Mar 25

CLAIR Magazine “JET Plaza” Series: Caroline Klee (Kagawa)

Each month, current and former JET participants are featured in the “JET Plaza” section of the CLAIR Forum magazine. The April 2014 edition includes an article by JET alumnus Caroline Klee. Posted by Celine Castex (Chiba-ken, 2006-11), currently programme coordinator at CLAIR Tokyo.


Born to a French father and a Japanese mother, Caroline Klee (Kagawa-ken, 2000-03) was raised in Tokyo until the age of 15 and considers herself an “Edo-ko” (Tokyo girl). After graduating from a business school and working several years in Paris, she decided that she wanted to go back to Japan to live and work there and joined the JET Programme as a CIR. She then moved to Vancouver to become an Activity Coordinator at an English language school, before coming back to Japan in 2008. She has been working in Tokyo ever since and is now Director for Domestic and International Events for a Healthcare Communication Agency. When she is not travelling around the world with her job, Caroline enjoys fishing in the open sea in the Tokyo Bay area, and cooking tasty meals for friends and family.

So much more than Udon…

“My three years in Kagawa are my treasure, and I am filled with gratitude towards all the people I was able to meet there”

Everything started with an encounter. After leaving my job in Paris, I was living back with my mother in Strasbourg and was thinking

of working in Japan, where I used to live when I was a child. My mother came back one day from her interpreting job, saying “I met someone who is doing a job that would suit you perfectly.” Oh really?! She had met a Belgian CIR who was on a business trip in our town with a group of colleagues who were interested in the city tram system. So this is how I found out about the JET Programme. I applied and was lucky enough to be sent to Kagawa.

Where is it? I still remember the following phone conversation with my parents. After applying for JET I decided to travel to Tibet, and I was in Lhassa when my parents received a letter with information on my placement. First, my father told me on the phone “You are going to be placed in Kanagawa.” I heard a shuffle on the other side of the line as my mother grabbed the phone. “No, not at all. You are going to be placed in Ka-ga-wa, not in Kanagawa.” My first reaction was “What? But where is Kagawa?” And my mother answered without answering. “Oh, you will be fine. Udon is very good over there and you will be able to ride your bicycle around Takamatsu.” OK… Well, she was right. I did find a very unique udon culture in Kagawa and I also rode my bike every day to IPAL, the Kagawa International Exchange Center, where I worked. But I also ended up meeting many fantastic people and doing many incredible things. My three years in Kagawa brought me so much in terms of experience and joy: they are priceless.

I think CIRs don’t really know what they will actually do until they arrive at their contracting organisation, but I knew I had always wanted to be a link between my two cultures. I did not expect to become the editor in chief of the Kagawa Journal, a bi-monthly English newsletter written for foreigners living in Kagawa. I did not expect to learn Japanese traditional dancing and perform in front of thousands of people at the Kagawa International Fair. I did not expect that I would be one of the navigators for the prefectural internal communication TV. I did not expect I would be teaching French cooking to so many housewives. I did not expect I would be interpreting for foreign diplomats visiting the region and helping them discover its cultural and economical potential. And the list goes on… When I look back at these three years, there are countless things I did not expect. But they taught me a precious thing: there is always a first time and there is absolutely no limit to your potential, if you apply yourself. In moments of paralyzing fear, I would seek guidance from my Kyokucho (chief), who was the most energetic woman I had ever met, and had formerly served as a secretary to Kagawa’s Governors for many years. “Kyokucho, I don’t know if I can do this. I do not know if I have the skills.” “Caroline-san, please try at least more than once and then let me know how you feel about it.” Her unconditional support and guidance encouraged me to take up many challenges. Over the course of my work at IPAL, one challenge after the other would build more and more self-confidence, open up new opportunities, and give me better insights into what I would like to do in the future.

One of the events I was really excited about was the annual Kagawa International Fair that our team at I-PAL was organising. Usually held in October, this whole-day event would bring more than 150,000 people to enjoy international food, a bazaar and shows. In my first year, as I was a rookie, I was more of an observer and just supported the communication between the foreigners participating in the fair and our Japanese staff. In my last year, on top of this duty, I was given the responsibility of MC of the stage show. I was also able to be completely part of the planning team and make a solid contribution through the entire preparation process. This is one accomplishment I am most proud of, still today.

All the activities and events held at IPAL ultimately lead me to what I am doing today.

I found my calling: events management. Now, based in Tokyo, I am Director for Domestic and International Events at a Healthcare Communication Agency which specialises in pharmaceutical companies. I would like to think that all the things I did during my three years in Kagawa as well as brushing up my professional Japanese language ability gave me the competitive edge to be hired as International Event Coordinator. The JET experience has had such an impact on my life, not only professionally but also personally.

Sometimes when I get the blues living in the big city of Tokyo, I go back to my other “hometown,” Kagawa. As soon as I am on the marineliner train crossing the bridge between Okayama and Kagawa, looking over at the Seto Inland Sea and its small islands basking in the sun, my heart is filled with anticipation, excitement and relief. Once there, time goes by at a less hectic pace and it feels like home. My wonderful friends there always welcome me back as if I was one of the Sanuki kids. We laugh as if I had never left and of course, we eat…udon! My three years in Kagawa are my treasure, and I am filled with gratitude towards all the people I was able to meet there.

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