Episode 12: Interview with Bahia Simons-Lane (Numata-shi, Gunma, 2005-2007)
Where were you in Japan as a JET and when?
I was a JET in Gunma Prefecture from 2005-2007. I taught at an all girls’ high school and then after JET worked at the prefectural board of education for one year.
What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?
I never had a chance to do study abroad when I was in college, but I really wanted to live in Japan. Even though I was a theater major, I had taken as many Japanese history courses as I could thanks to taking a Japanese pop culture class that made me fascinated with the culture. During college I visited a friend who was doing a study abroad at International Christian University near Tokyo and I thought Tokyo was the coolest place I’d ever been. I really wanted to find a way to get back to Japan.
Then, when I was doing a graduate certificate in theater, I learned about the JET Program. It seemed perfect; I could get paid to live and work in Japan! Even though I didn’t plan to become a teacher, I had been an undergraduate instructional assistant and a teaching assistant as a grad student, so I knew I liked teaching. I applied for the JET Program out of the San Francisco consulate, got accepted, and then departed from Washington, DC near my hometown.
What are some of the things your prefecture is known for? Ex. food, hotspots, etc.
Gunma has a quite a few random things it’s known for. When you view the prefecture from above it’s shaped like a crane in flight, has delicious cabbage and produces konnyaku. It’s also a well-known onsen destination, particularly Kusatsu, and is popular for skiing and hiking. I’ve climbed several mountains in Gunma, including Mt. Akagi and Tanigawa-dake. Another interesting thing I did was canyoning in Minakami, which involves putting on wetsuits and sliding down waterfalls.
Did you pick up any of the regional dialects? What are some of your favorite words or phrases?
My Japanese wasn’t very good when I got to Japan, but I did learn a little bit about Gunma-ben. In Gunma-ben, they tended to shorten words and add ~be on the end. For example, saying ikube instead of ikimashou!
If you were to return to live in Japan, would you choose to live in that same prefecture?
I felt like Gunma was the perfect JET placement. It was rural, so I got to experience what it was like to live in the countryside. It also had incredible hiking, which is a hobby I took up while living in Japan. The other nice thing is that it wasn’t too far from Tokyo, so I could go visit some weekends. However, I don’t think I’d choose to live in Gunma if I returned to Japan. I’m a city person, so I’d really love to live near a big city like Tokyo or Osaka.
How has your connection in relation to Japan changed since living in Japan?
My connection with Japan has only continued since my time living in Japan. After I returned to the U.S. in 2008 during the recession, my career meandered a bit before I enrolled in a masters program in international and intercultural education at Florida International University and became the president of the Florida JET Alumni Association (Florida JETAA). This volunteer position was very impactful for me personally and career-wise. I got connected not only with JET alumni in Florida, many of whom became dear friends, but also with JET alumni across the U.S. through the chapter leader network and the annual National Conference for JETAA chapter leaders. This led me to my current role as Executive Director of the U.S. JET Programme Alumni Association. I sometimes still can’t believe I get paid to work with JET alumni! It’s extremely rewarding to support the JETAA chapters and individual alumni. It also allows me to stay connected to Japan through my work and provides occasional opportunities to travel back to Japan to meet with Japanese governmental officials, organizations, JETs, and JET alumni – plus I always try to find a day or two to meet friends, Japanese and non-Japanese, who live in Japan.
This interview is part of a partnership between the Japan Society Boston (JSB) and the United States Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme Alumni Association (USJETAA) in which JET alumni contribute short interviews about their experiences in Japan in each prefecture.
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