Three Centre College seniors have been accepted into the Japan Exchange Teaching Program (JET), a competitive employment opportunity that allows young professionals to live and work in cities, towns and villages throughout Japan. This is also first time in several years that the College has had back-to-back awards two years running.
As part of the program, Anna Loring (Louisville, Kentucky), Jeffrey Chen (Kaohsiung, Taiwan) and Evan Aroko (Salem, Massachusetts) will have the opportunity to work and represent the U.S. as cultural ambassadors to Japan. They will serve as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) and work in public or private schools or government offices throughout the country, starting in September.
JET is extremely competitive, as it typically receives nearly 5,000 applications each year, and of those, nearly 1,000 will be selected to participate in the program.
Robert Schalkoff, director of the Lincoln Scholars Program and a former faculty member at Yamaguchi Prefectural University, has taught over half of Centre’s JET participants during their time at the university, in addition to writing countless JET recommendations for students while in Japan.
With three Centre students participating in JET this year, Schalkoff said he feels like the College is “back in the saddle again.”
“Certainly, it’s also been a very turbulent few months,” he added. “Having three students accepted into the JET Program is special, because I know each of them will bring a great deal of enthusiasm and energy to Japan and the young people they will meet and teach. I think everyone needs more of that right now.”
Schalkoff also thinks this a great testament to the work Michael Dixon, assistant professor of Japanese, is doing in Centre’s Japanese program. He said more and more students are taking those courses and more are applying to study in Japan each year during the College’s semester-long programs, as well as during CentreTerm.
“I always like working with students as they pursue post-baccalaureate opportunities,” he said. “They’re very focused, and I get to hear their stories not only about why they want to throw their hat in the ring for these opportunities but also, and perhaps just as important, how they reached that point.”
These three students have such interesting and unique connections to Japan, and Schalkoff is happy he was able to see how those began.
“Anna and I traveled together to Japan in December 2016 as part of our Kentucky Bluegrass Festival in Yamaguchi,” he added. “Jeffrey participated in the Summer Language Institute that was part of our Luce grant and studied Japanese in it. I helped him arrange an internship in Akita with our newest international partner. Evan came to talk to me about Yamaguchi when he was considering applying for a semester abroad there. I’m so glad each of the students has decided JET might be a way to continue their relationships with Japan.”
Loring, an environmental studies major, studied abroad in Japan during her sophomore year at Centre, and while there, she said she made some of her best friends and had an amazing time.
“I also met some people who had been part of the JET program, and had the idea of traveling back to Japan and staying for longer to continue engaging internationally,” she added. “Since sophomore year, I’ve been set on this program—I’m so excited to see my friends again, make new friends, improve my Japanese, teach and have new experiences.”
Schalkoff also believes having Centre students participate in this program is an extension and further development of the international experiences that are so important at the College.
“The JET Program is an excellent, initial teaching experience that provides an opportunity to get an intimate glimpse into the Japanese education system, Japanese life and, at the same time, develop professionally.”
Chen, an international studies major and Asian studies minor, learned about the JET Program from John Newton ’19, who was a part of the JET Program last year, and Schalkoff, who has been his mentor throughout the application process.
“I am interested in this program, because I have always been interested in Japan and the prospect of making a positive impact in its local communities is absolutely delightful,” Chen said. “Growing up in Taiwan, I was exposed to various aspects of the Japanese culture from Taiwan’s connection to the island and the remnants of Japanese influence on the island. As I got older, I grew an interest to learn more about Japan through its culture, language and history.”
Not only is Chen interested in learning more about Japan through the program, he is also passionate about the English teaching aspect of the program, because he will be able to help students improve their skills and share his own experience learning the language.
“Having learned English from a technical perspective and reaching fluency at a later age, I empathize with other English language learners and hope to share my story to encourage others in the process,” he added. “I understand a lot of the challenges that they encounter, and I hope to contribute in every way I can.”
Schalkoff said these three Centre students are obviously well prepared for any path they choose, but adds what really sets Aroko, Chen and Loring apart is the unique ways in which they want to engage with the communities they will be living and working in while in Japan. Part of the application asks applicants to consider their role as ambassadors from the U.S. to Japan and talk about what they plan to do in the community in which they live. He said they talked about filmmaking, story-telling and sharing their culture in really interesting ways.
Aroko, a Posse Scholar and anthropology and sociology major and film studies minor, became interested in teaching during his sophomore year at Centre after taking his first anthropology course.
“Anthropology has taught me so much about the world, about how and why people do what they do all over the world, and about cultural acknowledgment and respect,” he said. “I also had a couple of demo teaching experiences during my study abroad trip to Yamaguchi, Japan, last Fall.”
As an anthropologist in training, Aroko said he hopes to continue to learn about the cultures that exist in this world through ethnographic field research and filmmaking and through public anthropology, an extension of the academic discipline that encourages people from all backgrounds to care about complex problems and meaningful concepts.
“I am looking forward to many things regarding the program, but I am especially eager to talk with my soon to be home community members in Japan—to connect with them and to learn from them,” he added. “I have a lot of research, photography and short film ideas that I wish to create when I am back in the country, and I look forward to acquiring some help and creative inspiration from many.”
by Kerry Steinhofer
May 7, 2020
Header image: (l to r) Seniors Evan Aroko, Anna Loring and Jeffrey Chen have been selected to participate in the Japan Exchange Teaching Program (JET).