July brings us into the hot season of summer, and we can almost imagine being in Japan again with the sounds of cicadas filling our eardrums. Summer is also a busy time for our next guest, Rhea Young, as she is usually busy getting all the new JETs together for orientations, last-minute document checks, and finally shipping JETs out to their new homes. This month we take a step away from the consulate and get to know about Rhea’s time as an ALT in Oita City and why “lack of water pressure” is a good excuse for daily sento visits (jealous).
Where are you from in Michigan or Ohio?
I’m from Grosse Pointe Park, MI.
Where was your placement, and how long were you there?
I was placed in Oita City, Oita Prefecture, 2003-2006.
What was your school setting like?
I was a “one-shot ALT” with 2-3 junior high schools and 12-14 elementary schools throughout Oita City. Being at so many schools I definitely was able to notice a difference in teaching styles and student interest in English. The elementary schools were a lot of fun because the students were just eager to have a guest in their classroom and were not shy about trying their hands at English. It was also a nice experience eating with the students in their classrooms and even playing outside with them at recess! I also worked with a wide variety of teachers, some who loved having a JET ALT in their classroom, and others who were a bit more used to their old ways. Oita City was quite large and had incorporated several smaller towns, so I had the chance to teach at both the largest JHS in the city as well as the smallest with a total of just 17 students. The lunch at the small JHS was always delicious because I heard most of the food was sourced from local farms.
What is a memory you have in Japan that sticks out to you?
There are so many that it’s hard to pick just one. So the shower at my apartment was a crank shower, and as the weather got colder, the water pressure basically slowed to a trickle. I didn’t know what the deal was, so I decided to go to the local sento to bathe every single day. It was such a relaxing way to end the day. I was generally the only foreigner there but noticed a lot of regulars. Finally, during the spring of my first year on JET, a teacher came to my apartment for a visit and pointed out to me that my shower had a “summer/winter” function. All I had to do was flip a little lever in the winter, and then I’d be able to take a normal shower! Despite knowing that in my subsequent years, I still chose to visit the local sento almost daily. Definitely an experience I’ll never have again.
What are you doing now that you have returned?
I’ve been working at the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit since February 2009. I coordinate the JET Program and MEXT Scholarship Programs. I also help with miscellaneous duties like event planning, speech writing, news summaries, cultural event planning, exchange programs, annual Japanese language surveys, and serving as a point of contact for many stakeholders throughout Michigan and Ohio.
Do you have any future plans you’re working towards?
Who knows? I’ve been here so long that it’s hard to think about going elsewhere. I did get my master’s degree in Higher Education Administration with the hope of becoming either a study abroad coordinator or an international student advisor at the college level. I happened to get this job just as I was graduating and haven’t looked back. My hobby is taking walks wherever I am. I walk on the RiverWalk at the RenCen during my lunch hour at work. Otherwise, I love taking walks throughout my neighborhood and wherever the road takes me. I also enjoy trying different foods and dining out. It’s been a bit hard with COVID but I’m glad to see things are starting to reopen safely. My personal goal is to continue to be a good employee while also being a good mom to my 5 ½-year-old. I’ve realized that the working-parent balance is a little harder than I had anticipated but we all make do somehow!
What is something Japan-related you wish you could get involved with here in MI/OH?
Any type of Japanese food tasting or food-related meetups!
What advice or help would you like to give to other GLJETAA alumni?
I would like to help in any way I can. I’m happy to offer advice when it comes to settling back into life here in Michigan/Ohio. I returned back in 2006 so I know a lot has changed since then, so I sometimes feel like I’m not the best advisor on “life in Japan” or “readjusting to the U.S.” simply since we live in a different world now. I’m always happy to see more recent returnees engage in JETAA since I believe they can offer better and more accurate advice than I can on settling back into life in the U.S. If anyone ever wants to sit down for coffee or take a walk while reminiscing about life in Japan, I’m glad to!
What konbini food do you miss the most?
The egg sandwiches. In fact, I miss all Japanese sandwiches. Unlike a lot of Americans, I like very thin white bread with lots of filling!
Thank you to our good friend Rhea for being our guest on Alumni Spotlight this month! Rhea has played an important part in many of our early JET lives, taking care of all of our pre-departure needs and making sure we arrived safely in Japan. If you’re ever in the Detroit area, look up Rhea for a good lunchtime walk or an outing to a Japanese restaurant. And with that, I hope everyone enjoys their Fourth of July holiday and gets some good time in the sun. We’ll meet back up here in August. Until next time, mata ne!
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 Andrew Esterline at firstname.lastname@example.org.