||Going global: Centre alums in Japan
RELEASED: December 17, 2009
By Leigh Ivey
DANVILLE, KY—Studying abroad as a Centre College student is life-changing in countless ways.
Not only do experiences abroad open students' eyes to new cultures, languages, cuisines, forms of entertainment and more, but they also fill Centre students with wanderlust.
This year, seven young Centre alums are satisfying this longing to travel by living and working in Japan, where they spend their days teaching young Japanese students.
While Drew Kingsolver '08 is working at a private English school, Emily Grater '06, Jay King '06, Zach Talbot '08, Eric Wilson '08, Whitney Weigel '08 and Gerard Spalding '08 are employed through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program.
The program enables recent college graduates to teach foreign language education in schools throughout Japan, as well as in local governments and boards of education.
While studying abroad through the Centre-in-Japan program, Talbot and Wilson fell in love with the country and its people, and both were eager to return after graduation.
"I studied abroad in this very place, Yamaguchi City, while I was at Centre," Wilson says. "While I was here, I had such a good time, and people were so nice to me. I wanted to come back and repay some of that kindness."
Talbot says he was drawn to JET because he wanted to "learn to communicate, work and live in a setting completely different from the United States. Why Japan? I had a great experience with the 2005-2006 Centre-in-Japan study abroad program."
Having lived and studied in Yamaguchi for four months as Centre students, Talbot and Wilson were prepared for the obvious challenges of living in Japan.
"The home-stay experience was invaluable in helping me to acclimate myself to life here," Wilson says. "I still eat dinner with my old host family."
Though King was unable to spend a full term in Japan during his Centre career, he says that a CentreTerm study abroad trip led to his choosing to spend two and a half years as a teacher in a foreign country.
"That small taste of being outside of the United States inspired me to travel to places that were a bit outside my comfort zone," he says. "The JET program seemed to fit what I was looking to do from a career and personal standpoint—to gain more work experience and be able to see the world. A win-win."
Although Grater studied abroad through Centre-in-London rather than in Japan, she says she has been interested in the Japanese culture since she was a child.
"We had some Japanese exchange students when I was young, and this sort of sparked an interest," she says. "I decided to do JET because I love teaching and really wanted to teach abroad. The JET program is well-established and has a great support system, so I felt comfortable going abroad as a part of this organization."
And while she did not have the opportunity to become acclimated to Japanese life as a student, Grater feels that the Centre experience did much to prepare her for success outside the U.S.
"I really can't say enough good things about the education program at Centre," she says. "My studies in education prepared me to work in schools, and especially to be flexible as a teacher. The type of education I received at the College, as well as my incredible experience studying abroad, prepared me to face the challenges of living in a foreign country."
King agrees that Centre shaped him into a person who can thrive in any country.
"My time at Centre prepared me for the lifestyle I have now and gave me the focus and dedication to continue to study the Japanese language," he says. "Centre showed me how to balance work, study, and still have a social life. Because of that experience, I've been able to make the most of my time in Japan."
Talbot feels the same.
"The well-rounded nature of the Centre education helps me here," he says. "Some people back home say I'm courageous or gutsy for moving out here, but it's simply not the case. I just have knowledge about the world as it is, so I can dispense with irrational fear about the unknown. This, I think, is the value of education, and there's no doubt that having studied at Centre makes me more effective here than I otherwise would have been."
And while they enjoy nearly all aspects of life in Japan, the Centre alums believe that making a difference in the lives of their students is the most gratifying.
"Walking through the door and having students excited that I'm teaching is an amazing feeling," King says. "Having an impact and seeing it on children's faces is worth the trouble of all the headaches involved with teaching. It's an experience I'd recommend to anyone."
Working with students has always been rewarding for Grater, and she has enjoyed getting to know her Japanese students—all 500 of them.
(Grater divides her time among six different schools, so she has had the opportunity to teach hundreds more children than many teachers do in a typical year.)
"My students are an absolute delight!" she says. "We had a Halloween party last year, and it was the first time any of the kids in my town had ever been trick-or-treating. It was so exciting for them that I had kids coming to my house trick-or-treating months after Halloween."
For Talbot, the most rewarding thing about teaching is "seeing the students enjoy learning. On paper, I'm here to teach English—and I do—but what I really want to do is get the students to think about the world outside their island, and to think about it without anxiety or fear. I think that knowledge translates into confidence about the future."
And because Centre did such a remarkable job of transforming the students into global citizens, most of the Centre alumni are unsure of when they will return to the States. They are too busy broadening their horizons in Japan, and like Talbot, they all agree that "broadening one's experiences is the stuff of life."
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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