Author: Alicia Smith

April 2022: James Wilson

Our guest today is James Wilson, who works at a Japanese trading company. Read on to hear about his time on Sado Island, future plans, and advice for JET Alumni.

Where are you from in Michigan or Ohio?

My hometown is in Indiana but I’ve permanently relocated to Royal Oak, MI for work.

Where was your placement, and how long were you there?

Through JET, I was placed on an island just off the coast of Niigata Prefecture called Sado Island for 3 years from 2014-2017.

What was your school setting like?

On Sado Island, I was responsible for the northern district of Aikawa. Within Aikawa, there were 7 schools that I commuted to on a regular basis including 1 kindergarten, 4 elementary schools, & 2 junior high schools where I taught English classes to all grades. The area was very remote even compared to other districts on the island and the majority of my students were focused either on nature-related or fitness activities.

What is a memory you have in Japan that sticks out to you?

My brightest memory is actually working with the kindergarten children. At the request of parents in my district, I opened an Eikawa (English club) for the kindergarten children that met once a week. While there weren’t large amounts of academic progress, interacting with the children, playing games, and getting to know the families more intimately was a very special experience.

What are you doing now, and has the JET Program helped you get there?

Currently, I work for a trading company called Toyota Tsusho America, Inc., which is a subsidiary of the Toyota Motor Company, as a sales member of their Chemical & Electronic Materials department. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that I would not have arrived at where I am without the JET Program, neither linguistically, culturally, or geographically.

What are your aspirations for the future?

When I returned from Japan in 2017, I was a little lost as to where my path was leading me. However, after experiencing a few years of the American workforce, I’ve gained a better understanding of where I’m inspired and I’m now aiming to continue my education (TBD whether it will be an MBA or focused in a specific technical field). Other than that, I’ve also recently been reinvigorated by the idea of finishing my first triathlon, my dream which was crushed when I was injured weeks before the event on Sado Island. #kneesdon’tfailmethistime

Do you have any advice or recommendations for your fellow alumni?

We all get very busy with work and our personal lives. Consequently, it can be easy to fall out of sync with Japan and your love for the people, language, and country when coming back to the USA, especially if your job doesn’t involve anything related to Japan. Many people here in the USA don’t want to hear your stories or listen to any of the vast knowledge about sake you acquired during JET. However, I strongly recommend that you find a community in which you can still revel in all of that. Not to plug anyone or anything but, *wink wink, nudge nudge* JETAA is a great haven and community for that.

What is something in Japan that you’d like to see more of where you live now?

Of course, more variety and better Japanese food and more Japanese communities would be nice, and also an improved recycling system similar to Japan’s would also be very appreciated. However, just recently I was having a conversation with a friend about how much we miss bidet toilets being in public areas and that would be AMAZING! We definitely need to increase the number of bidets in Michigan.

What does Japan mean to you?

This is a rather difficult question. Japan to me is like a second home. The part of me that acclimated to Japan and appreciates the daily traits of Japanese culture (the order, the modesty, the regiments, the bowing, etc.) is constantly homesick and I’m certain I will never shake it.

Where can we reach you for networking?

If there are people that would like to connect with me, please feel free to reach out via LinkedIn. I’m always happy to chat, so feel free to message me as well. My profile can be found through the following link. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jaemcarlwilson/


Please do reach out if you have any questions for our alumni. Thank you, James Wilson, for sharing your story.

Alumni Spotlight is an outreach activity through the Great Lakes JET Alumni Association seeking to build stronger connections between alumni and to provide bridges for networking. If you or an alumnus you know would like to be featured in an installment of Alumni Spotlight, please email Kyle Belanger at vpmi@greatlakesjetaa.org.

February 2022: Robert Corder

Kurume Beach Trip 2006

Our guest today is Robert Corder, who works in economic development and is on the Board of Directors for GLJETAA. He was a JET in Fukuoka. Read on to hear about 7 places he’s lived, his career, and advice for life after JET.

Where are you from in Michigan or Ohio?

Currently living in Battle Creek, Michigan. Born in Virginia, just outside Washington, DC. Moved to Springfield, Ohio when I was 5. Family moved to Portage, Michigan (just next to Kalamazoo) when I was 10. Went to college in Washington, DC, which included a study abroad in Shiga through Lansing Community College. Was in DC for about 10 years before JET. After JET, moved to Chicago and was there for almost 10 years. Moved to Battle Creek in 2017 for my current job.

Where was your placement, and how long were you there?

Kurume Senior High School, Kurume-shi, Fukuoka-ken; 2003-2006.

What was your school setting like?

It was a high-level academic school with two ALTs. It was the #2 school in town. It had an intensive English course which students took a special placement test to get into. The Eigo-ka students took extra English classes, including debate. So the ALTs did a lot of teaching beyond the typical Oral Communication-1 class for first year students.

What is a memory you have in Japan that sticks out to you?

Being a part of the community and getting to know the people in town. Going to local festivals and getting to experience life in a Kurume not as a tourist. I loved going to the neighborhood onsen, which was like a 5-minute bike ride from my house. I became a regular there and a few other spots around town, like El Sol, a Mexican restaurant that opened up. Those were the places where I met people and became friends.

Grape Cup Speech Contest 2005

What are you doing now?

I do economic development. After JET, I moved to Chicago to work for JETRO, the Japanese government’s trade promotion agency. I worked with American companies who were trying to expand into the Japanese market. I got the job because of my degree in international relations and experience in Japan. After doing that for almost 10 years, I got a job as the Vice President at Battle Creek Unlimited. Battle Creek has a small cluster of Japanese manufacturing companies. I am responsible for bringing from companies to the city. My experience on JET has been an invaluable asset.

How has serving as a GLJETAA officer helped you?

When I was in Chicago, I did a lot with the JET alumni chapter there. There were a lot of people just like me who were transplants, starting the next chapter in their lives after JET. That was my social network, my support group. Those people are my family.

What, if anything, are you proud to have accomplished during your time as a GLJETAA officer?

When I moved to Battle Creek, I wanted to do some stuff to connect JET alumni on this side of the state. I have helped with recruiting, interviews, and predeparture orientations. We’ve done a few dinners over here and I want to do more but COVID-19 has made that difficult. I am looking forward to working on that again as things return to normal.

Do you have any advice, or other support that you can offer to your fellow alumni?

Two thoughts (both career related): One, build your hard skills. I see too many JET alumni without a solid skill set. Living in Japan is great but unless you want to teach ESL, the experience of being a JET isn’t gonna get you a job. It may help some but employers need people with hard skills. There is loads of training you can take online now, like Lynda, Skillshare, Udemy, Coursera. Be proactive. Take a training class. If your Japanese is good, take the JLPT. Get certified in project management. Anything is better than nothing.

Two, network with other alums. Seek out mentors. LinkedIn is great for that. You can hit up people who have interesting jobs. Ask people to coffee or for 30 minutes online. You can research questions to ask a mentor. Ask about their job, their career path, what training they got, what advice they would give to someone just starting out. Most JET alums will be happy to share their time.

If you could bring one thing from Japan to where you live now, what would it be?

The food. I need some good Japanese food in Battle Creek. I usually can get some good stuff in Chicago but I really miss the food. Also karaoke and onsen. If Battle Creek had a good izakaya, with a karaoke spot next to that, and a onsen next door, I would be a happy boy.

Where can we reach you for networking?

Email is the best way to catch me: racorder@gmail.com. Linkedin works well too.


Please do reach out if you have any questions for our alumni. Thank you, Rob Corder, for sharing your own story.

Alumni Spotlight is an outreach activity through the Great Lakes JET Alumni Association seeking to build stronger connections between alumni and to provide bridges for networking. If you or an alumnus you know would like to be featured in an installment of Alumni Spotlight, please email Kyle Belanger at vpmi@greatlakesjetaa.org.

January 2022: Kyle Belanger

Kyle, on the right, cheers on a women’s’ marathon with former GLJETAA secretary Drew Esterline.

Our guest today is the one usually doing the interviewing – our current Great Lakes JETAA Vice President of Michigan, Kyle Belanger! He taught on JET in Kalamazoo’s sister city of Numazu. You’ll have to read the article to find out how he got a job offer before he left Japan.

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November 2021: Kily Buta

Our guest today has a Master’s of Public Health and recently returned from her time on JET, where she taught in a super science high school. Read on to hear her memories of festivals and the capstone project she completed in Japan.

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October 2021: Megan Doi

One of Megan’s hobbies in Japan was collecting Goshuin, which are unique stamps you can get from Temples and Shrines around Japan.

Our guest today has a Master’s in International Education Management and is currently working at the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit. She is originally from California and was placed in Yamanashi as a high school ALT while on JET. Read on to learn about her family heritage trip, the hobbies she took up in Japan, and career advice.

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