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.
Where are you from in Michigan or Ohio?
I grew up in Chesterfield, which is in southeast Michigan. Now I’m based out of Southfield, Michigan.
Where was your placement, and how long were you there?
I was on the JET program as an ALT from 2017-2019 in Shizuoka prefecture. Specifically, I was in Numazu-shi, so I had some of the best sushi in Japan, which made settling for what’s served in the Midwest that much harder.
What was your school setting like?
I had a lucky placement in that I only had one school, so I didn’t have to travel around to different locations. My school was a combined middle and high school, and I taught at 3 grade levels among them. It also sent and received students to/from Kalamazoo Michigan every year because of Numazu’s sister-city relationship with Kalamazoo. So I would also prepare the few students selected for the trip with any fundamentals they may not have learned yet.
What is a memory you have in Japan that sticks out to you?
It’s hard to choose just one. Probably one of the fondest memories I have is participating in the “Teacher vs Students” basketball and volleyball games. It was probably the time I felt the most connected with my school, which was something I really strove to do.
What are you doing now?
Now I’m working for a Japanese car parts company that’s actually based out of Numazu. I basically got the job while finishing my time on JET because I happened to sit next to the Vice President (of the American branch) at a bar and helped him with his orders through the night and the conversation eventually lead to a job offer back in Michigan.
How has serving as a GLJETAA officer helped you?
I started helping out as soon as I got back, so it really helped me gain a foothold in the community here. It’s also been a great experience talking and collaborating with officers from other chapters.
What, if anything, are you proud to have accomplished during your time as a GLJETAA officer?
I’m glad that the watch parties and game nights were able to provide a good distraction for some people early in the pandemic. I think a lot of people felt and still do feel isolated, so I’ve been glad to be able to consistently provide a place for people to connect and possibly relive some of their JET experiences.
Do you have any advice, or other support that you can offer to your fellow alumni?
If you are looking to reconnect with your Japanese roots, try out different cultural hobbies, like bonsai or martial arts. With a little research, you may find something new that interests you! Otherwise, keep an eye out on organizations like the “Japan-America Society” or even our own JETAA chapter. A lot of resources and events pass through them that provide opportunities to engage with Japan.
If you could bring one thing from Japan to where you live now, what would it be?
I feel like it would be cheating to say “the train system” because that is definitely not one thing. So what I currently wish I had is a nice, cozy kotatsu. Sure I have central heating and blankets, but it isn’t the same!
Please do reach out if you have any questions for our alumni. Thank you, Kyle Belanger, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.