Chicago Shimpo
159 JET Participants Leave for Japan

• A send-off reception was held at the Japan Information Center of the Consulate-General of Japan in Chicago on July 27 for a new generation of native English teachers, who were set to teach in Japan under the Japan Exchange and Teaching (“JET”) Program this year.

• A total of 159 JET participants from the Midwest region departed Chicago the following day, as the Japanese government takes steps to make English a compulsory subject for younger children in Japan.

• Over the past 32 years, the JET Program has sent a combined total of approximately 60,000 English teachers from across the world to Japan. Initiated by the Japanese government, the JET aims to provide Japanese school children with an opportunity to learn English from native speakers, while the program participants assist the local governments in their globalization efforts and experience life in Japan.
• This year’s number of participants, 159, from the Midwest region (10 states under the jurisdiction of the Consulate-General of Japan in Chicago) was the highest of all the regions in the U.S., and the second highest in the world after the jurisdiction of the Japanese Embassy in London.
• A total of 1,700 are participating in the program this year from across the world.

Past JET participants were present at the reception to share their experience and send off this year’s participants.
• Also present was Naoki Ito, Consul-General of Japan in Chicago, who noted that Japan has taken another step in the process to make English one of the compulsory, graded subjects for elementary school children.
• Starting this year, English is now a graded subject nationwide for the fifth and sixth graders, requiring the use of government-approved textbooks.
• “The role and expectations for the JET teachers are becoming increasingly tougher,” warned Ito. “Not only enjoying your stay in Japan, I would also encourage you to do your best in your own ways to meet your requirements, while remembering that your main role is to teach English and help the local authorities with international exchange.”
• They may also want to engage in local volunteer work if they are assigned to the regions that had been hit by recent disasters, Ito suggested.
• He concluded that, in the end, JET participants are expected to play the role of cultural ambassadors in local communities by sharing their experiences in Japan with their friends, families and neighbors.

• Sara Furukawa, a second-generation JET participant, shared her excitement with the guests and her fellow participants of taking on the challenge of new experience in Japan.
• Furukawa’s mother is a 1988 JET participant, who taught English in the Kagoshima prefecture and then in Tokyo. Her father was born in Kanazawa, in the northwestern prefecture of Ishikawa, and raised in Tokyo. Her mother has always shared her four-year experience in Japan with her, Furukawa said.
• She feels fortunate that she inherits both Japanese and American heritage and is now given a chance to live in Japan and share her views as a Japanese-American with the people in Japan.
• “The stories of my parents have led me to join the JET Program. I will take on the challenge of adapting to a new environment like other JET participants will do,” Furukawa said. “I believe my JET experience will hold a special place in my heart.”

• Gabriel Coronado, Vice President of the JET Alumni Association (“JETAA”) Chicago Chapter, offered the departing JET participants two bits of advice based on his own experience:
• First, think why you are in Japan – you are not a foreign student or traveler; you are a public servant who is employed by the Japanese government. You must keep that in mind at all times.
• Second, remember that you are representing your country, your culture, and yourself. Don’t lose your identity.
• “It wasn’t so easy to get used to life in Japan, but as time went by, all the anxieties dissipated and I began to understand what I could do,” Coronado told to the departing participants.
• He said he learned the importance of being patient and flexible through living in a little town of the population of 6,000.
• “It was one of the best experiences in my life,” Coronado said. “It’s a valuable experience to learn what it means to try to cross over to different cultures and languages, to have new ideas and keep an open mind. The JET Program was a life-changing experience for me, and I wouldn’t have been here today without it.”

• Tiffany Lukk from Minnesota is going to the city of Iwamizawa in Hokkaido, where she will teach English at one junior high and two elementary schools.
• She heard about the JET Program when she was a middle school student, and it has always been at the back of her mind.
• Though she studied Japanese at college and has even lived in Japan, Lukk is going to face the challenge as a beginner.
• “I’ll wait for the orientation in Japan about the teaching method and so on,” said Lukk. “I’m hoping to begin with English songs, music, games and easy stuff like that for the children.”

• Edward Breihen is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and will teach at two kindergartens and one junior high school in the city of Hiroshima.
• A former student of Nanzan University in Nagoya, Breihen still cherishes the experience and is hoping to expand his Japan experience through the JET Program. His ultimate goal is to find a way to stay in Japan permanently.
• In his self-introduction in fluent Japanese, Breihen described himself as a Japanese-food lover and how he missed it when he returned to the U.S. from Nagoya.
• “I think first I’ll spend some time watching other teachers, to see what they do and take some advice from them,” Breihen said. “I have to remember the age difference between junior high school students and kindergarten kids and make sure to teach them accordingly.”

• Patrick Hurd from Chicago is assigned to teach in the city of Minoh, Osaka.
• Hurd first heard about the JET Program when he was studying at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Osaka.
• His plan is to try to make himself accessible for everybody by having “a lot of positive energy.”
• “I also want to let my students know that it’s OK to make mistakes, and that they don’t need to worry about speaking perfect English as long as they try their best,” Hurd said.

• Nicole Argudin, also from Chicago, will teach in the city of Ise, Mie Prefecture.
• She studied Japanese at college in Minnesota and has worked at the Japanese Culture Center in Chicago. Her college friend informed her about the JET Program, and Argudin applied for the program upon graduating last year.
• Based on her experience in teaching and education, Argudin plans to use games to engage students in English learning. Interested in Japanese architecture, she owns a number of books about the subject, including books featuring the Tokyo Tower and Kyoto Tower.
• “I want to inform the students about Chicago and other cities in the U.S.,” she added.

• Sikiru Tijani was one of the JET alumni who came to the send-off reception.
• “Everything I went through in Japan was a positive learning experience,” said Tijani about his five years as an English teacher in Kamogawa and Otakimachi, Chiba Prefecture.
• The best thing for him, above all, was that he was able to share many facets of American culture, such as movies and other popular entertainment, with the people in Japan through teaching English.
• The hardest experience? That he failed the driver’s license exam six times before passing it on the seventh try.
• “You would laugh, right?” Tijani recalled in Japanese. “It was literally like the Japanese saying ‘Nanakorobi yaoki’ (seven falls, eight rebounds). It was tough, but also a good lesson to learn. I still keep it in mind today.”
• “But I still confuse the wiper and the blinker,” Tijani added.

• The JET Alumni Association (“JETAA”) has been organized to maintain and strengthen the bond between the JETs and alumni, with approximately 52 regional chapters across the world. The association provides its members with networking opportunities, offers Japan-related study/employment information and maintains close ties among the alumni.

159 JET participants make toast for their successful teaching lives in Japan.

Consul General Naoki Ito

Sara Furukawa

Tiffany Lukk

Edward Breihen

Patrick Hurd

Nicole Argudin

Sikiru Tijani