Fourteen Jamaicans Leave for Japan on Exchange Programme


Fourteen Jamaicans left the island on (July 27), for Japan, where they will be participating in the Jamaica-Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, on a one-year renewable contract.
In an interview with JIS News, Research Officer at the Embassy of Japan, Mizuho Nakanishi, informs that the JET programme aims to promote grass-roots international exchange between Japan and other countries.
“In this programme, we look for native language speakers, including English speakers to stay in Japan as assistant language teachers. They are teaching not only English, but other foreign languages,” she explains.
A cultural exchange programme, JET enables local authorities (prefectures, designated cities and other municipalities) in Japan to employ foreign young people for the purpose of improving foreign language education as well as promoting international exchange at the local level.
By teaching foreign languages at schools nationwide and assisting with international exchange activities organized by local authorities, participants engage on a variety of levels with local residents. In this way, the Programme is expected to increase cross-cultural understanding as well as contribute to internationalization effort within Japan.
“At the same time, they are learning Japanese culture too, so it’s a cultural exchange programme.to teach students and the local community people too, how to appreciate other cultures,” she notes.
While there, the Jamaican JET participants will be placed as assistant language teachers (ALTs) in elementary, junior high and senior high schools, as well as share aspects of the Jamaican culture. The recruits, many of whom are degreed teachers here in Jamaica, will team teach with Japanese teachers, to encourage students of that country to gain fluency in English. The Jamaicans will join other teachers from 41 countries around the world, who will also be teaching foreign languages, such as French, German, Chinese, Korean and Russian.
Miss Nakanishi informs that eligible participants, “don’t have to be teachers, but the minimum requirement is a Bachelors Degree or Teaching Diploma. It’s not necessarily English or Teaching degrees – any degree is acceptable,” she adds.
However, participants are expected to demonstrate high levels of professionalism and maturity and adaptability, she reinforces.
Recruitment and selection for the JET Programme is conducted by Japanese Embassies and Consulates. The application stage begins in October. The public is informed through newspaper advertisements.
Applications are also posted on the Embassy website. “We invite applications between October and December,” Miss Nakanishi says.
She notes that it is not mandatory for participants to speak Japanese before going on the programme, “but the participants must be willing to study Japanese while they are there.” She says that while most Japanese know and understand English, having studied it up to university level, they are not fluent speakers of the language. Hence the need for the ALTs through the JET Programme.
Now in its seventh year in Jamaica, the programme, to date, has facilitated 106 Jamaicans to travel to Japan on the JET programme. Forty one participants are still in Japan on extended contracts.
Miss Nakanishi tells JIS News that the Jamaicans are enjoying teaching their culture to students and local people through workshops and festivals, and have been received well by the Japanese community.
She expresses satisfaction with the performance of the Jamaicans on the programme, who she notes, have readily integrated into the local community life. “One JET participant told me that he never eats his dinner at his house. Everyday, he is invited to a parent’s house or teacher’s house,” she says.
“Jamaican people are very outstanding in the rural areas of Japan. He or she is a kind of big star, so wherever they go, everybody knows them,” she adds.Miss Nakanishi says the performance of the Jamaicans has been so satisfactory that the Japanese government is now inviting persons from Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean countries.
Contributing to this legacy was Sean Aarons, 30, Past President of Jamaica JET Alumni Association, who recounts his experience as a JET participant in Japan. He was among the first batch of recruits who went to Japan in July 2000, and subsequently spent two years working as an Assistant Language Teacher at a senior high school in Kochi City.
Mr. Aarons says he first heard of the programme when he was contacted by his university, the University of Technology (UTech), which asked him if he wanted to go to Japan. “I contacted the Japanese Embassy and took it right from there,” he recalls.
“When I went to Japan, that was my first time outside of Jamaica. It was a long trip. We didn’t get an orientation programme like the one that exists for the current JET, but mentally, I had to prepare myself, so you had an idea of what Japan should look like, but then when you reach there, you realize, ‘wow’, here I am in Japan.they are strong on culture, strong on traditions,” he says.
But culture shock soon dawned, in terms of adjusting to the Japanese diet, he notes. “It was a shock at first.It took me a while to get used to having the Japanese food, but . it didn’t take long time for me to adapt,” he adds. However, it was the Japanese language that presented the biggest challenge for him, Mr. Aarons admits. “I didn’t speak a word of Japanese when I went there, so that presented the most obvious challenge,” he says, adding that he coped by pointing and touching things to identify them.
“The older folks were very helpful. They communicate and I became a child, learn one-one word, and I read everything. I listen to a lot of Japanese tapes. The Jamaican network was there, so you were still able to communicate with your friends and maintain your Jamaicanness, even in a new country,” he notes.
Overall, he notes that the programme has “broadened his horizons” on a personal and professional level.
Armed with enhanced teaching skills, and back on the job at Dunoon Technical High, Mr. Aarons elaborates on his eagerness to show his students the benefits of teamwork and collaboration, “because that is the bedrock on which the Japanese build their learning, exactly how we approach problem solving as a team.”
He advises new participants to go with an open mind to learn. “Go there and observe. Make sure you do not lose your Jamaicanness, but try as much as possible to blend in to show that you are really ready to immerse yourself into the Japanese culture. Get involved, whether it be after-school class, the cooking class, karate, judo, sports, there are many activities for you to learn, different parts of the culture, and your ability to share your Jamaican culture. That will help you to break down the barrier, and remove any form of intimidation you may feel,” he adds.
Wendy-Ann Brown, one of the participants in the current batch tells JIS News that she will take it in stride. Miss Brown’s designated city and host prefecture is Nagasaki, where she will be posted as an assistant language teacher and will teach a mix of four schools in a rural community.
“I’m going to a junior high school which will comprise of grades 7, 8 and 9 and I’ll also be visiting three elementary schools,” she tells JIS News.
Having learnt a little Japanese, enough to survive on, through an intensive one week course at the Language Training Centre, in preparation for her trip, she anticipates that her language experience may be “a bit scary at first, though not insurmountable, because I’ll be in a populace in a rural section that might not necessarily have been exposed to English.”
She will also be the first Jamaican to go to that region. “I’m told that the people in this particular region are very friendly, so I’m not that scared. I’ll just take things in stride,” she says.
The second year University of the West Indies student, who is majoring in Education, decided to grasp the opportunity to “experience a different culture.” “Life is short. One has to achieve what one can. So this is an adventure for me in a sense, and also it’s achieving an objective that I’ve always wanted, which is to see somewhere else, experience a different culture, so to speak, not the regular American culture, or Canadian culture, but totally different,” she explains.
According to the JET Handbook, participants are given a one-year contract but this can be extended up to five years, as agreed by the participant and the contracting organization.
The JET programme is one of the world’s largest international exchange projects.

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