JET Program CIR Experience

With friends at a Japanese Matsuri
By Arisa Hiroi

Arisa Hiroi worked as a Coordinator for International Relations in Minamiboso City, Chiba Prefecture from 2013 to 2014. She currently teaches Japanese to Lincoln High students in San Francisco.
Teaching young students
You never fully understand the bubble you inhabit until you see it from the outside. As a Japanese-American and recent college graduate who had dabbled in the professional world, I felt pretty confident that I understood who I was and what Japan and the U.S. were. That understanding was greatly challenged and deepened when I left my little bubble in San Francisco to live and work in Minamiboso City, Chiba as a Coordinator for International Relations.

Challenges to my understanding and ‘common sense’ occurred every day, whenever coworkers, community members, and I noticed differences between us. Some differences, such as not worrying about the safety of purses, were extremely welcome. Other differences, such as the emphasis on group consensus over individual initiative, took more time for me to embrace. Even then, I can’t say I completely conformed to every aspect of Japanese life or fundamentally agreed. However, that was the beauty of it --- every difference was another opportunity for cross-cultural exchange. Mundane things such as my dark purple nail polish led to conversations on femininity in our respective countries, while my surprise at a cheap dentist bill got us talking about health care reform. Though the city hired me to translate, interpret, and plan cultural activities, I believe these everyday differences were what really challenged all of us to better understand our culturally-specific selves and others.
The JET experience certainly added to my professional growth as a Japanese teacher, but I think the greater takeaway was this deeper understanding of my identity and other perspectives. The opportunity to step out and see how the context of my bubble had shaped me and how others’ bubbles shaped them broadened my worldview in a way no experience in my homeland ever had. Even now that I’ve returned home, I look back at this time I spent connecting with some of the nicest and most welcoming people I would have never met otherwise with great fondness and always love sharing my experiences with my students and others.
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