First Tulsa, Then the Land of the Rising Sun

Lesley Robinson is a TU graduate and study abroad alumna who spent a year of post-graduate life teaching in Japan through the JET Program. Read her story below!

NOTE: JET will be on campus at the Study Abroad Fair on Wednesday, September 14, from 11 am – 3pm!

My first job after graduating from The University of Tulsa in 2006 was as the International Programs Coordinator in TU’s Center for Global Education. I was certain that encouraging TU students to explore the world as their classroom was my life work. After the first year of advising others to “go global”, I knew that I had to also take my own advice. I was ready for another international experience – but, after being a student abroad three times as an undergraduate, this time I wanted to be on the other side of the classroom. Teaching English abroad was the obvious choice. Around this same time, I began an online graduate program in global and international education. Having studied abroad in Quebec, France, and Spain while at TU, I knew I wanted this post-graduation international experience to be completely different. I researched multiple Teaching English abroad programs in Asia because I wanted to go somewhere I had never been before. My research kept coming back to the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. The JET Program was reputable, sponsored by the Japanese government, and highlighted cultural exchange in addition to teaching the English-language. Even though I knew almost nothing about Japan, the competitiveness and great reputation of the program won me over. I applied, was accepted, and immediately began researching as much as I could about the Japanese culture. I was off to teach English in Japan!

KimonoAfter a very thorough orientation in Tokyo, I felt as prepared as I could ever be to step into the Japanese educational system as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). I was placed in Gunma prefecture, in the northwest corner of the Kanto region on the main Honshu island. I lived in Gunma’s second largest city, Takasaki, with access to Shinkansen (Japan’s bullet train), mountains, onsen (hot springs), fellow JET participants, and an amazing support system throughout my year. I taught English-language and American-culture classes at three high-schools to over seven hundred students each week. The students were eager to learn, and my assigned Japanese Language Teachers (JLTs) were accommodating to the many ideas and lesson plans I created to make learning the English-language as fun as possible. It was a perfect placement! When I wasn’t teaching, I was able to complete graduate program assignments and requirements in my down time. Because of the reputation and rigor of the JET Program, and the flexibility of my JLTs, I was able to get approval for the JET Program to meet my cooperative education requirement for my master’s degree. As a result, my graduate thesis was titled, “Internationalizing the Japanese High School Classroom”, and included lesson plans I had developed at each of the three high schools where I taught. I’ve been told some of those same lesson plans are still being used in one of the high schools today.

Six years after returning from the JET program, I still fondly remember my year in Japan slurping udon noodles with students in the cafeteria, exploring peaceful shrines, collecting Hello Kitty omiyage (souvenirs), and hoping to one day make it back to visit the many Japanese friends I made during my year in Takasaki. I went to Japan to teach English, but came back with an adoration for a culture and people I might never have had the chance to drink tea with, sing karaoke with, or call family. I always joke and say I would still be living over in Japan if only [insert excuse here]. And now I advise you – as part of my continued life work – to go global, go to Japan!