Hi Evan! Thanks for taking some time to talk a little about your time during and after JET. Could you tell me a little about why you decided to go on the JET program?
EM: Nice to talk with you again! It hasn’t been that long but I miss hanging out with all you JETAARM folks. I first visited Japan on a school trip at age 16 and immediately knew I wanted to get back for a longer experience at some point. It was my Japanese professor in college who first told me about the JET program and recommended it as a good way to see Japan. But it wasn’t until after I graduated and had been working for a while that I met a JET returnee who really inspired me to apply.
That is so cool! Where did you end up being placed?
I was originally in the small town of Tsuyama in northern Okayama Prefecture. After 3 years there, the Board of Education let me move to Okayama City, where I did another 2 years.
What was your favorite part about where you were?
Actually, it was my least favorite thing when I arrived - living in a small town in what felt like the middle of nowhere. I grew up and had spent my whole life in large cities, never experienced anywhere that small and inaka before, so I felt cut off and under a microscope. But I soon realized how beautiful the surrounding area was, and started getting out more. After a while, I also made many good friends there. Those friendships have remained over the years and I really credit that placement with changing my perspective for the better.
I've definitely heard that from other JET alumni - sometimes it takes a little time to appreciate where you are! What was your transition like coming back from Japan?
To be honest, pretty rough. I had shelved plans to pursue a career in science when I went to Japan, and then ended up staying the full 5 years. Perhaps naively, I thought an opportunity would be available when I looked seriously, and that I could come back and pick up where I had left off. But the competition and job scene in America were unsympathetic, and I floundered, ended up barely getting by with several part-time jobs. Then, what started out as an almost perpendicular move to working at a travel company turned out to be a big career fork that got me to where I am now.
That is quite a change of plans, but it seems to have worked out for you! How do you feel that your time on JET helped you in your career?
Very directly. There were almost no other JETs close to my town, so I quickly got involved with AJET, mostly to set up events so I’d have opportunities to hang out with people. My personal baby was a yearly charity cycling event. I also travelled around the country to other prefectures’ AJET events - bike rides, hiking, camping, skiing, etc. Those experiences helped me land a job with InsideJapan Tours in Boulder - which hires a lot of JET alumi - when a friend working there suggested that I should apply. After 3 years of designing trips and sending people to Japan from our US office, I really wanted to get out of an office environment and do something more active. It was a long shot, but I interviewed for a different job within the company and was accepted.
And now you’re back in Japan! What is it like being back after all this time? What are you doing now?
Yeah! As of January, I am back in Japan working as a tour leader, taking people cycling, hiking, and sightseeing on tours and single days of guiding - which is a blast! In time, I’m hoping to develop more cycling and outdoor options for our customers, and hopefully do some specialty garden day tours, which would utilize a bit of my background in Botany.
Moving back to Japan was much easier than the first time, probably because I had a good idea of what to expect and some set up time before starting. During JET I had often visited Kyoto on short trips, but it has been amazing walking outside and getting to explore the city every day. There is such incredible beauty here. At first, my language skills were really rusty, and the reality is that most of my friends live a bit too far away to get together often. But the language is coming back, hopefully improving, and I’m making new friends. The job is great, I love the work and the chance to meet so many cool people while travelling together.
Anything else you want to tell our alumni community?
JETAA connected me to a lot of good people after returning, when I was struggling most. Now I get to do something that I enjoy every day, and it’s tempting to connect the dots in a success story narrative retrospectively. But I don’t want to gloss over the reality, it wasn’t a smooth progression, or one I saw coming. I know a lot of other returners also struggle with coming home, finding a good job, a sense of community, place to live, etc. For me, a lot of good friends and good people helped me get through that. And I think when you find yourself in a good position, you turn around and help the next ones who need it.
I’d like to stay connected with JETAARM and everyone back home, make the bridge between the Rocky Mountain Region and Japan a little stronger. Please give me a shout if you’re over here!