By Harrison Gordon
In this edition, we get a chance to hear from East Tsugaru’s Ashley Bell about how she ended up deciding on JET, her neat class schedule, and her thoughts on travel for the future.
Could you tell me a little bit about where you lived before coming to Japan on JET?
Before JET, I was living in Northern California and going to school at a university right in the Bay Area. Prior to that, I lived a year in Nagoya, Japan for study abroad.
What were you studying at university? And were you able to fit your major/minor into your study abroad experience?
I majored in Political Science, with an emphasis in International Relations, and minored in Japanese studies. It was actually really interesting, because I came to Japan and mainly took classes for my Japanese minor. I think I probably took only 2 classes that entire year that transferred over for major credit. Nonetheless, I ended up being able to have the study abroad experience I wanted, while still being able to graduate within the typical 4 year time frame.
What made you decide to enter into the JET program? Was studying abroad a big factor, or had you already been planning on joining before having been to Japan?
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I got out of college and truthfully, the JET Program was at the bottom of that list. The only thing that I knew was that I wanted to pursue a job in an international setting. I ended up having 3 options: Peace Corps, graduate school or the JET program. Going back to school seemed very unappealing at the time, and I didn’t know if I would enjoy teaching English, so Peace Corps became my first choice. I applied to all three during the course of my senior year at university. I got into graduate school and the JET program. I was offered a position in the Peace Corps, but didn’t pass the final interview. With only 2 options left, the JET program ended up winning me over. I really enjoyed my study abroad experience and although I wasn’t sure about the whole teaching English thing, I knew that I would enjoy living in Japan and speaking Japanese everyday. Teaching English is much more enjoyable than I thought it would be and I’ve discovered that I really love working with the students (especially at elementary school). I’ve been enjoying JET so much that I even recontracted for another year.
That’s great that you’ve been enjoying teaching so much this past year. How many schools do you have? Would you say you have a busy schedule, or perhaps a decent amount of downtime during work hours?
I only have 2 schools, an elementary and junior high school, so I have quite a bit of downtime during work. It’s not all boring though. My situation at my elementary school is actually very unique. I teach all grades, from 1st through 6th. Each day I come to elementary school, I spend the entire day with one of the grades. For example, every Monday I am either with my 1st or 2nd graders. In each classroom, I have my own desk, so I sit with them throughout their entire day. In addition to my hour of English, I help them with their math problems, eat lunch with them, answer questions about the English on their t-shirts and do art projects with them. I even change up my schedule during the week to go on field trips with specific grades (super stoked about next month’s trip to the aquarium with my 1st graders). So, although I have a bit of downtime from English teaching, I would still say I’m very busy trying to balance being a cultural ambassador and a teacher.
That sounds like a really cool opportunity to better connect with your students. Could you talk a little bit about the town you’re placed in? Do you also have opportunities to get involved in local activities?
I’ve been placed in Yomogita village. It’s about 30 minutes north of Aomori city and only has a population of around 3000 people. It’s placed between the bay and the mountains and has many rice fields. It’s also famous for tomatoes! As far as local activities go, I don’t participate in any village clubs since they mostly take place during work hours. Instead, I typically go on little adventures in the village and write about my experiences for the monthly village magazine. So far, I have gone to village festivals, fished for small octopi, participated in the local taiko club practice and much more. For the next one, I’ll be learning how to grow tomatoes!
So you said that you’ve signed on for your second year of JET. Do you have any have any goals for your time here? Or are you just playing it by ear and seeing what comes along?
I don’t usually make goals. As long as an opportunity aligns with my interests, I typically just do what feels right at the time and go for it. This summer, I am planning on getting TESOL certified, as well as getting more serious about studying Japanese. It has been a year since I studied from textbooks, so I think it’ll be interesting to get back into the swing of it. Something that I definitely hope to achieve while here on JET is for my Japanese level to improve. I enjoy learning Japanese very much and would like to have this skill for any future opportunities in Japan.
Does that mean that you’re thinking of staying in Japan after you’ve finished JET?
There is a very real possibility that I will stay in Japan after JET. Unless I decide to go to graduate school, I don’t see anything happening for me in the USA. I am very interested in traveling and learning about different languages, cultures and societies. Also, during my senior year at university, I developed an interest in international development, which led to my interest in Peace Corps. If possible, I would love to continue following my interests, while doing and learning about things that I enjoy. Being in the USA, I feel like I am not learning and growing as a person as much as I would be living in another country, learning about the foundations of a different society and engaging with the locals. What this means for my future and whether I’ll stay in Japan, I’m not sure, but Japan has almost become a sort of comfort zone for me. By being here, I feel like everyday is a learning experience and that I am growing in some way that will help to determine where I will go next.
Along the vein of experiencing different cultures and languages, have you spent some of your time here traveling either within Japan itself, or out into neighboring countries? Do you have any plans on doing so in the future?
I have actually been to every region of Japan except Kyushu, Shikoku and the Okinawan Islands. I hope to hit all these places within the next year or so. Besides that I have taken volunteer service trips to both Nicaragua and Ghana and regular vacation trips to Mexico and the Caribean. I definitely plan on continuing my international travels in the future, with South Korea, Morocco and Turkey currently at the top of my list.
That definitely sounds like a decent amount of traveling. And one last question to wrap up the interview: Is there anything in Aomori that you’ve been hoping to do/see/try out before you finish up your time here on JET?
There are quite a few natural sights that I want to visit. For example, I haven’t been to Oirase Gorge and would really like to go this Fall. I’m interested in planning a trip down the coast of Tsugaru to visit the beaches, Aoike and maybe some onsen. I also want to go to every major summer festival Aomori has. Oh, and fruit picking! I definitely want to go pick a lot of fruit when the harvest comes around.
Those sound like some solid plans! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions!
And with that, I’ll be finding the next Aomori resident to interview in the Sanpachi area! As always, please get in contact with me if you’re interested in being interviewed, and I’ll see what I can do! Stay safe out there, everyone!