Six U of L alums now teaching in Japan through JET

Six University of Lethbridge alumni are off on the adventure of a lifetime after being accepted into the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET).

The day before JET participants flew to Japan they attended a reception hosted by Mr. Shigenobu Kobayashi (right), the Consul-General of Japan in Calgary. Attending the reception were, from left, Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman, Roisin and Miller Wiens, Diane Minamide, Michelle Boivin-Carriere, Gemma Amoruso, Emily Kenney and Andrew Spearman.

They left for Japan at the beginning of August following a reception hosted by the Consul-General of Japan in Calgary — Mr. Shigenobu Kobayashi and his wife, Mrs. Keiko Kobayashi. The six U of L alums were among 36 Canadians selected from the Western Canadian region, which includes Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

“We are very proud of these graduates who have been accepted into the JET program,” says Diane Minamide, a coordinator with International Student Services. “We know they will be excellent ambassadors of the U of L, Lethbridge and the country as a whole.”

Minamide, herself a JET alumna, says participating in the programme provides an experience that won’t be soon forgotten. Being accepted into the program is the result of a rigorous process that includes writing an essay and doing an interview. Minamide and Dr. Abby McMeekin, a professor in the Department of Modern Languages, help prepare the students.

“Students who go on the JET Programme will have so many opportunities to interact with Japanese languages and culture,” says McMeekin. “This complements what they have learned in their courses at the U of L on a level that not many people get to experience.”

Miller Wiens (BSc ’19) and his wife, Roisin (BFA ’18), had their desire to return to Japan cemented after they spent a month there as part of an exchange program.

“Both my husband and I went on the exchange to Hokkai-Gakuen University and we fell in love with the culture, the food and the rhythm of day-to-day life,” says Roisin. “This was a really great opportunity for us to continue that relationship between Canada and Japan.”

She and Miller will be living in Kasukabe, a city northwest of Tokyo, and teaching at five schools in the Saitama Prefecture. Miller, who studied kinesiology, had dreams of being a personal trainer but that all changed when he took a Japanese course.

“McMeekin sensei is one of my role models. I admire the way she teaches Japanese and gets students engaged,” he says. “I absolutely loved her language classes and I took all the classes I possibly could.”

Gemma Amoruso (BA ’19), who’ll be teaching at two elementary schools and a junior high in Sendai, took Japanese history courses while at the U of L and also participated in the Hokkai-Gakuen University exchange.

“When I was there I knew I had to go back,” she says. “After learning about the culture and meeting my host family and friends, I knew I had to go back eventually.”

Knowing about her interest in living in another country, the spouse of a co-worker recommended JET to Michelle Boivin-Carriere (BA ’18).

“I wanted to experience a different culture and go abroad. I applied last year and was an alternate. I reapplied this year and I’m off to Toyooka,” says Boivin-Carriere. “I will be working at a middle school, along with two elementary schools. I’m very excited. I’ve had experience with elementary schools before and I’m also looking forward to the challenge of a middle school.”

Andrew Spearman (BA ’17, BEd ’18) will be teaching English at a middle school and four elementary schools. While he’s not fluent in Japanese, he’s familiar with its traditions.

“Growing up, I was fortunate to be part of the Judo Club. Japanese culture and customs are very near and dear to my heart and they evolved once I hit university,” he says. “Diane Minamide has facilitated the importance of friendship internationally and I’ve seen the fruits of that, as well. We here in southern Alberta have a very important history with Japan. As somebody who’s got an education degree in modern languages, it’s important for me to come back and teach Japanese and to teach something that is more exclusive to this region.”

For Emily Kenney (BA, BEd ’18), participating in the JET programme represents a long-held wish. She’ll be teaching at a junior high school in Haebaru, Okinawa, Lethbridge’s sister city.

“My practicums through education gave me the opportunity to work at an elementary school, a senior high school and a junior high school,” says Kenney. “In Lethbridge, many students are not native to Lethbridge; they come from Syria and Africa. When I was teaching them, I wondered how I could relate to them because I’ve only known the Canadian perspective. In my essay when I applied for JET, I wrote about my desire to grow that ability to relate and understand what it’s like to be a new person in a new country where you might not speak the language, you don’t know the culture and you don’t know anyone. I’m so excited. This is such a great opportunity and I’m so blessed to be able to have this chance.”

The JET programme has been giving students the opportunity to travel to Japan and work in Japanese schools and cultural organizations for more than 30 years. Students initially sign on for one year but can return for up to five years.

“If there are any students who think that this is something they might want to do or if they want to travel, they should apply for it,” says Amoruso. “When I applied, I didn’t think there was a shot that I was going to get this, even after the interview. There’s support at the University and you can get involved in clubs, all these opportunities are open to you. Just go for them and don’t dream too small.”

The next JET recruitment session begins this fall. Anyone interested is invited to attend an information session on Tuesday, Oct. 1 from noon to 1 p.m. Those interested can sign up with Career Services.