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Chicago Shimpo
JET Alumni, Friends Celebrate New Year’s Tradition

• The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) alumni and their families and friends got together on January 20 at the Japan Information Center, the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago for the 15th annual Chicago Alumni Shinnenkai, New Year’s party, to celebrate Japanese foods and games.

• Under the JET, selected native English speakers visit local communities in Japan each year to teach English at elementary, junior high and senior high schools, and assist the local government in their international activities. The program was initiated by the Japanese government in 1987, aiming to improve foreign language teaching in Japan and promote international understanding.

• Ella McCann, President of the JET Alumni Association of Chicago, welcomed Consul General Naoki Ito, who attended the Shinnenkai for the first time as Consul General of Japan in Chicago. She also called for support from JETs for an event of “Japan Bowl” where students compete with each other by using their knowledge about Japanese language and culture. Japan Bowl is organized by the Japan America Society of Chicago and will take place on March 10 (Saturday) at the North Central College in Naperville. More information about the event is available at

• In his opening remarks, Consul General Ito said, “Last year, the JET Program celebrated its 30th anniversary. For three decades, JETs and JET alumni have been a real asset for our Japan-US relationship.”
• According to CG Ito, the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago sends about 150 new JETs to Japan every year. Last year it sent more than 150 JETs to Japan, and the number was the biggest among the Consulate offices in the U.S. and the second largest in the world after the U.K.
• “I have heard so many stories about how JETs have made positive impacts on their communities in Japan, and they brought Japanese culture back home,” he said and invited all attendees to enjoy Japan’s new-year traditions, food and games.

• The Shinnenkai started with aikido demonstration by Stephen Toyoda of the Aikido Association of America and his students, followed by the booth activities featuring traditional Japanese New Year’s games and food. Attendees enjoyed trying hands-on experience in calligraphy, origami, rice-ball making (onigiri), kimono dress-up and games of the karuta and fukuwarai. The party was closed with a fukubukuro (grab baga) raffle.

Interview with JETs

• Julianne Medrano went to Japan in 2011 as a JET teacher and taught English for three years in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture and continue to teach two more years in Kure City, Hiroshima Prefecture. She majored in Japanese studies at the DePaul University and studied at the Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka for one year during her college year.
• She is a fluent Japanese speaker and answered Shimpo’s interview questions in Japanese.

• In Shimonoseki, Medrano taught students in three high schools. “I was delightful to see the students, who loved to learn English, especially, a student worked really hard to become an English teacher,” she said.

• At first, Chicagoan Medrano was surprised to see unfamiliar landscapes of Shimonoseki which was surrounded by mountains and an ocean with no building. It was a little scary for her to ride a bike on the dark streets and pretty hard to go up a slope to her residence, “But I really enjoyed living there because everyone was very kind to me,” she said.

• In Kure City, Medrano taught at elementary schools and junior high schools. She said that the fifth grade students were the best because they eagerly wanted to learn English from her. English study begins at fifth grade in Japan.
• A junior high school had a field trip to Hiroshima City where her students found sightseers and tried to speak English with them. She enjoyed the trip and loved to see her students’ efforts.

• During her five-year stay in Japan, she became fond of udon noodles with kitsune, deep-fried bean curd. Inari sushi was also her favorite. “I prefer Japanese food to American. I love Japanese language and Japan, so everything was fun including challenging things,” she said.

• Medrano returned to Chicago in the summer of 2016 and passed N1 level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. N1 level is the most difficult one.
• On the other hand, finding a good job was not so easy. Currently she works as an outreach coordinator in the Japan Information Center. “I love to work for diplomatic services. It is difficult, but I also enjoy challenging jobs,” she said.

Gabriel Coronado taught English at an agricultural high school in Miyazaki City for one year. He studied Japanese at high school and college and was informed about JET Program by a Japanese instructor.

• Most students in the high school went to the workforce every day after the school hours, and a small number of students entered college. That meant that many of them studied English for their examinations.
• To motivate the students, Coronado tried to find what they were interested in and incorporated it into his English lessons. Their favorite topic was baseball, especially, major leagues in the U.S.

• “I just had a good time with the students. Hopefully, they remember me a little bit. Meeting people from different cultures really makes you interested in learning outside of your home. So that’s why, it was one of the reasons that JET is great,” he said.

• Growing up in a suburb of Chicago, Coronado didn’t like fish, but he found Japanese curry and rice. He loved it and ate it almost every day. Now he misses it.

• Coronado liked living in Japan and teaching students in Japan; however, he thought that becoming a teacher was not his lifetime job. He returned to Chicago to challenge something else in 2008.
• It took him about a year to find a full-time position and now he is Director of Operation at the Flower Show Productions, Inc. The company’s main work is to organize the Flower and Garden Show in Navy Pier.
• He has visited the Anderson Gardens in Rockford, Japanese gardens in Portland, and others. “I haven’t been back to Japan, but I like to see things that remind me of my time in Japan,” he said.
• At the Shinnenkai, he was taking care of food tables and said, “I’m still doing JET here.”

Amanda M. McClintock taught English in Hamaoka Cho, Shizuoka Prefecture from 2001 to 2004.
• Interestingly, her great uncle married a Japanese woman, and they lived near her house when she was small. She still remembers the Japanese wife. She studied Japanese language at college and participated in JET Program.

• In Hamaoka Cho, McClintock taught juniors and seniors in a high school, and the students were excited to have a teacher, who really came from America. She gave stickers to her students, then they showed karuta game by using the stickers. Later they made an English karuta game and loved to play it again and again.

• McClintock felt very comfortable living and teaching there, but she faced a culture shock one day.
• “I think that’s why it happened. Because when you live there and get comfortable, you start to forget you are really in a foreign country,” she began to talk about her experience.
• Although it was a school year, she wanted to visit her family in Michigan when she had no work because all her students were away from school. She asked principal if she could visit her family, and he responded to her, “It is difficult…,” in Japanese. Since he didn’t say, “No,” she pushed to get his permission. That caused other teachers to feel strong pressure.
• She soon realized that she was thinking about it in the American way, and she couldn’t think that way. She said that because she was living very comfortably, so the culture shock was very big.

• She was living in Kakegawa Cho, close to her school, and she joined many festivals where she made many friends outside of the school. They helped her Japanese study.
• She had a JET near Kakegawa and often got together because their goal was the same to master Japanese language. The two made more friends, and they helped to master the study of Japanese.

• When McClintock returned to near Detroit in 2004, she soon found a job as a translator and interpreter to help Japanese families in Detroit. Because of many car manufacturing and related companies, there were many Japanese families in there. She helped those Japanese to get driver’s license and attend parent-teacher conferences at their children’s school. During those activities, she strongly felt the need for English education to Japanese mothers and children, so she began to teach English.
• McClintock has moved to Chicago and taught English to non-English speaking people.
• “I do think that JET Program really showed me how much I love teaching and I didn’t expect that. I wanted to learn Japanese, wanted to know what it was like living in Japan and wanted to save money to pay off my student loan, but when I got there, I realized, ‘Oh I’m learning because I like teaching,’” she said.

Karuta game offered by JETs and volunteers

Consul General enjoys challenging onigiri making.

Ella McCann, President of the JET Alumni Association of Chicago

Julianne Medrano gives an attendee guidance to draw "kakizome".

Gabriel Coronado

Amanda M. McClintock

Fukuwarai game

Ema wishing

A Ninja Panel for photo

Aikido demonstration by the Aikido Association of America