“There is a flickering spark in us all which, if struck at just the right age can light the rest of our lives, elevating our ideals, deepening our tolerance, and sharpening our appetite for knowledge about the rest of the world. Educational and cultural exchanges provide a perfect opportunity for this precious spark to grow, making us more sensitive and wiser international citizens through our careers.”President Ronald Regan
In my new job, I have many responsibilities, but the most important one is at once both simple and complex: I am mean to be a cultural ambassador from America. What this entails, I do not yet fully comprehend, and I doubt that I will ever be able to fully understand what this position means. On a mechanical level, in the classroom I am to function as something analogous to a recording device, and I am to help the students understand how and why certain English words or grammatical structures work the way they do; however, to limit the position to that would be a waste of time for each party involved. The JET in JET Programme stands for “Japanese Exchange & Teaching,” and what I have realized in my first two weeks here is the significance and intent of that first part:
Exchange of cultures has played a major role in every nation in history, as through this new and different ideas can spread and help people grow and change, and this has been the focus of much of my study throughout high school and college. I love the way that different practices, customs, and ideas can being, end, spread, and develop as they migrate through multiple cultures, and, most of all, I love how the process is ever-changing. And now, through this program, I can take part in this eternal human practice in a way that I never have before.
Sure, I had passed ideas back and forth with my friends from both the US and Japan during college, and even when I went abroad I had the privilege of meeting new people from England, France, and Guatemala who gave me opportunities to gain new perspectives and insights; but now, as I live in Japan, I am gaining and will gain more insights than I ever have before. I am immersed completely in the culture, and such depth of immersion will be an ever-preset part of my life in the coming years. As such, my role as a cultural ambassador will too be ever-present in my life.
This protracted task of cultural exchange was something which was covered earlier this week when I attended the Orientation for my new home Prefecture of Gunma. There, myself and the rest of of the ALT’s (Assistant Language Teachers) from across Gunma were given an overview of how to live our new lives in Gunma as well as conduct ourselves at our new jobs. Lesson topics ranged from disaster preparedness to shopping tips to lesson planning tips and even karate, but the one that I found stuck with me the most was during the point when the presenters talked about the responsibilities that come with being a teacher in Japan. They talked about how you should always be setting a good example for this students, both inside and outside of the classroom, and they put it in a succinct way that I still recall even now:
“You are always representing yourself, your school, the JET program, and your country.”
A Non-negotiable Position
This resonates deeply with me as a person who is always concerned with best representing both myself and the organizations that I am a part of, and it even evoked strong memories of my time in college as an undergraduate member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. An important lesson that is emphasized in my fraternity is the idea that you are “always wearing you Letters.” As with every Greek letter organization, there is a specific and secret meaning to each of the Greek letter that make up the organization’s name, and when you are initiated you learn the meaning of these letters and commit yourself to membership within it.
From that moment forward, you are always representing the Fraternity in whatever you do, your actions, both helpful and harmful, will affect the perceptions of not only yourself but also your brothers. At orientation, when I was told a similar concept in reference to my job in the JET Program, it allowed me to realize the true cultural significance of my new position as an ALT. Just as a Fraternity may be helped or harmed by the actions of a single brother, the lessons that I teach can be helped or impeded by my own behavior outside of the classroom.
Just as I am always wearing my Letters, I am always a teacher.
That, I feel, is the true essence of the permanence of cultural exchange. It is a perpetual act, unconsciously carried out by people whenever and wherever they interact, and am I another person who is simply carrying on this uniquely human tradition. Yet, because this is an innate practice, in the same way that I innate represent my Fraternity, my family, my school, my nation, and the JET Programme, I will be carrying forth all of those ties as I make my own cultural exchanges.
I am here to represent more than just myself, but that it not a problem. The more ideas I represent, the more ideas I can give to my students. And I can’t wait to see which ideas they will in turn give to me.
Song of the Week
“Afire Love” by Ed Sheeran
This last week, I have only had Ed Sheeran going through my head, and the song that I keep coming back to, out of all the songs that I know by him, has been this song. Off of his 2014 album, x, I love way that he tells the story of a grandfather with Alzheimers and the memories that exist of him from before the disease took hold. Additionally, I find the way the piano appears throughout the melody to be both haunting and heartfelt, and the bridge provides a nice rally cry to the rest of the family as they deal with the grandfather’s disease as one. It provides a nice way for me to think about how I have dealt with and will deal with whatever happens to my family and close friends.
If you would like to listen to this song or any of the other prior Songs of the Week, check out the Spotify Playlist linked above!