My Experiences on the Satogaeri Project and Future Plans as a JET Alumnus

by Xander Peterson
Assistant Language Teacher in Myazaki from 2009 to 2012
Participant of the 2016 JET Program Alum Satogaeri Project

Reflecting in Miyakonjo City

Thanks to CLAIR, the dream of returning to my placement on the JET Program and reuniting with my community became a reality through the Satogaeri Project. I had a productive time discussing issues around JET at the Global Forum, amazing reunions with my Japanese community, and developed a clear picture of my road ahead as an active JET alumnus.

As the JETAAUSA Country Representative I represented over 30,000 JET alumni at the Global Forum. Additionally up until a few months prior I was also the San Francisco JET Program Coordinator, so I knew the most about the JET Program in terms of recruitment, interviewing, preparation, and departure for the current JET Program Coordinators. I had a lot of people who were counting on me to represent them and discuss what was best for them and the program. The discussions during the Global Forum, as well as the discussions held the day before with only the Country Representatives, were extremely productive. After having a solid hour or so to sit down with the UK and Canadian Country Representatives, as well as the previous JETAAi Chair, and hammer out the details of the new JETAAi, I believe that the JETAAi is now firmly on track to being created in a model that will benefit all alumni worldwide. The importance of a face-to-face meeting like that when you're trying to build cooperation and trust amongst members cannot be understated - we certainly would have had a multitude of issues going forward if this meeting did not happen. The Global Forum also offered the chance for active discussion on a variety of aspects of JET, and I felt that I was able to accurately represent both the JET alumni and the JET Program Coordinators of the U.S. This was a great way to start off the Satogaeri Project.

After the Global Forum I returned back to my Japanese home, Miyakonojo City, in Miyazaki Prefecture. I was unprepared for the tears began to roll down my cheeks as soon as I got my first look back at the little city I had called home for three years. As soon as I arrived I had a series of meet-and-greets with the important figures in the city hall, as well as the junior high and elementary school that I was going to visit that next day, that all went well. Even though they were mostly cordial I believe that simply knowing that one of their ALTs had been selected to participate on the Satogaeri Project gave them a renewed sense of interest and pride in their local JET Program participants. That evening I toured the Shimazu Residence, a local historical spot that highlighted important historical facts about Miyakonojo. It was my first time and was fascinating to learn more about the history of the local area. That night we had a welcome back dinner with all of my closest coworkers from the board of education, as well as all of the current ALTs working there. This was one absolutely one of the biggest highlights of the trip; although everyone had left the board of education, they all came back for that evening to see me. It really showed me how important the bonds of friendship are, even across different nations and generations. We all promised to exchange nengajo this year in order to continue to stay in contact.

Reunited with former students

The next day was the final day, and I hadn't anticipated how nervous I would be. It wasn't that I was nervous to teach again - I had taught roughly 2,500 classes during my three years and everything was still relatively fresh - but I really wanted to make sure that I did my students, and the Satogaeri Project, justice. Thankfully my worrying was for naught as the day went without a hitch. It was overwhelming to see the third-year junior high students, as they had once been my 5th grade students for an entire year. I recognized some of the more distinguishable faces and personalities. Although the activity was a little rushed due to a shorter than average time schedule that day, both the students and I got a lot out of the experience.

For lunch we went to Curry Club Ruu, my favorite restaurant in not only all of Miyazaki, but all of Japan. As we ate the restaurant's famous chicken nanban curry we discussed business with the restaurant owner. He has plans to expand throughout Japan and parts of Asia in the coming years, so I let him know to please contact me if he ever decides to explore opening a branch in America. I connected him with the owner of a Japanese izakaya in San Francisco who is also from Miyazaki and serves chicken nanban curry so the two can discuss business and hopefully promote Miyazaki specialty food stuffs across the U.S.

Xander with the owner of Curry Club Ryu

After lunch we went to the elementary school where I was going to guest teach a 5th grade class. I really knocked it out of the park on this one! I had brought of my most active and best activity plans with me to lead, and the entire class loved every second of it. It was exhilarating to be back in front of a class again, and that feeling of sheer enjoyment that washed over me as I saw the children laugh and smile reminded me why I'm so dedicated to the JETAA and to the cause of the JET Program.

Finally in the late afternoon I rode around town on a bicycle and visited some of the more scenic and memorable spots of the city during my time there, such as where I once went with a class on a school fieldtrip, and where the city's large bonchi matsuri parade ends. Revisiting these places and reliving the wonderful memories made there excited me about the future of the JET Program, the JET alumni, and the U.S.-Japan relationship as a whole.

Moving forward as a JET alumnus I plan on continuing being one of the hardest working alumni. I will run for a third term as the JETAAUSA Country Representative so that I can see all of the various projects I'm invested in to fruition and continue to represent the interests of all U.S. JET alumni. I intend to see the formation of a new JETAAi to completion and will likely take position as either the first Chair or Co-Chair so that I may help our friends in other countries start and grow their JETAA chapters. I will continue to be a member of the Board of the newly formed USJETAA 501c3 NPO so that I can help guide the JETAA activities at the national level. I intend to do what I can do to help the current North America JET Program Coordinators do their jobs to the best of their abilities by leveraging my knowledge as a past JET Program Coordinator and rallying the JETAA community to help with recruitment and training of new JETs. I will work closely with CLAIR to help them have a successful 30th Anniversary celebration, and will head the JETAAUSA and JETAA Canada's joint effort at hosting a Las Vegas celebration, as Las Vegas fell under my jurisdiction as a JET Program Coordinator, so I know the area and alumni there. Finally I will continue to use my software engineering skills to craft web and mobile applications for the JET community.

Although I was already fully dedicated to the JET Program, my participation on the Satogaeri Project has reinvigorated me to continue my efforts and to extend my vision from beyond just the U.S. and Japan but to include a more international approach in JETAA building efforts. I am extremely grateful to be at the position of influence that I am now and will continue to do everything that I can to help this amazing community.
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