For the third article in our Japanese Studies: 5-10-20 series, today we will hear from Kathy Rice, a recent college graduate and current JET Coordinator for International Relations, who will talk about how she cultivated skills and resources throughout her college years and immediately after to think about language development and employment.
Previous 5-10-20 articles:
Unlike most of the people who will be posting in this series, I have very little post-graduation experience with Japanese Studies. I graduated just one year ago from Gettysburg College with a degree in Japanese Studies and a minor in Business. However, while in school I took many different opportunities to gain experience even before graduation, so those of you who are still in school or are fresh out of school and are looking into how you can prepare to find a job might find what I have to say useful.
I applied for the JET Program during my last year in college, and since last August I have been working as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in Fukuyama, which is the second-largest city in Hiroshima Prefecture. Unlike ALTs, the kinds of jobs that CIRs do vary greatly. Some CIRs work closely with ALTs, while some are completely removed from them. My job is one that does not involve working with the other JETs in Fukuyama, and so consequently most of my work is a bit separate from other JETs’. I work in Fukuyama City Hall’s Citizens’ Consultation Division, which deals with a wide variety of issues but in general requires knowing everything there is to do with City Hall and Fukuyama to help those who come to us.
Part of this division is the International Relations Section, and a subsection of that is the Fukuyama Association for Global Exchange (FAGE). As part of the International Relations Section, I work for both the city in general and for FAGE. For the city in general, I deal with official translation and interpretation requests from other departments in City Hall and work with Fukuyama’s English-speaking sister cities. As part of FAGE, I plan monthly international events, write a monthly English newsletter, conduct a weekly eikaiwa (English conversation) class for adults, coordinate volunteer Japanese tutors for foreign residents, maintain the association’s website and Facebook, and recruit new members into the association…on top of other office work that comes up daily.
My experience at all my jobs and internships that I did while in school really helped to make the transition to working here much more smooth, since I had some general experience in a lot of what I do now. Having a strong level of Japanese coming in was also very important, since it helped me to work together with my coworkers easily and form bonds with them right away.
So…how did I get here?
More than anything else, my interest in Japan has been primarily through the language. My interest in learning Japanese first started when I was in middle school, when I naively thought that I could translate a Japanese manga that I wanted to read on my own. I bought a Japanese-English dictionary and a book on Japanese grammar and began studying by myself. I spent free periods at school practicing and taking notes, and I started collecting more and more books on Japanese. After a year or so of studying on my own, by luck I was introduced to a Japanese teaching assistant at a nearby university who taught private Japanese lessons. I went to her once a week for several years until I began studying at Gettysburg College.
At Gettysburg, I placed into the highest Japanese level offered, which made me more confident in my language abilities. I had already decided that I wanted to major in Japanese Studies…but the one thing that worried me was that I’d never been to Japan before. What if I actually hated it? Did I really want to spend four years studying it as my major if it turned out that I actually didn’t want to do anything with it afterwards?
So after my first year at Gettysburg, I did a short-term, one-month summer program at the Yamasa Institute in Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture. I took private lessons a few times a week there mixed with tours in the local area and in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
Being in Japan even for a month really made me more confident in my choice to study Japanese, and so I was more motivated when I came back for my second year of college. I continued to study on my own and passed the JLPT N2 that winter, an important qualification for many people intending to pursue Japanese-related professions. I also started a part-time job at my school’s Language Resource Center, where I built a page containing a collection of websites that are useful for learning Japanese (although the page is no longer updated). I made sure to take courses that allowed me to study abroad for a year, and so my third year of college was spent entirely at Kansai Gaidai University.
After my first semester of studying at Kansai Gaidai and living with a host family, I passed JLPT N1 that winter. Before the spring semester started, I volunteered during the orientation for new international students, and thanks to that and my Japanese level I was able to work part-time in the Center for International Education office at Kansai Gaidai for several months. I helped make flyers, translate promotional materials, and overall assist the Japanese staff there.
Inspired by my time working at Kansai Gaidai, while still abroad I applied for an internship at the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C., and so after I returned to the United States, I spent the summer working at JASWDC and learning about their programs and the Japan-related activities that happen within the United States. In particular, I helped with part of the planning for the Japan Bowl, a Japanese language and culture quiz competition between high school students across the country that is an excellent way to boost enthusiasm for learning the language at a young age.
Following that, my last year at Gettysburg College was spent continuing my part-time job at the Language Resource Center, doing a few odd translation jobs, and working as a tutor for first and second year Japanese language students. I don’t remember when I first heard about JET, but as a first year at Gettysburg I thought that I’d like to be an ALT for JET when I graduated. However, due to my experiences at Kansai Gaidai and the Japan-America Society, I decided to apply as a CIR. A month before graduation I got a call telling me I was accepted, and so here I am today.
That sounds good…so, how do I get to where you are?
If anything I said above sounds like it was easy, it really wasn’t. When I was studying Japanese in high school, I was using practically every free moment to practice kanji, do homework for my private lessons, and use online quiz programs. Japanese didn’t just come to me easily, and it probably won’t come to you just like that either. Studying abroad wasn’t without its hardships, and in the weeks before coming back to Japan, I was incredibly worried about working here.
My advice to those who are interested in turning their interest in Japan into a career:
1. Depending on where you live and the resources you have, it might take a lot of effort. I went to private lessons because no universities in my area offered Japanese to high school students. I interned in D.C. even though I do not live in D.C. Studying abroad for a year was easy because my school had a mutual exchange program with Kansai Gaidai, but my short-term study in Aichi was the result of my researching a lot of short-term programs without much guidance. When I tell people that I started learning Japanese around middle school age, I often hear, “I wanted to do that too, but they didn’t offer it where I live.” The thing is, it wasn’t offered where I lived either. You just have to really search for opportunities and have the motivation to study on your own. Especially now with Skype and websites like Lang-8, it’s really easy to find language partners who can help you even if you’re studying on your own.
2. It’s not for everyone. I’ve seen a lot of eager students study abroad only to be disappointed when they get to Japan, whether it was because it wasn’t what they expected or because they didn’t want to be away from their friends and family back home. This doesn’t mean you have to give up, though–there are many Japan-related jobs in the United States, and there’s nothing stopping you from continuing to study and learn about Japan even when you’re not actually in Japan. If you have the opportunity, study abroad instead of diving right into a job in Japan–it will definitely make the transition smoother, and you’ll meet a ton of people who will be your support network if you come back.
3. Get involved, and don’t wait until after graduating to do so! If I hadn’t done my part-time jobs or interned during my time at school, I would definitely not be where I am today. Don’t just settle for classes–make sure you are turning what you learn into real experiences. Yes, academia is an option as is teaching English in Japan, but remember that those are not your only options, and you should consider looking outside of the classroom into the Japan-related societies and associations you can get involved with even before graduating.
4. Study, study, study–and not just what’s in your classes. One of my biggest pet peeves is students who expect to become fluent in Japanese by only taking classes in college. If you don’t practice or study at all outside of the classroom it’s unlikely you’ll ever reach higher than an intermediate level of Japanese by graduation. If that’s all you’re aiming for, then that’s perfectly fine. If you expect to be translating as a career straight out of university, you’d better be studying a lot on the side. Studying abroad or just being in the country doesn’t equal instant fluency either, so don’t lose your motivation to study the language if you expect that to be a big part of your future career.
5. Well before graduating, research your options. If you’re reading this post, you’re probably already a step ahead. If there is a career you are interested in, try to find blogs written by those who do that job. You can look at Japan-related job posting sites like Gaijinpot to get ideas about possible jobs. Although I’ve never attended one myself, there are Japan-related job fairs in the United States, like the Boston Career Forum. Even just googling for Japan-related jobs and internships around where you live might result in a lead for a job or internship you can aim for. Looking back at my internet history, it seems the first time I visited Shinpai Deshou was in the spring of 2011. In retrospect, I’m really glad I started visiting this blog that early. It was actually partially thanks to the posts here that I first started thinking about being a CIR.
6. Have other interests besides Japan. If you’re interested in business, study business and Japan. Interested in law? Try to combine that with your interest in Japan, as the last 5-10-20 poster did.
Like I said before, I really don’t actually have much experience yet. JET is a maximum of only 5 years, and since I haven’t even been here for one year I haven’t given much thought yet into what I plan to do next, but from what I’ve learned while in school, it is best to start earlier rather than later.
I hope some of what I’ve mentioned above can help you, especially if you are still in undergrad and are worried about whether you are on the right path or not. There are many different ways for you to utilize a degree in Japanese Studies, and what I’ve done is in no way a set list of what you should be doing. My interest is mostly in the language, and it was through that that I focused my academic and professional career. Find a niche in the field of Japanese Studies, and you’ll find something that fits your skills.
Kathy Rice received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Japanese Studies from Gettysburg College. She studied abroad for one year at Kansai Gaidai University, where she also worked as a Student Assistant at the university’s Center for International Education. During her time at Gettysburg, Kathy spent time as staff in the college’s Language Resource Center among other jobs, and she spent three months as an intern at the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C. She now works as a Coordinator for International Relations through the JET Program in Fukuyama, Hiroshima. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org | LinkedIn | Instagram