Feb 12

CLAIR Magazine “JET Plaza” series: Marshall Ikeda (Miyagi)

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

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“From the day I set foot in Natori as a JET, I knew it would be a life-altering experience. As cliché as it sounds, I really do feel like [it] is my home away from home.”

Born in a Japanese family based in Toronto, Canada, Marshall Ikeda (Miyagi-ken, Natori-shi, 2010-present) was brought up in a bi-cultural and  bilingual environment. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations, he joined the JET Programme as a junior high school and elementary school ALT. Placed in an area of Miyagi that was heavily struck by the 3/11 disaster, he stayed in an evacuation shelter and went out of his way to help out his local community. 

Natori My Second Home

It was the heat, humidity and the overpowering sound of cicadas that welcomed me to the city of Natori. Bordering the neighboring city of Sendai, Natori is nestled between a mountain range to the west and Pacific beaches to the east. The mixture of city and country was a perfect combination to satisfy my curiosity and love for travel. After arriving, I began exploring the wonderful aspects of Natori every weekend, and quickly grew to know and love the area.

My commute to three different schools, two Elementary and one junior high, also helped me get acquainted with Natori. My favorite school to visit is an elementary school buried far in the mountains. In order to get there, I have to set out on a hard one-hour bike ride early in the morning. From the time I first arrived, this hour spent outdoors has allowed me to experience the beauty of all four seasons on my way to work. Paired with my time outdoors spent biking, the scenery surrounding Natori has made it easy to integrate the seasons into my classroom activities. In spring we hold classes under the cherry blossoms. In fall we trace Japanese maple leaves onto paper. In winter, we build three-piece snowmen. These experiences represent a unique cultural exchange for my students. I feel fortunate to be able to use my natural surroundings as a teaching aid. As Canada is also rich in natural beauty, it is easy to make ties to my homeland. Infusing nature into my teaching curriculum interests my students academically and culturally.

Despite many successful attempts to incorporate active teaching styles into my lesson plans, the most challenging aspect of teaching English has always been engaging the students. When I first began teaching, I was deluded by an unrealistically positive vision that all students adore English. I soon realized of course that this is simply not true- some students do not even want to try speaking at all! While I cannot force every student to love English, (and I am not expected to), I still try to demonstrate to my students how English is beneficial for travel, work, school, and lifestyle. My efforts in readjusting students’ perceptions of English is certainly not an overnight process, but I believe it is the driving force for myself, and many other ALTs working in Japan.

While it is discouraging at times that some students simply do not show an interest in English, there are always those students willing to go the extra mile. Over the past year, I had the pleasure of coaching one of my junior high students to the finals for the All Japan National Speech contest. Through her consistent time and effort, she was highly successful in her English goals. I feel very rewarded in circumstances where students display a positive attitude towards English, and want to put forth their best efforts. I believe that the most rewarding aspects of being an ALT comes from being able to see tangible results. Read More


Jan 23

CLAIR Magazine “JET Plaza” series: Penelope Fox (Saga)

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 current JET participant Penelope Fox. Posted by Celine Castex (Chiba-ken, 2006-11), currently programme coordinator at CLAIR Tokyo.

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Penelope Fox

“Aside from the wonderful opportunity to live and teach in a country I love, I thank the JET Programme and all its participants I have had contact with for making me think more about the world I live in and how I can make a difference.”

Originally from Sydney, Australia, Penelope Fox (Saga-ken, Shiroishi-cho, 2009-14) developed an interest for Japan at the age of four while accompanying her father on a business trip there. She started studying Japanese in elementary school and, after graduating from university, embarked on a career in Human Resources while dreaming of going to live in Japan one day. Several years and a graduate degree in Education later, she joined the JET Programme and was sent to rural Saga. She has been teaching elementary school children for almost five years and, actively involved in AJET at the local and national level, has been an invaluable member of the JET community since then.

A change of perspective via the JET Programme

Like many people coming on the JET Programme, I was super excited to come to Japan and embrace its culture and language head-on. In fact, for me personally, the JET Programme represented the realisation of a long-term dream: to live in Japan for an extended period and combine my love of teaching, children and Japanese language, and experience ‘real’ Japanese life in the countryside.

While I tried to come to Japan with very few expectations, I would have to say that the JET Programme has been everything I hoped it would be and more: my schools (I have worked at a total of 15 different kindergartens, elementary schools and junior high schools over the past four years) have all be fantastic, each in their own way; my co-workers have generally been very welcoming and accepting of me; my supervisors have been kind; and my communities have embraced having a foreigner in their midst.

For my first placement, I worked in a small ‘city’ of 20,000 people surrounded by mountains. Coming from a dry, mostly flat continent like Australia, the beauty and vividness of the greenery I could constantly see around me that first summer never ceased to amaze me. Having requested a ‘rural’ placement on JET, I was thrilled. At first, my focus was on my work and understanding what it meant to be an ALT. In fact, I believe it took me almost two years to feel like I was really able to contribute to my full potential in classes and at school. As time went by, I cemented personal and professional relationships, and came to love my quiet country life in Japan; perhaps even more so than that first ‘honeymoon’ phase.

At the end of my third year, unable to secure a new contract with a cost-cutting BOE, yet not wanting to return home yet, I was lucky enough to be granted a transfer to a neighbouring city in the same prefecture. Though my surroundings have since changed to a flat landscape and the constant smell of onions and renkon (the two specialties of the area), plus a suite of new schools, the people around me again have made the difference in making me feel at home. My neighbours and co-workers epitomise what I believe to be one of Japan’s core strengths– the friendliness of the people. Again I am reminded how lucky I am to have this experience that has exceeded all my expectations.

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