries. The New Year Shinnenkai is a good opportunity for them to reconnect themselves to Japan.

• After a welcoming address by Wesley Julian, President of JETAA Chicago, the attendees were thrilled to watch martial arts demonstrations. They were iaido by Mugai Ryu Iai Hyodo, karate by Shuri Ryu Karate, and Aikido by Aikido Association of America.

• The participants also enjoyed having food and drinks, and playing games such as fukuwarai, origami folding, karuta card game, and charity raffle drawing. Kimono dress-up, calligraphy workshop, onigiri (rice ball) making, and ema plaque wishing were also offered to enjoy the Shinnenkai.

• This year, Michael Croson brought Awa Odori dance to the Shinnenkai. The participants quickly learned the dance and marched on the floor. Croson joined Awa Odori team, and the team debuted at Japan Day, which was held at the Arlington Race Track last July.

Interviews

• Tom Collins of England taught English from 2004 to 2007 in Oita city, Oita Prefecture in Kyushu and currently became Vice President of JETAA Chicago.

• When he was in England, he heard of JET Program from his friend and applied for it. He had no knowledge of Japanese culture or language, but he did karate as a teenager. “So I went to Japan knowing nothing and fell in love with that,” Collins said.
• At his school, he tried to speak to the students in Japanese and showed them that his Japanese wasn’t very good. His efforts encouraged the students to speak to him in English. He also taught three different courses in an English club, so he could know about the students more.

• During his stay in Oita, his parents visited him, so the family went sightseeing to the Jigokudani Hot Spring, where intermittent springs blasted out every 10 minutes.
• He also enjoyed eating Japanese food like katsudon, katsu carry, tempura udon, and many others.

• One time, he had to go to a hospital. He was very anxious to speak Japanese, but he said that he was very lucky to have co-worker, teacher Yoshioka. He was like a host father and looked after him.

• On the last evening in Japan, Collins took a taxi ride to his home. He spoke with the driver in Japanese all the way to his home and said, “I thought that I achieved something. At least I made myself understood in Japanese.”

• Currently, he has worked at the British International School in Chicago. He said, “If I had never done JET Program, coming here wouldn’t be as easy.” Through his experiences in Japan where the culture was very different from his own, he got the taste of international living, so the experience made it easy for him to come to Chicago.

• Since he left Japan, almost 10 years have passed. He said, “I really want to go back there sometimes to see how things have changed and visit friends.”

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• Daniel Pruitt of Chicago taught English at three high schools in Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture for three years between 2009 and 2012.
• Before joining JET Program, he was taking Japanese classes at the De Paul University. He said that his interests in Japan reached a peak after he went Japan to study abroad, so he applied for JET.

• One of his schools was a high level academic school, and the other was a very sports oriented school. He joined aikido and kendo clubs and practiced martial arts with his students. When he had a class in the sports oriented school, the students were not so interested in learning English, but some students, who practiced kendo with him, helped his class. He said, “They learned a lot more because we had friendly bonds before my class began.” He also used comedies to encourage the students to speak English more, and then they participated in his teaching more and more.

• Pruitt said, “Under JET Program, teaching had a lot of fun. I met so many friends and learned so much.” He was also active after school. “I was living in Japan as a cultural ambassador for the U.S. It was a unique experience,” he said.

• On the other hand, he encountered some difficulties, but he said that he had already studied in Japan before becoming a JET teacher, so those things were not as big of a shock. “It was a different culture, you have to understand that they do things differently,” Pruitt said.

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• Ella McCann taught at multiple schools in Kamogawa City, Chiba Prefecture from 2012 to 2014.
• She applied to the JET Program because she was interested in cross cultural exchange, especially, a grass-root level where she was able to meet with people, speak with them, learn their culture, and teach her own culture to them. She said, “Once people know more about the world, they are more open minded and more willing to travel and are trying to do these things. So I really wanted to be an ambassador for that.”

• She was in charge of teaching English at four kindergartens, three elementary schools, and three junior high schools, so she taught kids from 5 to 15 years old.
• She talked about music, pop culture, artists, movies, and these kinds of things in order to connect herself to the students. When she taught older students, she encouraged them to think about going to other countries. She said, “I still have contacts with them. It was a great experience.”

• Outside of the schools, McCann tried to get involved in the community. She participated in festivals, sports days, and more. She also learned naginata, the wielding techniques for using a long-handled sword.

• She enjoyed eating Japanese food such as okonomiyaki, sushi, and fresh seafood. Although her apartment was small, it was a cozy place and took her only two minutes to a beach.
• On the other hand, she sometimes encountered discourteous people. “Because I’m a little bit darker, so occasionally, people sort of are surprised by me,” she said. One day, a police officer stopped her and asked for her I.D. even though she had lived in the City for two years.
• “You learn to deal with that situation, but for the most part, I had no…. I can’t remember any experience of that kind,” McCann said.

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• Michael Croson taught Awa Odori at the JET Shinnenkai. Who is he?
• He found an Awa Odori lesson online and joined it at Mitsuwa Marketplace last summer and performed with Awa Odori team on Japan Day. Since then, the team has performed on many occasions.
• He hasn’t been to Japan, but his father was in the Navy and stationed in Iwakuni base. He was in the U.S. Army and did a professional job that required a few personnel in each country, so he spent all his time in Germany.
• Croson said, “I like the (Awa Odori) music, and the people are very friendly, and we had a good time.”


Karuta card table at JET Alumni Shinnenkai


Michael Croson (front) brought Awa Odori dance to the Shinnenkai


Tom Collins


Daniel Pruitt


Ella McCann