Mar 4

CLAIR Magazine “JET Plaza” Series: Jessyca Wilcox Livingston (Hokkaido)

Each month, current and former JET participants are featured in the “JET Plaza” section of the CLAIR Forum magazine. The March 2012 edition includes an article by JET alumn Jessyca Wilcox. Posted by Celine Castex (Chiba-ken, 2006-11), currently programme coordinator at CLAIR Tokyo.


Jessyca Wilcox 2011-2

“The fact that the people of Japan are wonderful has only been confirmed with every return visit and every new friend I meet. This is the power of grass roots internationalization and this is the power of the JET Program.”

As the daughter of parents in the State Department, Jessyca (Wilcox) Livingston (Hokkaido, 2003-06) spent her early childhood years immersed in Japan and most of the rest of her youth abroad. After graduating from Rutgers University she worked as a Park Ranger/Ecologist with the National Park Service. Her affinity for Japan led her to return as a JET Program participant. Jessyca spent three years as an ALT in Urahoro-cho, an experience which deepened her love for Japan and its people. Upon returning the USA, she quickly got involved in her local JETAA chapter in the Rocky Mountain region and secured a job at the Consulate General of Japan in Denver as the JET Program Coordinator. Jessyca served as treasurer of RMJETAA from 2008-10, then served two terms as a JETAA USA Country Representative from 2010-2012. She has participated in several conferences ranging from regional to international during her service with JETAA. Jessyca currently serves on the JETAA USA Advisory Board to help to guide and ensure the success of JETAA USA at the national level.

Once a JET, Always a JET

My love affair with Japan started at age one when my family moved to the coastal town of Hayama in Kanagawa Prefecture. My father worked on the nearby navy base and my mother settled into domestic life in Japan while I ran around with the neighborhood kids. I learned Japanese, they learned that there were more than just one kind of people in the world and we all learned that having fun together didn’t depend on what you looked like or what language you spoke. Friendship transcended all of that. That was my first experience with grass-roots internationalization. It was years before the JET Program would be established.

My family moved on to live in other countries, but I was able to return to Japan on several happy occasions. My Japanese language abilities fluctuated, but my Japanese friends remained steadfast. I experienced both the rewards of articulating myself well and the embarrassment of stumbling through sentences and making ungraceful mistakes. Through it all, Japan remained a common thread in my studies and personal life. I studied Japanese in school because I understood it was a vehicle to stay connected to the people and place I loved.

I found the JET Program in a school hallway in the form of a poster. I wrote down the information and filed it away for my future. I knew it had a place in my life. When the time was right, I submitted my application, and waited.

I was placed in Urahoro-cho, Hokkaido. Most people, even those from Hokkaido, haven’t heard of this little town in the Tokachi region. It looks like most other small country-side towns in Hokkaido, but this one is special. It is full of my friends, my co-workers, my students and my community members. There is no other town like it in the world. My town welcomed me and I did my best to earn their kindness. My co-workers were professional, yet warm. My community was inclusive and open-minded. My students were inquisitive and quick with a smile. I became a part of the community and when I left in 2006, a piece of my heart stayed behind simply because it belonged there.

My time on the JET Program was one of the most profound experiences of my life. JET gives the opportunity to integrate oneself into Japanese communities to a depth not often found otherwise. As JET participants our job is to utilize that opportunity in and out of the classroom to not only instruct on the English language, but to demonstrate that a foreign language is a vehicle to connect with the larger world and that the larger world is full of things that are divergent from what is familiar. This was an experience I had lived many times over and I worked with diligence and sincerity to model this for my students and community.

In the fall of 2011, I was able to return to Japan yet again. I have so many “selves” that connect to Japan and this trip allowed me to dwell in all of them. My professional self returned as part of the JETAA International Conference delegation. We worked on improving the JET Program and increasing the value of the JET Alumni network. We also engaged in volunteer work up in the Tohoku disaster area in a show of solidarity and devotion to Japan. The child in me returned to Hayama to be with my friends who now have children of their own. I heard about an American boy who goes to school nearby and speaks Japanese. I smiled as I realized my friend’s children were reliving our childhood. I also returned to Urahoro-cho to check on that piece of my heart that I left behind. I am happy to report it is surviving beautifully. I was lucky enough to reconnect with many of my students at the Urahoro-chu bunkasai. I spent a day at one of my local elementary schools teaching classes with the current ALT who lives and works there now. I was comforted seeing that my students had a great ALT to continue cultivating their English education and exposure to the wider world. My co-workers and friends are still happy and healthy and our conversation picked right up as if I had never left. These friendships and relationships could never come from any other program and this is why I believe in the value and the power of the JET Program. It has created meaningful cross-cultural relationships that have seeped into both governmental and local Japanese foreign relations. Both would fail without the other.

My love for Japan is directly due to the fact that the country holds people I love dearly. The fact that the people of Japan are wonderful has only been confirmed with every return visit and every new friend I meet. This is the power of grass roots internationalization and this is the power of the JET Program. The people of Urahoro-cho were my motivation for continuing to work in US-Japan relations. I find my work to be extremely rewarding and I get to share those rewards with Japan, thus rendering the circle we know as “wa” or “kizuna”.


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