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.
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.
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 email@example.com.