Oct 16

CLAIR Magazine “JET Plaza” series: Suzanne McMillan (Ehime)

Each month, current and former JET participants are featured in the “JET Plaza” section of the CLAIR Forum magazine. The October 2013 edition includes an article by JET alumn Suzanne McMillan. Posted by Celine Castex (Chiba-ken, 2006-11), currently programme coordinator at CLAIR Tokyo.


Suzanne MacMillan

“Working in the media and recruitment space requires a high level of networking ability and the confidence to quickly reach out and engage with new people. My time spent in Japan provided me with this skill set along with resilience and the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.”

Originally from Northern Ireland, Suzanne McMillan (Ehime-ken, 1998-2001) holds an MA in History from Aberdeen University in Scotland. Her media career began in the UK when she joined the BBC initially as Researcher and later as an Assistant Producer. She has held the positions of Chairperson within the JETAA NI Chapter and NI Country Representative within JETAA International. Suzanne is currently a Project Manager and BDM Executive at Webpublication in Sydney, Australia where she coordinates digital publishing projects.

The Time of my Life

Nervously twiddling my thumbs, I sat before the interview panel and hoped that my answers would bring me a step closer to my long awaited place on the JET Programme. What had brought me to this point in my life? Well, as a child a favorite uncle had told me many tales of his exotic life in Japan and passed onto me the gift of a hand towel imprinted with a map of Shikoku. This tattered piece of history proudly hung on the wall of my university dorm room and later traveled with me on my flight to Tokyo Orientation; beginning my new life in Japan.

For the next three years, life as an ALT provided so many memorable experiences. I shared stories with teachers, students and fellow JET participants; discussing UK sports, changing political events in Northern Ireland and the different approaches to education and family life. Local neighbors became my friends and my knowledge of Japanese history grew with any tale they would tell of their past. The world seemed a smaller place and I realized the impact of JET; cultural exchange that reaches a deeper level and enables lifelong friendships that are priceless.

Even now memories of JET spring to mind during everyday tasks; the particularly cold winter when the supervisor at my BOE bought all JET participants a puffer jacket to keep warm, ensuring that we could all be spotted at a distance of 100 meters waddling with the extra bulk. Warmth feels my heart when I recall the kindly teacher who delivered boxes of mandarin oranges to your front door if you happened to be sick. I have never been able to hold a mandarin since without seeing his caring face. And yes, I hold myself fully responsible for many Japanese adults who I taught when they were kindergarten age and who now having an Irish lilt to their accent after repeating key English words after me several times over.

Satisfied that teaching beckoned as my life career, fate also provided an alternative option one wintry night in Shikoku. I logged onto the BBC news site on my new fangled computer connected by an internet cable that plugged into the phone socket (a hard to believe concept by modern day standards). A topical news section was probing the possibility of peace in Northern Ireland and I added a few personal comments before logging off and snuggling under my kotatsu. A few days later a BBC radio producer, based in London, contacted me and invited me to join a radio panel discussion the following week. He told me that my presence in Japan was interesting and I could give a very objective insight into the NI peace process. I participated in the panel and the next week the same producer asked me to speak as part of another radio show. My fate was sealed. In the final months of JET, I was recommended to join a BBC training course and have since enjoyed a career in radio and TV production- all because of JET.

The story does not end there. The influence that JET had on my life is immense. When I re-located back to Northern Ireland, I joined the local chapter of JETAA initially in the role of Chairperson. Later, I was privileged enough to join JETAA International where I attended meetings in Jamaica, Canada and Paris amongst other exotic places. A fellow member based in Australia recommended that I apply for a job at her husband’s company in Sydney. I did just that and three years on emigrated down under to a life of recruiting in the media and digital space– all because of JET.

Working in the media and recruitment space requires a high level of networking ability and the confidence to quickly reach out and engage with new people. My time spent in Japan provided me with this skill set along with resilience and the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. I also matured as a person thriving in being able to learn about the lives and customs of others; without this understanding I would never have succeeded as a researcher in the BBC where my role revolved around discovery and telling the life stories of other people.

People is at the core of the JET Programme. Participants from cultures worldwide learn about each other as well as the customs and habits of different regions and workplaces in Japan. Many young graduates are given the opportunity to unofficially become an ‘ambassador’ for their country of origin. In today’s world ambassadorial and diplomacy skills are becoming increasingly important and former JET participants have the skills to keep cross-cultural relations alive. By becoming employed in different companies, industries and continents ex-JET participants carry the torch that keeps shining on Japan. They continue to promote Japanese culture through their local JETAA chapters, collaboration with their local embassies and by hosting Japanese themed events and celebrations in their local cities. I believe that the JET programme will continue to be pivotal in maintaining strong cultural links between nations and friendships.

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