Jen Wang (Miyagi, 2008-09) is a lab tech in Dallas and a staff writer for the Japanese music website Purple SKY. Her love of cosplay and her junior high school students inspired the name for her own Japanese pop culture blog, Hibari-sensei’s Classroom.
This past March, I had a very rare opportunity: a couple of my former students were going to visit my hometown through the Sister Cities exchange program. I had been waiting for this since I ended my JET career, and because the last two student trips were canceled, I was extremely excited. Not only did I get to see how my students had grown and (hopefully) become more proficient in English, but the tables were now turned. I got to show them my home and my life. Without the Sister Cities program, I would have never become interested in being a JET and so I felt like in helping my family host a student, I had taken another step in my journey of cultural exchange. It’s been an adventure going from exchange student to assistant English teacher to host sister.
My first trip to Japan (real trip and not an overnight layover) happened through the Southlake Sister Cities Youth Ambassador Program. Although 19 made me technically too old to be considered a “youth”, my parents managed to convince the organization to tag along with my brother and the other high schoolers. I was nervous because it would be the first time I’d be out of contact with my family for more than a couple of days. On top of that, my finger had gotten a horrible infection before the trip. It felt as though I was going to be on my own. That turned out to be not true at all.
My host family, as well as the individuals overseeing our trip, made me feel at home. I fell in love with Tome, which was large enough to have different things to do (like shop, learn kendo, listen to music at a pub) but small enough to experience the peaceful solitude of the countryside. One of the days I met an American woman who was an assistant English teacher. She encouraged the high schoolers who were eating lunch with us to speak English. I remembered that she came to Tome through the JET Programme, and I saw that as my ticket to return to Japan.