Apr 18

CLAIR Magazine “JET Plaza” Series: Christopher Chong (Chiba)

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


Originally from London, U.K., Christopher Chong (Chiba-ken, Sosa-shi, 2011-present) holds a master’s degree in Music Composition and Composition for TV/Film from Royal College of Music. He came to Japan for the first time to study illustration in a manga school. He applied to the JET Programme after realizing that all his areas of interest revolved around Japan. Christopher currently works as an ALT in rural Chiba and is actively involved in his community, as an AJET leader and a tourism ambassador as well.

International Power Ranger

Christopher Chong

“Being a JET has shown me that I have so much more to offer than I realised, and in ways I had never even imagined”


Jan… Ken… Pon! “I knew it! You’re not Japanese!” the child exclaimed. I’d been exposed. Despite the bright red spandex uniform and custom made Power Ranger helmet, my style of playing ‘Rock Paper Scissors’ had given away the fact that I am, indeed, a foreigner in Japan. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a costume or without, I am an international Power Ranger. And I call myself, ‘ALT’.

Volunteering at the town festival to dress up as my city mascot, a kind of ‘Super Sentai,’ was a fantastic experience. It wasn’t a working day and I wasn’t in a classroom, but I was doing what JETs do best, making myself present. Every minute of every day is another chance to interact with people. I wasn’t studying, and I wasn’t teaching. I was part of cultural exchange, and that can happen in any place, at any time.

Even after a great English class, it’s the next 10 minutes that are really special. Quickly I am surrounded by 30 bag-grabbing, iPad-tapping, glasses-snatching children. For only 10 minutes I have the chance to answer questions about my recent trip to France, let children strum my electric guitar or even award stickers to the winners of the iPad English quiz game I have created for my students to play. The time is short, but precious.

It wasn’t always this way. When I first began my work as an ALT, I had expected that returning to school as a teacher would make me feel powerful and important. Instead, I felt awkward, nervous and I often worried that I was getting in the way. I would hide in the western style toilet stall and think to myself, ‘I’m too different. Nobody likes me. I’m not supposed to be here.’

I was wrong. One day, even though I was scared, I tried to eat lunch with students, and then everything changed! Students that had never spoken to me during class talked about games, asked me about England, and even made me laugh! That day, I learned a lesson about my job that would later define every aspect of my life in Japan. No matter how great or small, every encounter is precious. I realised that I must make it easier for students to approach me. So, I greeted students at the school entrance, I stood in the corridor between classes, I cleaned classrooms with students and before I knew it, I was no longer worried that I didn’t belong.

I wanted to get more involved at school. I noticed that students who didn’t like English, often wanted to talk to me about things like computers. I had learned creative programming as a student, so I taught a trial programming lesson during computer club after school. At first they didn’t understand me, but they soon became so interested that they asked me to come back and teach regularly, even though I spoke only in English! One day a teacher said to me, “Chris, this boy from computer club won’t wake up for me, can you talk to him?” I didn’t think I could help, but after I spoke to him, to my surprise he got up, opened his book and began working! He wasn’t interested in English, but he showed me a lot of respect. This was my happiest moment.

Empowered by this experience I decided to create my own English videogames for the students. For the PC I created a simple game featuring characters from the English textbook who go on an original adventure I created. The students enjoyed playing it during class, but I wanted students to use more communicative skills. So, I created my own English iPad games that would encourage students to approach the ALT. When students play the games, crowds build up around the iPad and everyone uses English more than they usually would. Now, when they see me they request my apps and look forward to new versions. I bring these games wherever I go, even to high school English camp. My ability to program software enabled me to first meet the new students, then rapidly create a new version customised just for them.

Outside of school, cultural exchange continues to be part of all that I do. When I play guitar at jam sessions in Katori, I introduce songs from England. When I dance at my local Yosakoi club, my students teach me the moves. Even when I play badminton with friends, we can teach each other funny phrases in Japanese and English!

Sharing these incredible experiences and inspiring my friends back home is even more important to me. This year I was selected to be a part of the ‘Chi-ba+Kun Ambassador’ programme. As a member, I explore Chiba prefecture independently and go on special tours after which I record my personal experiences online. What I have here in my little town could not exist anywhere else at any other time, and that is very precious to me.

I’m an active member of my JET community, so I’m very proud of my work as ‘ChibaAJET leader’ and ‘Block Coordinator.’ As ‘ChibaAJET leader’, I am responsible for the organisation of social events for ALTs and CIRs in Chiba such as go-karting, ice skating and even cultural events like Thanksgiving dinner. As a Block Coordinator I was responsible for improving links, holding meetings and providing support for the ALTs in my more local area. Thanks to this incredible community, we never have to feel isolated.

Being a JET has shown me that I have so much more to offer than I realised, and in ways I had never even imagined. I believe that my students have that same potential. If I can motivate students, no matter how few, to become hungry for knowledge and to teach others about Japan, I will consider my time here a success. To achieve that, I have to be myself. And that’s something I will do 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because I am an international Power Ranger, and I call myself ‘ALT.’

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