Jan 28

Kyodo News “Rural JET alumni” series: Marion Lagan (Okayama)

News agency Kyodo News has recently been publishing monthly articles written by JET alumni who were appointed in rural areas of Japan, as part of promotion for the JET Programme. Below is the English version of the column from January 2013. Posted by Celine Castex (Chiba-ken, 2006-11), currently programme coordinator at CLAIR Tokyo.



I hope I will have another chance to spend time there so, to the question “How is it to live in Tokyo?” I can finally answer “It’s good, but not as good as it was living in Okayama.”

Marion Lagan (Okayama-ken, Soja-shi, 2007-09) was born in the Southwest of France, then lived in many different places throughout France until she graduated high school. She moved to Paris where she studied French literature and Japanese. Once she got her teaching certificate, she applied to the JET Programme in order to get a first experience working abroad as well as furthering her knowledge of Japan and its culture. She spent two years in Okayama Prefecture teaching French and English and eating peaches. Once back in France, she got an MBA from HEC Paris. She is now working for L’Oréal as brand manager. In her spare time, she likes watching movies, making movies, reading novels as well as essays and planning her next trip to Japan.

All roads lead to Japan

When people learn I’ve spent two years in Japan, their first question always is “So, how is it to live in Tokyo ?” and the reaction I get when I tell them I don’t know since I lived in Okayama is, at best “What, you mean Hiroshima ?” or at worst “Is that even in Japan ?”. Yes, Okayama is in Japan. To me it is Japan.

From 2007 to 2009, I taught French and English to high school students whose age ranged from 15 to 19 year-old. I was a teacher in France and JET was a great opportunity to experience another lifestyle as well as work-style. I saw –and helped, I hope, students grow up and they definitely made me grow up too. It has been three years now I have left Japan and the more important memories seems to have sharpened so I will recount the ones that impressed me the most.

First and foremost, the day after I arrived in Okayama, a typhoon forced all of us to stay at our home. I remember the calmness the Japanese teacher showed while telling me about this as if it was usual and not scary at all. In a very “Japanese” way –I like to think, I learned to detach myself from weather concern and more generally from things I cannot change. It took more than the two years I spent in Japan and I am still working on it but when I get unnecessarily agitated, I wonder “Can I change this ?” and if not, I calm down and try to focus on what I can change.

Second, I met teachers who showed a strong dedication to their work. They put in the hours, spent time with their students after school as well as with their co-workers. Among them, I remember especially two teachers. One of them was the history teacher who always took the time to speak Japanese with me even if my level was quite bad when I started (and only quite okay when I left). He was a lot of fun and after one year I had the pleasure to be able to banter with about school, life and politics which was a vast improvement from my first days stuttering ten words of Japanese. The other one was the calligraphy teacher, who spent countless hours letting me have fun in the calligraphy room and even doing calligraphy with me, which we both signed.

I remember their kindness, their open-mindedness as well as their happy and positive attitude. They showed me how much a positive attitude and a willingness to stay opened to novelty –as in me being the novelty, I guess, can change the mood of the day.

Then, I, of course, remember some of my students very clearly. When I first came, my French classes were not attended by a lot of students so I took the opportunity to do more with them: we cooked, we watched movie, we filmed skits and had a great time. More than actual French, I think we taught each other how to stay curious about what is foreign and to keep looking for different ways to look at the world. I keep in contact with some of them and am looking forward to seeing how their life evolves. I hope there will still be a little bit of France in it even if it is just craving for French cakes!

Japan was a catalyst for me. It helped me refocus on what I wanted to do with my life so that when I left I was ready to act upon it. Not only did JET made me meet a lot of very interesting Japanese people but also other participants who showed me that there were many different ways to live your life. It is also their influence that made me reconsider my career choice and get an MBA to broaden my professional horizon.

But Japan was never far. As a matter of fact, I interned for 6 months in a company that sent me back around the world and in Tokyo –so finally, I could see a little bit more of the city- where my living in Okayama for two years quite impressed my co-workers.

When I graduated, I was hired by a very famous French cosmetic company. It was back in March, 2011, and due to the events that happened in Japan, I was sent straight to the Asia zone team where I could use my experience in Japan to interact with our teams who were having a very tough time. It all came to a full circle. I had learned much in Japan and I had received a lot from everyone in Okayama and now, I was finally in a position where I was able to give back even if just a little bit.

So now, five years after I landed in Japan for the JET programme, I can see more clearly what the programme brought me and what I can bring to the table thanks to this one of a kind experience. JET was a unique chance to live with Japanese people, to interact with them on a day-to-day basis and to shake off my Frenchness at least for a time. Even if everything was not perfect –but where it is?- I remember it fondly now and I hope I will have another chance to spend time there, this time in Tokyo most likely so, to the question “How is it to live in Tokyo?” I can finally answer “It’s good, but not as good as it was living in Okayama.”


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