Chicago Shimpo
153 JET teachers from Midwest Depart for Japan
To Begin Teaching English Assignment
in Local Communities

• This year’s participants of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (“JET”) Program flew out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for Japan on July 27. The Japanese government-sponsored program is designed to bring native English speakers to local communities across Japan as hands-on help in teaching English and developing deeper ties with the international community.

• A day before the departure, on July 26, the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago hosted a sendoff reception for the departing JET teachers at its Japan Information Center.
• According to Consular-General Naoki Ito in his reception remarks, a total of 153 JET applicants have been selected from 10 states under the jurisdiction of the Consulate. It’s the largest in number among all the Japanese consular posts in the U.S. and the second in the world after London.
• Approximately 2,000 participants from across the world are set to start the new JET assignment in Japan this year.
• It’s been 33 years since the inception of the JET Program, and the number of the program’s alumni now reaches 60,000. They continue to be active through their alumni association chapters worldwide, providing the members with support in job opportunities and career advice as well as maintaining ties with each other through various events.

• Ito reminded the departing JETs of the fact that they would experience the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics while in Japan, a “historical experience.”
• Another thing to remember is that English education is set to start for the third graders in 2020, Ito said.
• English is currently mandatory for the fifth graders and beyond in Japan. These extra two years starting next year would be “crucial for English proficiency for further generations” of Japan, he added.
• He concluded that JET participants are expected to be good American citizens and play the role of grass-root ambassadors both in Japan and after returning home to the U.S., helping build a stronger partnership between the two countries.

• Jason Kurtti and his brother Mathew from North Dakota represented their fellow JETs in their departing remarks.

• Jason told the audience about the car trouble he had on the morning he and his brother were to leave home for Chicago.
• He said he didn’t know what to do when the engine wouldn’t start, but after he calmed down a bit and reassessed the situation, he could make himself adapt to it and jump-start his car, and “everything turned out all right.”
• Looking at the “adventure” he was facing, he was hoping to go on with this same approach, adapting to different situations as he faces them, Jason said. “Hopefully that mindset will help me get through in Japan.”

• Jason and Mathew had always been interested in Japan. Their family had hosted an exchange student from Japan in the past.
• Mathew followed his brother and applied for the JET program.
• A physics major with no teaching background, Mathew was “nervous” about the idea of teaching English to school kids in Japan. But by adapting the mindset his brother just described, he could successfully get through the JET interview, Mathew said.

• Lara (Zara) Espinoza, Vice President of the JET Alumni Association Chicago chapter, shared her own experience in Japan.
• Born between a Japanese father and a Korean mother, Espinoza was adopted by a Mexican-American family in Michigan.
• Sent to Shiga Prefecture as a JET teacher from 2010 to 2011, Espinoza was told on her first day by the area’s Board of Education Supervisor to not tell her students or other teachers that she had been adopted by a “brown Mexican family” because that would be something to be ashamed of.
• It was a big culture shock for her. Every day, she was “hit by a culture shock” of racism, sexism, and the expectation of being a good Japanese woman, which she was not.
• What inspired her in such situation was to “get creative” in connecting with her colleagues and students, said Espinoza.
• A professional dancer, she demonstrated her dance abilities to her students as a way to introduce herself. She also showed her students photos of her adopted family.
• Based on such experience, Espinoza offered the departing JETs three bits of advice:

• First, remember that you are cultural ambassador representing the U.S. and strive to be a best example in and out of the workplace.

• Second, remember no matter how long you stay in Japan or how good your Japanese language skills are, you can’t become Japanese. Discover who you are.

• Third, try to take a leisure time while in Japan and live a good quality life by taking care of yourself.

Profiles of Departing Participants

Mariko Kaczkowski, from Chicago, has a Japanese American mother and had attended a Japanese Saturday School.
• Her family hosted an exchange student from Japan and she had “fallen in love with her.” Through volunteer experience in Sendai in the aftermath of the 2011 great earthquake and tsunami, her interest in Japan had intensified.
• Because she had always wanted to be a teacher, Kaczkowski said the JET program would be an ideal opportunity for her, a “perfect combination” of being in Japan and teaching.
• She is excited about living and teaching in Arita, Saga Prefecture.
• “I’m looking forward to my first class there. I want to tell my students what I know about the American culture and also about Japan, because I love both teaching and learning,” she said.

Erin O’Daniel from Columbus, Ohio studied architecture in college, where she had a chance to research about Japanese Shinto architecture.
• It made her study Japanese in her free time, but she didn’t think she was up to a teaching job.
• But when she had a chance to teach English to international students, the experience gave her confidence.
• O’Daniel will teach in Niigata Prefecture, where a JET alumni website operates to help out new JET teachers with a guideline.

Megan Luedtke from West Des Moines, Iowa will teach in Fukui Prefecture.
• She was always fascinated by Japanese culture, and, as a child, she often asked her grandmother how her Japanese garden was made. As she grew older, she fell in love with Japanese manga and amine, a window through which she would learn more about the culture, behavior, and language of Japan.
• When she was a college junior, Luedtke studied in Japan for five months. Determined to return to the country for more in-depth experience, she applied for the JET program. Though not formally trained in teaching, she believes that her past experience of helping and educating children will be a great merit for her assignment in Japan.
• Luedtke thinks that the important part of the JET assignment, aside from teaching English, will be the aspect of a cultural ambassador, connecting the U.S. and Japanese students.
• The “biggest thing” she wants to do in Japan is to “leave an impact” on the children there about the differences between the two countries, making them aware of why the connection is so important, she said.

• Nebraska native Caleb Ewing said his advisor at university was a JET alumnus, who encouraged him to try the JET program.
• He will teach English at five elementary and junior high schools in Ishigaki Island, Okinawa Prefecture. He was in the process of working on his teaching plans, Ewing said.

• Chicagoan Princess Coleman-Thomas said her college Japanese professor had suggested the JET program to her. She will teach at a high school in Nerima-ku in Tokyo.
• “I know quite a lot about Chicago, so I will definitely talk about Chicago to my students,” she said. “I also plan to visit all the museums in the Nerima area; I’m very excited.”

JET participants make a toast for a success in Japan.

Consul General Naoki Ito encourages new JET participants.

Lara (Zara) Espinoza

Jason Kurtti (R) and Mathew Kurtti

Mariko Kaczkowski

From left: Megan Luedtke, Kacie Benson, and Erin O’Daniel

Caleb Ewing (L) and Stephen Deyo

Princess Coleman-Thomas