Saturday, July 30, 2005

This JET got some press

Naples High grad embarks on Japanese adventure

Sarah Ledbetter will teach English in Japan's countryside as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program.

July 30, 2005

Sarah Ledbetter wants to immerse herself in another culture.

So with a plane ticket and the guarantee of a one-year job teaching English in Japan's countryside, she is scheduled to take off today for Shinshiro City, where she will live, teach and learn whatever she can about Japan.

And all for $3,000 a month.

Ledbetter was scrambling to pack and say her goodbyes because she was chosen to participate in the Japan Exchange and Teaching program. The international program allows college and university graduates to teach English to middle- and high-school students in Japan. JET recruits people from 41 countries and has had as many 6,000 people participate.

Ledbetter, 22, is a 2001 Naples High School graduate and recent graduate of Rollins College outside Orlando, where she majored in anthropology and concentrated in Asian studies. She grew up in Naples and said she wasn't exposed to many cultures, which is why her curiosity led her to minor in Asian studies and is now leading her to Japan.

"I thought spending a year in Japan would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said. "Hopefully it will be an eye-opening experience."

Shinshiro is in central Japan, on the Pacific Ocean side, and is in the northeastern Aichi Prefecture known as Oku-Mikawa. It is home to an estimated 36,000 people and is surrounded by mountains and rice paddies.

"It'll be different from growing up in flat Florida," Ledbetter said.

She found out in April that JET chose her to be one of many volunteers in the country. She's been preparing in her North Naples home by reading as much as she can about Japan, its culture, language and writing. She can't speak Japanese, but is studying the writing system.
While in Shinshiro, she will be responsible for students in four high schools and will travel between them frequently to teach English, along with a Japanese teacher. Though Ledbetter hasn't taught before, she said she is looking forward to the challenge because she is considering becoming a professor one day. The teaching will help her decide if that is what she wants to do.
Packing for the trip already has taught her some about the Japanese culture. Ledbetter said she has to bring many pairs of shoes because, in Japan, a person has to wear a different pair of shoes indoors and outdoors. She's also searching for small gifts to bring because offering a gift is a sign of respect and appreciation in the Asian culture.

JET coordinator Mitsutoshi Sekita said the purpose of the JET program is for people to learn what they can about the Japanese culture and then return to their homeland and promote the country and its people. Shattering stereotypes about Japan is another goal. He said many people have the misperception that most Japanese people are shy and quiet. And, even worse, some think Japan is part of China.

"They'll see the real Japan and be more open-minded," Sekita said. "We expect them to break the stereotypes."

The program started in 1987 because, Sekita said, middle- and high-school students craved conversational English. Though English is taught in all grades beginning in middle school, Sekita said it was difficult for some because native speakers weren't teaching the language.
To qualify for the JET program, one must be younger than 40 and have a bachelor's degree. No particular major is required. According to the Consulate General of Japan in Miami, an estimated 6,000 people from Japan live in Florida.

If Ledbetter enjoys her job in Japan, she is allowed to extend her stay two years.

"I'll see how much I like it," she said. "If the culture shock doesn't get to me, it'll be a really great experience."

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