Feb 22

 

 

By Mark Flanigan, Nagasaki (2000-04)

 

As a JET alumnus, I look back fondly on the four years I spent living and teaching in Nagasaki Prefecture. Serving on JET was, quite literally, one of those “life-changing” experiences, as it confirmed my career path in the direction of public service and global education. In the 15 years or so since my time in Nagasaki, I have been lucky to have had international roles in the U.S. government, in higher education, and at a private, Japan-focused non-profit foundation. I was even fortunate enough to return to Japan a second time, to earn my MA in Peace Studies in 2012 through the Rotary Peace Center at International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo. Later, I served in a variety of roles in Manhattan with JETAANY between 2012-16.

My most recent career stage brought me back into the classroom, albeit in a different role and a new part of Asia for me. I am currently serving as a WorldTeach Fellow volunteer in Chittagong, Bangladesh, at the Asian University for Women (AUW). It has been both a challenging and rewarding transition back into teaching, as I felt a bit rusty in the beginning and took a bit of time to get back in the groove. Also, my main experiences with Asia had been almost entirely focused on Japan, China, and Korea. For me, South Asian history and culture was something I knew very little about up until a couple of years ago. Being here, I realized how comparatively little I knew about the diverse cultures of the Indian subcontinent of Asia. Nonetheless, it has proven to be an extremely rewarding transition, personally as well as professionally.

 

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Me with some of my Pathways students in Bangladesh

Through a friend in New York City, I had first learned about AUW back in 2015. She had been a WorldTeach Fellow here a few years before, volunteering and having a really significant educational and cultural experience. The more I heard about her time in Bangladesh, the more I thought it sounded like a great opportunity to get back in the classroom while making a positive contribution to education for women at a significant institution like AUW. While I definitely enjoyed my four years in Manhattan, working as a Program Director with the Japan ICU Foundation (日本国際基督教大学財団), I also felt ready to take on a new challenge. I applied and was happily accepted as a new volunteer with WorldTeach, and assigned to AUW for the 2016-17 academic year.

AUW was founded in 2008 as a regional hub to help educate underprivileged women throughout different regions of Asia and the Middle East. With a liberal arts curriculum that promotes critical thinking and women’s empowerment, it is a truly encouraging place for young women who have faced numerous challenges in life due to poverty, gender bias, and sectarian conflict. With 600 students (and over 400 alumnae) from 15 different countries, including Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Palestine, and others, AUW is an amazingly diverse place. The dynamic environment, small class sizes, and daily interaction of people with many different ideas, perspectives, and cultures makes it an esteemed center of higher education in South Asia.

However, I almost missed my chance to be here. Less than one month before I was due to arrive at AUW, we heard the news of the terrible attack in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. All I knew was that international residents of the city (and their local friends and colleagues) had been targeted specifically in a vicious terror strike. The attackers, while a definite minority in terms of the general population, were sending a very clear and deadly message. Although the attack did not take place in Chittagong, it was great cause for concern among both WorldTeach and AUW staff, as well as present and future volunteers. At that time, it was not clear whether we would still be able to serve in Bangladesh, or how the program might proceed. Many safety protocols would need to be analyzed and revised before a final decision could be made. In the end we were still given the option to come, which I was definitely happy to hear.

I have now been here for seven months, teaching two different groups of students over the autumn and now spring terms. My classes are part of the Pathways for Promise Program at AUW, which is the recently developed entry point for women who have not had as much formal preparation to succeed in higher education. Many of them have come as former workers from the garment factories of Bangladesh, while others are daughters of Grameen Bank loan recipients, refugees from the persecuted Rohingya community, as well as indigenous minorities from the Chittagong Hill tracts region. In addition to Bangladeshis, Pathways students have come from Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Myanmar. They will take classes for approximately one year in Reading and Writing as well as Listening and Speaking, and also study Math and IT while participating in Community Time and Social Mentoring workshops and events.

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A lovely display of Bengali cuisine

If they complete the Pathways Program successfully and meet all the exam requirements, they will advance to the one-year Access Academy and then an additional three years of undergraduate study at AUW. In all, the successful ones will graduate in five years with their bachelor’s degree in hand. Against all odds, this is their big chance to earn their college degree. Without the encouragement and funding support to match their own amazing dedication, it would most likely be impossible. It will not be easy for them. Many are far away from home and spend almost all of their time on the small but secure campus. They live in dormitories with 2-5 students per room, eat in the dining hall, and take all their classes together, so there is very little time for privacy or quiet reflection. Nonetheless, they are very eager to learn and make the most of this unique opportunity they have been granted.

It goes without saying that my students inspire me each and every day. Teaching them is really one of the biggest joys of my life here, and in many ways takes me back to my first experience teaching overseas in Japan. Although those two times are separated by about 15 years and many more miles, there are also some interesting parallels between them. Of the many things I have discovered over my time here thus far at AUW, one of the most interesting has been the surprising number of existing connections here between Bangladesh and Japan. As a former JET who later studied at ICU and worked to promote increased U.S.-Japan ties, it’s been a really pleasant surprise to find out about and help to build on these great bilateral bonds of friendship.

The first one, I discovered quite by accident. In the early part of the autumn semester, I was walking in the hallway outside of my office when I heard the distinct counts of “ICHI, NI, SAN, SHIIII!!” emanating from the level above. Intrigued, I climbed the staircase up to the next floor and was surprised to discover the gymnasium filled with perfect rows of students. They were in straight lines, balanced in strict stances, with fists alternately chambered by their side and then thrust forward in a crisp motion I instantly recognized. My mind wandered back to our small dojo in Hirado City, Nagasaki, where I spent countless hours drilling in those very same “kihon” movements. I was curious to find out more, so I made arrangements to return and observe a longer class in session.

It was then that I met Ms. Maria Chakraboty, their instructor, a remarkable woman from Bangladesh who has achieved her 5-Dan rank in Shotokan Karate. Maria serves as a real inspiration to her students, as AUW’s Associate Director of Physical Education and Karate instructor. Maria grew up in Chittagong, the same city where AUW is based, and faced hardships of her own due to people judging her negatively by her gender. She was strongly discouraged by others in her pursuit of Karate, but through the encouragement of her instructors, she has achieved a remarkable number of accomplishments. For her students, Maria is a living, breathing example of a successful adult woman, who has faced down discrimination and has continued her own personal growth through embracing the Japanese art of Karate. She has been able to impart her wisdom and experience to hundreds of young students through the years. Such is the wonderful environment of a cross-cultural, liberal arts university like AUW.

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Maria (Center) training with some of her AUW students

In addition to Karate,  there are other tangible bonds of kizuna between AUW and Japan. Attending the University’s Club Fair this past autumn, I was happy to learn that AUW students are involved in all kinds of social and academic club activities. Similar to Japan, students here balance their time between formal classes and organized clubs, like Model UN, Animal Welfare, a variety of sports, and other pursuits. Most interestingly to me, I discovered that there is a very active group of students on campus who are involved in the AUW Japan Circle Club! They are extremely genki and know an amazing amount of things regarding Japanese culture. They study Japanese on their own (as it is not taught here), read manga, watch anime, and even make their own kimono and other clothing by hand! Upon meeting them, I shared my experience as a JET alumnus and former ICU graduate student. They asked me to serve as their faculty advisor, to which I most happily agreed!

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With some of the AUW Japan Circle Club students (and their hand-made clothing)!

I have been very happy to be working with them on various projects here this term. Most specifically, we have planned and organized a Japanese book drive among some of my colleagues and friends in Japan and Hong Kong. Through their kind and generous help, we have now received about seven boxes full of manga, books, magazines, language textbooks, and Japanese-English dictionaries from abroad! All of these were donated to the AUW library, so students can access them freely anytime. As none of our students have been able to visit Japan as of yet, they really love the chance to see any kind of “hon mono” firsthand. One Tokyo friend in particular also sent a variety of delicious Japanese candies, which were a big hit with the students! We are still interested in receiving any other items from Japan, if anyone would like to donate. Additionally, the students performed a number of Japanese songs (in Japanese) and dances for our recent Lunar New Year Festival. We hope to develop exchange partnerships with AUW and universities in Japan, in order to offer study abroad opportunities in both directions. Interestingly, at least one ICU alumna is now studying in Japan, earning her Master’s degree at the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo!

Lastly, there is a very robust level of support for AUW in Tokyo. As part of the global support network for AUW students, a number of highly-accomplished and very influential donors make up the “Friends of AUW Japan” organization. Among them is Ms. Kathy Matsui,Vice Chair of Goldman Sachs Japan,who has a long and deep connection to AUW. In 2007, she was chosen by the Wall Street Journal newspaper as one of the “10 Women to Watch in Asia” for her work on the “Womenomics” theme, and serves as a board member of the AUW Support Foundation. Ms. Matsui and her husband, Mr. Jesper Koll, have been major donors to AUW since its inception, and they continue to look for ways to promote exchange between AUW and Japanese universities and companies. In addition, First Lady Akie Abe serves as an official Patron of AUW and has been actively involved with a number of fundraising efforts on behalf of the university in Tokyo over the past few years. Lastly, AUW has enjoyed very generous support through the past several years from a number of Japanese companies like HITACHI, MITSUI & CO., TOSHIBA CORPORATION, and UNIQLO.

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 First Lady Akie Abe (center) and Ms. Kathy Matsui (second from right)

In conclusion, I would say my time here in Bangladesh has been a wonderful journey thus far. In many ways, it’s a completely new (and sometimes bumpy) experience for me, living in South Asia and in a developing, Muslim-majority country for the first time. Culturally, it’s much different than what I was used to, but that’s been a good opportunity to broaden my own horizons and question my preconceived notions about life as well. My students in the Pathways for Promise Program specifically, and AUW students in general, have taught me so much and really inspired me through their own energy, resilience, and desire to learn. As a nice coincidence, this latest chapter in my career also brings me back to teaching and to Japan in many ways. I am happy to have so many “natsukashii” moments here, to help teach these remarkable young women, and also to be in a position to try and advance the relationships between people in Bangladesh and Japan. In some ways, it’s the most unexpected yet personally satisfying addition to my time here at AUW. I’m happy to make the most of all these fortuitous connections during my time here in Bangladesh and beyond.

 

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Mark Flanigan is currently a WorldTeach Fellow volunteer in Chittagong, Bangladesh, at the Asian University for Women (AUW). Mark served as an ALT in Nagasaki Prefecture from 2000-4, and later studied for his MA in Peace Studies as a Rotary Peace Fellow at the International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo from 2010-12. After graduating from ICU in 2012, he spent four years working for the Japan ICU Foundation in NYC. He has also held leadership roles in the JET Alumni Associations of both New York and Washington, DC. He can be reached at markinmitaka(at)gmail.com

mark-in-bangladesh


Feb 1

By Jon Dao(Toyama-ken, 2009-12) for his podcast Discussions with Dao. Jon works as a speech coach and personal trainer.


Filmore Ha (Ibaraki-ken, 2006-08) on growing up in the South and living in Japan.


Nov 6

By Jon Dao(Toyama-ken, 2009-12) for his podcast Discussions with Dao. Jon works as a speech coach and personal trainer.

 


Here’s an interesting one– William reached out to me after I made the Leaving Home (Again) video. He’s another former JET who could relate, so of course I invited him to talk about his experiences more. Here’s the breakdown of what’s discussed:

Why do JET? [1:00]

Was it worth it? [6:50]

3 Years, “The Sweet Spot” [12:45]

Would you go back? [23:00]

Advice for Returning JETs [27:15]

Option: Relocate [32:45]

Throwing Yourself a Pity-Party [39:30]

You can reach William here: genkinagaijin [at] yahoo.com


Oct 5

Nathaniel Simmons (Nara-ken, 2007-2009) is currently a communication professor at Western Governors University and lives in Columbus, OH, USA. He teaches a variety of intercultural, interpersonal, and health communication courses. He has researched and published several scholarly articles regarding privacy management between foreign English teachers and Japanese co-workers in Japan and is currently working on turning his research into a book.

What makes a good or bad medical professional?

From school medical checks to hospital visits, the average ALT has several medical encounters throughout their year(s) in Japan.  Intrigued by my own experiences within the Japanese medical world, I interviewed 49 foreign English teachers in Japan about their healthcare experiences, and here’s what they said (in a much more condensed format):

Bad providers violate patients’ cultural expectations 

ALTs perceived providers that “violated,” and/or did not perform culturally expected practices as “bad” providers.  In other words, if a Japanese medical profession didn’t act as expected, the ALT perceived the experience and the medical provider as negative, or “bad.”  As an example, one English teacher characterized the difference between a “good” and “bad” doctor.  The following is an excerpt that distinguished between two physicians this English teacher encountered while seeking treatment for bronchitis.

“I walk into his [the doctor’s] office and he’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re not healthy I can hear you from outside.  This isn’t just a cold is it?’ ‘No.’  Just from hearing me cough he knew that I wasn’t well.  He says to me, ‘You either have bronchitis or pneumonia.  We’re going to take an x-ray and blood tests to find out.’  Difference in doctor right there! One of them [the bad one] just hands out a diagnosis and is like I think you might need antibiotics and the other [the good one] is like I want to do a blood test and do an x-ray to make sure you need the antibiotics and if they’re the right kind.  So that doctor, the good doctor, figures out all the information I needed.  The bad doctor, is like, ‘I’m going to give you medicine now.  Goodbye.  Give me ¥600.’”

This ALT’s experience with an array of Japanese medical professionals within Japan allowed the ALT to construct a comparison and contrast of “good” and “bad” doctors.  According to this ALT, good doctors either knew quickly what was wrong with a patient or took immediate action to determine what was causing the patient illness or discomfort as well as how to alleviate it.  The “good” doctor sought to understand the patient’s perspective and the illness versus simply handing out an antibiotic which may not treat the illness for a fee.

Throughout interviews with ALTs, “bad” providers were described as:

  • Ignited fear within the patient(s) by thinking out-loud and muttering possible diagnoses.
  • Provided no verbal or nonverbal cues, especially on invasive exams like pap smears.
  • Did not provide an “appropriate/adequate” diagnosis.

Good providers attend to the patients’ cultural expectations

ALTs believed that “good” providers should attend to their cultural expectations (i.e., all of those standards and norms for practice in one’s home culture).  In other words, “good doctors” should behave and act like one might expect in their home country.  For instance, when discussing a positive time with a doctor, one English teacher said:

People here don’t always smile when they meet you and things like that.  As a westerner you think, ‘Oh you don’t like me,’ but no it’s just because Japanese don’t smile.  When he [the doctor] first met me, he smiled at me, he introduced himself [in English], and so far it’s all been working out.”

Overall, “good” providers were described in interviews as:

  • “Very nice and understanding.”
  • “Similar to what I’d experience back home.”
  • Had “appropriate” body language.
  • Exceeded expectations on providing medical education, understanding, and comprehension to patients.

What next?

This study raises the importance of intercultural health communication training.  More programs need it.  English teachers are placed throughout Japan by numerous organizations and boards of education and are expected to live well.  However, that “living well” can be complicated when foreigners expect intercultural interactions to progress flawlessly and as according to their own culture.  Some ALTs even chose to not re-contract due to their health care experiences in Japan (and not necessarily because they are in poor health).  Scholars argue about “who should adapt to whom,” but that doesn’t really help us in the day-to-day life of a foreigner navigating a medical system (in Japan).

Here are some suggestions, what others do you have?

  1. Expect difference.
  2. Do your homework.
    1. Research the Japanese medical system.
      1. What similarities, if any, exist between Japan and your home country?
      2. What differences, if any, exist between Japan and your home country?
    2. Google Japanese words for common symptoms and your current prescriptions.
    3. Ask questions to a friend, other English teachers, and co-workers (if you feel comfortable).
      1. What should I expect when I go to the doctor/dentist/hospital?
      2. What surprised you about the Japanese medical world? (to other foreigners).
      3. What over the counter medicine do you find works best for _____?
  3. Laughter helps.
  4. Remember that Japanese medical professionals are trained professionals.
  5. Insert your tips here ______________!

This blog post is an adaptation of the scholarly article:

Simmons, N. (2016). (De-)legitimizing medical professional discourses: Evaluations from foreign English teachers in Japan. Language & Intercultural Communication, 16(2), 1-18. doi:10.1080/14708477.2015.1113984

Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14708477.2015.1113984?journalCode=rmli20 

 


Sep 4

By Jon Dao(Toyama-ken, 2009-12) for his podcast Discussions with Dao. Jon works as a speech coach and personal trainer.


The third appearance by former Toyama JET Randy Higashi. Unlike most of the other returnees I know, Randy actually went back to Japan for another two year stint. In this episode, we spend a lot of the discussion comparing the two experiences. Be sure to follow Randy on Instagram and check out the Takkomachi Facebook Page!

Why go back again? (1:20)

Which stay in Japan was better– the first or second? (8:36)

 How does it feel to come back a second time? (10:10)

How can you tell going back to work in Japan is a good decision or not? (12:57)

Did you see unrealistic expectations and fandom of Japan from ALTs? (16:46)

The Japanese Office Culture (19:40)

Fan Question (24:40

Don’t Leave Your Cleaning/Packing Up Til the End (30:30)

Omiyage Again (38:02)

https://www.instagram.com/p/BAeJ7HqS7tt/


Aug 22

By Jon Dao(Toyama-ken, 2009-12) for his podcast Discussions with Dao. Jon works as a speech coach andpersonal trainer.

 

 


Fresh off the plane (okay maybe more like a few weeks) from a 5 year stint in the JET Programme, here’s graphic designer Patrick Finn! Be sure to follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

The “Best Thing” being back (1:20)

Using Credit Cards Over There (4:10)

Music/Concerts in Japan (8:38)

Japan Apologists (15:20)

Why do the JET Program? (17:10)

What kept you going for 5 years? (20:10)

Is JET “worth it” for personal and professional development? (26:41)

“Just living alone and kind of having to start fresh, I could throw away any ties I had to people, right? Okay, I can finally be me. No one expects anything of me because they don’t know me. So I don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations. Be 100% me and build my reputation around that.”

Traveling “Outside” (31:17)

Silence on the Struggle (33:07)

 Get the Pension Refund (37:40)

Fan Question (40:32)

 

“If you find yourself doing things that you could’ve been doing where you came from, You shouldn’t be there. You’re making a mistake. You’re not making the most of your time, and you’re wasting someone else’s opportunity.”

 


Jul 31

By Jon Dao(Toyama-ken, 2009-12). Jon works as a speech coach and personal trainer.


 

August is an exciting time for the JET community. For some, it’s the start of life as an ALT and CIR. For others, it marks the time to say goodbye to that trek and return home.

The decision to come home is a sigh of relief for some. I’ve heard many JETs say, “If this experience taught me anything, it’s that I never want to be that far away from family again.”

For me, it was a little harder to get adjusted.

But it’s not just the change of scenery that takes getting used to! What’s next for your career is something that isn’t covered enough.

Maybe you’ll go teach abroad in another country. Maybe you’ll apply to grad school. Maybe you’ll enjoy a year to “take it easy” and do some soul-searching. All of those are perfectly fine choices.

Back then, I’d disagree. I’d say that’s a waste of time. I would’ve said that’s just putting things on delay.

But no, all of those paths were much better than the one I took. After I became PA, I felt like I couldn’t just be an ALT anymore. I should be moving on to “bigger and better” things– something that I never clearly defined. And so I went back home without any real inkling of what to do next.

It became too easy to regret my decision.

I kept my sights set on the past which only made me more miserable. My day to day was just about existing, not living.

Finding a new job wasn’t easy– and this is something that deserves more attention.

For all the JETs who have their next gig lined up, that is great stuff.

For all the JETs who have no clue what’s in store next, I just want you to know you aren’t alone. There are many JETs in the same boat who don’t speak up enough about it. And when you don’t hear those kinds of stories, you might get even more frustrated with your situation.

But again, you are not alone.


Jun 29

Author/advocate Suzanne Kamata’s (Tokushima, ’88-’90) unpublished memoir Squeaky Wheels: Travels with my Daughter by Plane, Train, Boat, Tuk-tuk, Metro and Wheelchair has been named a finalist for the initial  Half the World Global Literati Award.

Sponsored by Half the World Holdings, a woman-focused investment platform, this award intends to recognize an original story, screenplay, memoir, or novel featuring one or more female protagonists as the central character, and offering “a fresh perspective on the challenges and joys of women’s lives.”

According to research by Nicola Griffith, most major literary prizes over the past fifteen years have been awarded to works that did not have a woman at the heart of the story. This award will attempt to balance the equation. An international panel will determine the winner of the $US50,000 prize, however, anyone can vote for the People’s Choice Award until July 23. Here’s a link.

Here is a brief synopsis of Squeaky Wheels:

My thirteen-year-old daughter Lilia can’t walk, but she wants to travel the world. Born fourteen weeks premature, Lilia is deaf and affected by cerebral palsy. Her primary language is Japanese Sign Language, and she uses a wheelchair to get around. At the Tokushima School for the Deaf, Tokushima, Japan, which she has attended in one capacity or another since she was about two years old, she is on the special ed track, which doesn’t include English and social studies. Even so, she is wildly curious about other countries and interested in learning her mother’s native tongue. When she told me that she wanted to go to Paris, I vowed to find a way even though I didn’t have a full-time job. In SQUEAKY WHEELS, I write about my effort to open up the world at large to my daughter as her own world seems to be shrinking. As she becomes heavier and less portable in this country short of wheelchair ramps, her accessibility has decreased. However, we attempt to confront and overcome at least some of the challenges of traveling with a wheelchair. Among other things, I write about our mother-daughter trips to the art island of Naoshima in Japan’s inland sea where we sleep in a museum; to Paris – including our arguments about what to pack and what to wear, Lilia’s response to the art and food and sights of the city, accessibility to the Eiffel Tower; and to the United States where we explore the caves of Tennessee and the monuments of Washington, DC. At the same time, I struggle to overcome my fears for the future and revise my hopes and dreams for my daughter

 


Mar 17

By Jon Dao (Toyama-ken, 2009-12) from his podcast Discussions with Dao. Jon works as a speech coach and personal trainer.


For the people who want to go to Japan, what’s your story? For the people who left, how’d you know you had enough? For the people who continue to stay, what’s your reason?

In this episode, Andy Morgan shares his ties to Japan. This is a great listen for anyone who’s planning to stay in the country after they finish JET. (Hint: learn the language!)

Andy’s first appearance detailed more of his roots and Intermittent Fasting knowledge. If you enjoyed that, be sure to check out the varying degrees of fitness talk in his second appearance,third appearance, and fourth!  


Jan 31

By Jon Dao (Toyama-ken, 2009-12) for his podcast Discussions with Dao. Jon works as a speech coach and personal trainer.


 

In this episode of The Low Dao, Jon reconnects with two Toyama ALTs: Amy Derrah Noel and her husband Chris. Are you a soon-to-be returning JET worried about getting a job? This one’s for you! Have you ever thought about starting your own business? This one’s for you!

Listen to all the brutal honesty here:

Be sure to check out Amy’s site Wabi Scotia Pottery and like her Facebook Page!


Jan 16

Nathaniel Simmons (Nara-ken, 2007-2009) is currently a communication professor at Western Governors University and lives in Columbus, OH, USA. He teaches a variety of intercultural, interpersonal, and health communication courses. He has researched and published several scholarly articles regarding privacy management between foreign English teachers and Japanese co-workers in Japan and is currently working on turning his research into a book.

What is private in Japan?

If I tell my co-workers I have hemorrhoids, diarrhea, or need to go to the OBGYN will they tell everyone else?

These may not be questions JETs think about when they first go to Japan. It also may not be something JETs consider when they are ill and trying to gain medical care or just discussing information (i.e., relationship status) about themselves with their co-workers.

The reality is Japanese cultural conceptions of privacy might be different than many JETs’ expectations. Depending upon how individualist or collectivist your home country is will influence how privacy is interpreted, expected, and maintained. The concept of “what is private” or “privacy” differs cross-culturally, as do the ways in which privacy values are expressed.

Japan is no exception.

Japan has been largely classified as a collectivistic culture. As you know from your own experiences in Japan, the group matters more than the individual. In other words, in Japan the “we” wants and goals come before the “I” or “me” wants and goals. For collectivists, the very notion of privacy might be viewed as selfish due to an individual’s wants and goals taking precedent over the group’s desires.

Ever notice that privacy is in katakana, the Japanese syllabary used for foreign words? Puraibashi, or プライバシー, is taken directly from the English word for “privacy.” Since traditional Japanese language has no word for privacy, a unique cultural conception of privacy emerged. For example, the idea that one has “the right to be left alone” might signal a lack of cooperativeness with the group and an inability to work well with others. Additionally, controlling one’s privacy information might be perceived as an excess of mistrust. Even Japanese scholars have commented that gaijin might perceive the group interdependence of Japanese people as “suffocating.”

Japanese language use two distinct, yet interrelated meanings of Japanese privacy: shakai ( 社会), or “public,” and seken (世間), or “world/society.” Such terms stress the importance of relationships, interdependence, and group harmony. Shakai contributes to negative aspects of crimes being withheld from the media in order to protect victims and their families. If one was to “break shakai” it would involve speaking publically about private matters which might harm another’s reputation. Seken emphasizes human relations and allows Japanese people the ability to “understand” or at least “explain” what went wrong in a given situation. To the foreign eye, this might look intrusive, or like “gossip,” as one tries to understand one’s home life or culture to explain a tragic event.

As JETs operate on differing values of privacy, this might result in individuals feeling “violated” or “exposed.” Perceived privacy violations can lead to relationship withdrawal, isolation, and negative assumptions/stereotypes about one’s co-worker or Japan in general. Throughout my research, gaijin English teachers reported feeling that their co-workers invaded/violated their privacy expectations. In other words, if they told someone something, it was then told to someone else, who then told someone else…etc. You get the point. In my research, gaijin felt victimized when people knew things about them that they didn’t disclose (i.e., So and so sensei told me you went to the doctor and are on X medication), even if it was something positive (i.e., I heard your dental checkup went well!). My participants felt like “celebrities” because “everyone (i.e., Japanese people)” in their communities knew “everything” about them.

Critics of my participants’ stories have said “Well, they should know it will be different from their home country.” It is easy to say “expect things to be different.” To what extent should this responsibility be shared? No recruiting organizations discuss privacy in their trainings. Perhaps privacy is something so engrained in one’s culture that it is perceived to be “common sense?” Perhaps that “common sense” is where the most difficulties exist when what one “commonly” thinks doesn’t work.

Regardless, this is a collective issue that requires further dialogue and research to better understand how to cultivate meaningful relationships. Several of my participants chose to cut their contracts short or to not renew because of their interpersonal privacy experiences.

That’s costly – it costs financially and personally.

This blog post is an adaptation of the scholarly article: Simmons, N. (2012). The tales of gaijin: Health privacy perspectives of foreign English teachers in Japan. Kaleidoscope: A Graduate Journal of Qualitative Communication Research, 11, 17-38. Retrieved from http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/kaleidoscope/vol11/iss1/3/


Nov 19

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What do people do after JET? Here’s one great example.

On November 16, JETAA DC held the latest in their JET Talks series with a talk by JET alum George Rose (Fukushima-ken, 1989-91), former interpreter for Hideki Irabu and current Director of Pacific Rim Operations for the New York Yankees, not to mention former JETAA NY President.

Here’s a video of the talk. (Thanks to JETAA DC Vice-President Joy Young for passing this on!) Many great anecdotes including one about interpreting for Hideki Matsui on the Regis and Kathy Show. Plus, did you know that George played a role in helping the Yankees sign Masahiro Tanaka? Watch and enjoy!


Nov 3

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The JETAA Oceania Regional Conference took place in Christchurch, New Zealand this year, over the weekend of Oct 16th-18th. JETAA Oceania is a meeting of chapters from two countries, Australia (5) and New Zealand (3), as well as the respective country representatives. Australia’s Country Representative, Eden Law (ALT Fukushima 2010-2011) reports on the proceedings of the 2015 JETAA Oceania Conference.

As far as I know, the JETAA Oceania Regional Conference is unique in the JETAA world, where two countries share an annual convention – not surprising, considering the geographical proximity and historically close relations (buddies and often times frenemies) of Australia and New Zealand. This year’s theme is “Staying Connected” – to past and present JETs and JET community, local Japanese organisations and cultural groups, sister city initiatives and of course, with other chapters. Because it’s such a core issue to many chapters, we had a lot to say, discuss and share – opinions, ideas and examples that have work and didn’t. Some ideas:

  • Maintaining connections with new JETs by following up after a month to see how they are going. If you have a newsletter, ask for article contributions (e.g. “Best experience”, “Most surprising aspect”, “What I should have packed”). These can also be used as material for the next pre-departure orientation.
  • Have a committee retreat – have a mini conference by going away to a nice country location to discuss ideas, plan schedule etc.
  • Provide some kind of charity work opportunity to give a sense of purpose and satisfaction
  • Market JET Programme as a way to gain transitional skills (e.g. being bilingual means you can see things from different viewpoints)
  • Sell JET as a professional development program
  • For a fun fundraising idea, have a trivia night where answers/clues can be bought for a small fee. Cheat for charity!

This conference also marks my presentation debut as a shiny, newly minted country representative, which was also the same for my New Zealand equivalent, Raewyn MacGregor. Our presentations were about what we’d do as CRs, considering that the role tended to be re-invented to suit each new candidate’s needs and personality. Apart from trying to reduce the wheel-reinvention aspect by keeping records and procedure documentation, we will also aim to focus on community and communication. To that end, I put forward a proposal to have regular, scheduled Google Hangouts for Oceania to keep in touch and continue the flow of dialogue, ideas and support for each other (and if possible, get some participants from outside Oceania to join in!). We will also look at ways of supporting recent returnees, whether in the form of support, mentorship or career opportunities.

We also discussed the Satogaeri Project and the Tokyo November conference, where Satogaeri representatives from several countries (and AJET) will meet and discuss several ideas, such as next year’s 30th Anniversary celebratory plans, and, most interestingly of all, the possible revival of JETAA International (JETAAI). This chapter had gone dormant for the last few years since losing funding during austerity measures implemented by previous governments. For some of you out there, you may be aware of (or have participating in) the short bursts of email communications regarding this chapter. From the documentation presented by CLAIR at the conference, it’s now clear why this was occuring, as JETAAI’s revival looks fairly certain, with proposed committee members election to be held (presumably with those present). There are other further surprising items on the agenda regarding country representatives, so I’ll await the post-conference report with interest.

On a final note, it became clear that the common ingredient running through all successful ideas was networking – building and maintaining relationships which can be tapped into for opportunities. This does require work and commitment – as is the case with anything worthwhile. You can’t go at it half-arsed if you intend to make things a success, after all. Special thanks go to our great chapter hosts, New Zealand’s JETAA South Island, lead by president Caroline Pope (and NZ’s Satogaeri representative) who ran a very efficient and tight ship, which our visiting CLAIR official from Tokyo even remarked on, as being better organised than recent conferences that he had attended. High praise indeed!

The conference site is still up in the meantime. Check out all the pics and posts on Twitter and Facebook by searching for #jetaaoc.


Sep 5
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JET alum Richard Fontaine (1997-98), President at the Center for New American Security, outside advisor to Jeb Bush, and former security advisor to Sen. John McCain

A great article on the foreign policy advisors to several Republican candidates, including JET alum Richard Fontaine–outsider foreign policy advisor to Jeb Bush and former security advisor to Sen. John McCain–who is featured and quoted extensively in the article.

“Between Iraq and a Hawk Base”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/magazine/between-iraq-and-a-hawk-base.html?_r=0


Jul 20

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Posted by Eden Law, 2010-2011 ALT Fukushima-ken, President of JETAANSW.

As part of the drive to promote tourism to Japan (not to mention combining a long-held passion and dream), ex-JET Julius Pang introduced a Tohoku photography tour to showcase the beauty of Japan in autumn, in an area that sadly has become known for other things in recent years. Americans are especially well-suited to taking advantage of this tour package, considering how strong the US dollar is against the Australian (yes, Julius’s Australia-based company, Incredible Photo Tours, welcomes overseas clients), travel will be especially cheap, with accommodation, transport and food taken care of.

Starting from Tokyo, the tour goes to various places throughout Tohoku such as Zao Onsen, Sendai, Hiraizumi, Akita, Bandai, Aizu-Wakamatsu, Nikko, Naruko Gorge, Shirakami Sanchi, Hirosaki, Nyuto Onsen and Lake Towada. With the advantage of the inside knowledge of an ex-JET, and the expertise of a tour guide who has won awards for his photography, it’s a great tour package to consider for your next trip to Japan. Julius also has other tours, such as the Japan Classic Autumn tour, that does the classic route of Tokyo, Hakone, Himeji, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Okayama, Takamatsu, Mt Koya and Osaka.

For more information, check out the Tohoku Autumn Tour, or the Classic Autumn Tour at Incredible Photo Tours.


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