The Fall 2011 Newsletter is out. Read it online.
CITIZEN DIPLOMAT: SIR Alumn in Japan
Written by Evan Matsuda (2012)
Three months after graduating from USC’s School of International Relations, I found myself stepping off a ferry and into a real-world example of foreign policy applied at an individual level. Hired as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for the Japan Exchange Teaching Program (JET), I moved to Japan to carry out the program’s objective of internationalization through grassroots cultural exchange.
The relative homogeneity of Japan’s population has led the government to push for increases in intercultural exposure and English proficiency levels. As part of these efforts, the Japanese government invests in JET, which sends foreign professionals to schools, embassies, and athletic facilities throughout the country. JET increases the visibility of foreign cultures in local communities and brings thousands of university-educated foreigners to work in Japan each year. Many JET participants remain involved with Japan in their post-JET careers, and nearly all participants become informal advocates for Japan in their home countries.
As an ALT, my contributions to cultural exchange revolved around the classroom. I taught around 700 students between the ages of four and fourteen. I primarily taught at a junior high school alongside Japanese teachers of English. I also taught at nine elementary schools and kindergartens, where I created the curriculums, planned the lessons, and taught students as their main English teacher. My work as a teacher and my involvement in local events, performance groups, and sports allowed me to build relationships with a diverse cross-section of the community.
My international relations coursework at USC also helped me to engage the local community by providing valuable context for understanding my role as a cultural ambassador. Knowledge of regional issues and interest in developments in current affairs helped me connect with locals and understand their perspectives. The ability to converse about Japanese relations with China or North Korea, for example, allowed for interactions that rose above the easily digestible discussions of differences in etiquette or food.
My superb professors and dedicated classmates in the School of International Relations instilled in me the desire to keep pushing forward with a career in international relations. Teaching English abroad has proved a fantastic place to begin. The experiences I gained living and working in a foreign environment taught me valuable lessons that I look forward to applying as I continue down my career path.
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