Jun 23

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


Mark Head Shot

“It was a wonderful feeling to be able to walk the same pathways, both physical and metaphorical, that I had first walked a decade before. Much has changed since then, in Japan and in my own life, but I will always remain incredibly thankful to CLAIR and the JET Programme for this “Twice in a Lifetime” chance.”

A native of Pittsburgh, PA, Mark Flanigan (Nagasaki-ken, Hirado-shi, 2000-04) spent four years in Nagasaki Prefecture as an ALT and PA . He applied for JET as part of his long record of work, study and travel abroad, which has given him a deeper understanding of global affairs and insight into different languages, people and cultures. Mark Flanigan currently serves as Program Director with the Japan ICU Foundation (日本国際基督教大学財団) in New York City and is a first-year Resident of International House of New York. He came to New York after two years in Tokyo, where he earned his MA in Peace Studies as a Rotary International Peace Fellow at International Christian University (ICU). Mark has also been a US Army Officer, Presidential Management Fellow (PMF), and CSIS Young Leader.

Twice in a Lifetime

Like the great majority of JET programme participants, I look back with fond recollections on my time in Japan. Unlike most of them, however, I also had a second chance to come back and live in Japan once again. It was an amazing experience, and one which I never planned on, which allowed me to compare my two very different “Japans.” Although I lived in that same country twice, the differences in time, location and purpose made for a very insightful analysis of how both Japan and I had changed in the intervening years.

My first years in Japan were spent as a new ALT who had never been to Asia, much less lived there. While I had some experience teaching English in the U.S. and Mexico, I was not an Asian Studies major and was not at all familiar with the Japanese language. Nonetheless, I grew to love my new life in Hirado, Nagasaki Prefecture. I immersed myself in the community, getting involved in the local karate dojo as well as participating in the various seasonal festivals and extracurricular activities like speech contests, international days and so on. My original plan to stay just one year changed into multiple re-contracting, and I actually ended up spending a total of four years on JET (teaching both in Hirado as a municipal ALT and then as a Teacher-Trainer at the Prefectural Education Center in Omura City.)

Returning to the U.S. after four years in Japan, I became busily focused on other areas and gradually lost touch with my various connections to JET and Nagasaki. I went to graduate school for Public Policy at George Mason University in the Washington, DC area and started serving with the U.S. Government after graduation. My life continued to progress in this new direction, which was successful enough and still internationally focused, but less-connected to Japan with each passing year. I found myself forgetting more and more nihongo and generally feeling like my JET experience, while a wonderful time, was becoming a kind of closed chapter in my life.

It was actually through a chance meeting with another JET alumnus in DC, Daniel Sturgeon, that I first learned of the program that would take me back to Japan once again. Daniel had spent two years in Tokyo through a graduate Fellowship sponsored by Rotary International. He posted a note on the JET Alumni Association DC list serve mentioning that the new application period for the annual Rotary Peace Fellowship. I applied, went through a long series of interviews and selection rounds, and was delighted to learn that I had been awarded the Fellowship! Daniel was a key mentor in this process, and I certainly could not have done as well without his guidance and perspective throughout.

After being accepted as a Rotary Peace Fellow, I still had to apply to the companion Master’s Degree program separately. Rotary International officially partners with six University-based Rotary Peace Centers to administer the Fellowship globally, of which International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo is one of them. While there is no guarantee that a given Peace Fellow will get their first-choice university, most of the Peace Fellows (especially JET alumni like me, Daniel and a few others) who request ICU have gotten placed there. It was an amazing feeling to be living in Japan again, although my experience was much different a decade later, in the megacity-capitol of Japan as an older, full-time graduate student. Through the Rotary Peace Fellowship, I was able to take Japanese classes along with my coursework in Peace Studies at ICU. I interned with the United Nations University (UNU) in Shibuya and volunteered for Earthquake relief in Tohoku after the terrible tragedy of March 11th. I was also able to explore the many cultural areas both in and outside Tokyo, including Nikko and Hakone, which I had not seen while on JET.

But most of all, I would say that the most significant aspect of my return to Japan was being able to return once more to Hirado. I valued this opportunity very highly, as a way to complete the circle of my initial arrival over a decade before. I traveled back to Nagasaki Prefecture for the annual Lantern Festival, which is a wonderful celebration of the Chinese culture that makes up part of the rich, diverse history of Nagasaki. After catching up with various JETs and other friends who are still living in the area, I headed north by the slow, country-side train up to Hirado.

In my return to Hirado, I was able to see once more the beautiful small island community which had welcomed me so warmly from my first days and weeks as an ALT. Although my students had grown up and long since moved away, many of the teachers and academic staff who I worked with and the shopkeepers (some of whom are parents of kids I taught there) whose businesses I frequented were happily surprised to see me back in town. We shared many memories together and they all remarked how good it was to be reunited, if only for that moment in time. Although I was only there for a short couple of days, it was a wonderful feeling to be able to walk the same pathways, both physical and metaphorical, that I had first walked a decade before. Much has changed since then, in Japan and in my own life, but I will always remain incredibly thankful to CLAIR and the JET Programme for this “Twice in a Lifetime” chance.


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