Hi Jessyca! 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?
I spent time in Japan as a very young child (ages 1-6) and was totally immersed during that period. The neighborhood kids took me in and taught me Japanese. They made up games to teach me colors, numbers, etc. In the end, I was just another kid running around the neighborhood yelling and playing in Japanese. I’m still in close touch with a handful of them today. The effort those kids put forth to befriend me always stuck with me. JET was a way to return to Japan (as an ALT) with the express purpose of returning that favor- sharing my native language and culture through fun games, smiles and friendship.
That is so neat! How wonderful that you were able to have that experience when you were young and then come back later to pay it forward. Where was your placement when you went back through JET?
I was in the very inaka town of Urahoro-cho in Hokkaido. Most people, even in Hokkaido, have never heard of this magical little town.
Gotta love those little towns - what was your favorite part about where you were placed?
Like all JETs- it’s hard for me to pin down one favorite thing about my placement. But like all JETs, I can attribute my love and dedication to my town to the community there. “My town” was far enough off the beaten track that there was only 1 stop light, one train station with ONE car that would periodically stop by, etc. But I could be out nearly every night with friends or co-workers, cranes hung out in the farm fields during their fall migration, bags of fresh produce from students’ parents’ farms found their way into my genkan, and I could borrow cross country skis from my local sports center for free for the entire winter season. And they were always available because I’m pretty sure I had the biggest feet in town.
Ha! That is definitely one of the few advantages to having big feet in Japan - I remember how hard it was to find shoes where I was. What was your transition like coming back from Japan?
Coming back is always harder than going. I was starting over from zero, having never lived in Colorado prior to JET. I was baffled by the huge portions of food everywhere, lived in my parents basement for about three months, got a glamorous job as the “Dairy Queen” at Natural Grocers for a while, so, you know… I was looking pretty good on paper! But eventually, I got my own wheels, got connected with JETAARM and became very involved with JETAA on all levels, moved out of my parent’s basement , found a job more in line with my passions and found my community here. It does take a while and I definitely cried over the loss of my previous life (several times), but just like everyone else, you find your way, grow from your experiences and move forward.
Do you feel like your time on JET influenced your career? You’re currently working for Japan America Society of Colorado (JASC), so I have a feeling there’s some influence there, but prior to this?
After my glamor job at Natural Grocers (I even had my own set of bright orange cotton gloves there to keep me warm in the dairy coolers!), I worked at the Japanese Consulate here in Denver as the Education Programs Coordinator- which mainly focused on the JET Program. So, yes- JET directly influenced my post-JET career path. I loved my job as JET Program Coordinator because it gave me the chance to share the JET opportunity with others and prepare them (as much as one can) for their life in Japan. The Consulate was also a fascinating place to work in that it gave me yet another perspective of diplomacy and US-Japan relations. With the birth of my first son, I decided to stay at home and be a full time mom for a while. Eventually though, I felt ready to get back into the workplace. I waited until something I was really excited about came along, and it did- my current part time position at JASC.
What is your favorite part about working with JASC? Is there an event that you are particularly fond of?
There are so many things I enjoy about my current job at JASC. What is most rewarding is that I get to work with the local community in a way that makes a difference in Colorado. Our work supports all levels of the US/ Colorado- Japan relationship: from grassroots to business to government. The results are tangible and you can watch the Japanese community here grow and become better connected year by year. The Japanese community in the Denver/ Boulder metro area are made up of people who are sincerely passionate about Japan and supportive of each other and it’s a true joy to be a part of that. Plus, I get to keep Japan in my life on a daily basis!
JASC has brought and continues to bring great programs to Colorado. You can see what we’ve got going on via our JASC website. My most favorite event so far was bringing sumo to Colorado, which we did last fall. It was thrilling to have wrestlers here and expose Coloradans to this traditional sport. Plus, the sumo wrestlers were really cool guys! As far as annual events go though, I have to say, I love captaining our JASC Dragon Boat team every year. It’s such a fun day and when I look at our boat- a mix of Japanese and Coloradans- who have really connected through this sport, I feel as if JASC is truly fulfilling its mission of bringing together Japan and Colorado. You hear both languages on the boat, and in order to move the boat effectively, we all have to be in sync with each other, moving as one. It’s almost poetic. And the entire day is spent smiling, laughing, enjoying the friendships that have come about from spending time on the water together. It just hits a sweet spot with me.
Is there anything else you want to tell our alumni community?
If you are reading this, it’s because JET/Japan had a profound impact on your life too and you want to keep it alive. At the risk of sounding like a cheesy plug for JETAA, I’m going to plug JETAA. Getting involved with JETAA in leadership positions was my gateway to the Japanese community here in Colorado. It was how I built my professional network and landed my jobs, it was how I added to my resume, it was how I found friends and a like-minded community to be a part of. So, if you are thinking about getting involved- DO IT!