Report: 2020-2021 Chapter Grant Programs
The following programs were supported by the Chapter Grant Program for JETAA Chapters and Sub-Chapters, a program partnership funded by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA and administered by USJETAA.
- JETAA DC – Mentorship Program
- JETAA Chicago – J-Talks
- JETAA Southern California – Kizuna: Connecting Little Tokyo’s Past and Present
JETAADC Mentorship Program
Project Date: July 2020 – January 2021
The JET Alumni Association of Washington, DC (JETAADC) developed and implemented a five-month virtual Mentorship Program from September 2020 to January 2021 to bring the JET alumni community together to create strong and meaningful relationships, expand networks, and provide recent returnees with professional development opportunities and personal development strategies in the U.S.-Japan relations field.
The 2020-2021 JETAADC Mentorship Program was conducted virtually from September 2020 to January 2021. The two main goals of this program were (1) to pilot a mentorship program for JETAADC recent returnees and early career professionals by providing them with professional development opportunities and personal development strategies to support their career goals related to U.S.-Japan relations, and (2) to provide an opportunity for mid-to-senior career professional JET alumni who are interested in giving back to the JETAADC community by sharing advice, experiences, and expertise through mentoring partnerships and a virtual “Mentor Talks” panel discussion.
Building upon the prior year’s 2019-2020 grant programming, Maintaining the JET Momentum: The Post-Exchange Pipeline to Successful U.S.-Japan Leadership, the inaugural Mentorship Program engaged recent returnees and JET alumnus with 10+ years of experience to address key networks for JET alumni to sustain the JET momentum. This program was launched at an especially crucial time for the JETAADC community. The COVID-19 pandemic had not only ravaged the job market for recent JET returnees and early career professionals, but the disruption of in-person social and networking events had dramatically changed how JETAADC members meet and connect with each other. As a community, and as a leading feeder organization of young professionals into the U.S.-Japan relations pipeline, they aimed to support JET alumni at all professional levels to ensure that they have the tools and resources to continue contributing to the improvement of U.S.-Japan relations in Washington DC.
The program kicked off on Saturday, September 12, 2020, the opening ceremony was held via Zoom. This event recognized the beginning of the JETAADC Mentorship Program, served as the first meeting for the mentor-mentee pairs, and served as a networking opportunity for the overall mentoring cohort. The event began with welcome remarks by the JETAADC Mentorship Program Coordinators, Ben Bajema and Jamila Barger, who were followed by Bahia Simons-Lane, USJETAA Executive Director, Shanti Shoji, Director of Programs at Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, and Rachel Reed, President of JETAADC. The ceremony featured a keynote address by JETAADC Founding member Paige-Cottingham Streater, Executive Director of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission; Secretary General of CULCON. Ms. Cottingham-Streater delivered a keynote address focusing on her experience with mentoring. Following the keynote, Ben and Jamila instructed the participants on the Mentorship Program and the mentor/mentee pairs had a chance to meet.
Mentor Talks was a virtual panel discussion focused on career development for JET alumni interested in U.S.-Japan relations. The event was held on November 17th, 7:00-8:15 PM EST on Zoom and open to JET alumni and friends across all JETAA chapters. Registration was required and attendees were given the option to ask questions following the panel discussion, or submit questions by email. Mentees were strongly encouraged to attend. The panel discussion was moderated by Program Coordinator, Ben Bajema and featured four panelists from the JETAADC Alumni community:
- Shanti Shoji, Director of Programs, Sasakawa USA
- David Boling, Deputy Assistant USTR for Japan, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
- Mya Fisher, Chief Executive and Transformation Officer, Global Equity Forward
- Jennifer Swanson, President, Swanson Language Services
The closing ceremony was held on January 16, 2021. The purpose of this event was to give mentors and mentees the opportunity to share their experiences and provide feedback to the program through presentations. Following the same format as the Opening Ceremony, the event began with remarks by JETAADC Mentorship Program Coordinators, Ben Bajema and Jamila Barger, who were followed by Bahia Simons-Lane, USJETAA Executive Director, Shanti Shoji, Director of Programs at Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA, and Rachel Reed, President of JETAADC. Paige Cottingham-Streater, Executive Director of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission; Secretary General of CULCON was invited again to give a keynote address. In her speech, Ms. Cottingham-Streater emphasized the importance of personal networks in U.S.-Japan relations, and the call for leaders in all professions and backgrounds to help educate others on the value of Japan and the U.S.-Japan friendship. Then, each mentee-mentor pair presented on their time together and what they gained from their partnership. For the mentees, gaining clarity on what they want to pursue, understanding the resources available to them, and a broader network in their specific area of interest in the U.S.-Japan arena were highlights of the experience.
JETAADC’s inaugural mentorship program served as a pilot program that can be used as a prototype for mentorship programs across all JETAA chapters. Both mentors and mentees reported growth and change as a result of participating in the mentorship program. The program represents an investment into the long-term engagement of JET alumni in U.S.-Japan relations.
The most significant results from the pre- and post-test surveys of the mentees was an 84.7% increase in knowledge about career paths in U.S.-Japan related fields. At the start of the program, most mentees reported that they were not knowledgeable about career paths in U.S.-Japan relations. One mentee commented,“My mentor and I worked on expanding my job search fields. Using the knowledge that she had about careers in U.S.-Japan relations we went over different organizations, fields, and opportunities that I might be interested in.”
During the closing ceremony presentations, the mentors and mentees shared the impact of the program and what they accomplished. Many mentors shared that this program challenged them to reflect on their own career paths and see how the job search has evolved since they returned from the JET program. The program was intended to help both mentees and mentors and this data shows that mentors were prepared to help their mentees, but they were also able to learn from the experience and reflect on their own professional development. Jeff, who has not been active in U.S.-Japan relations for about 10 years, greatly enjoyed working with Kelly and the opportunity to reconnect with JETAADC and the U.S.-Japan community. As a mentor, Jeff reflected on the value of sharing his story and how he was able to gain a greater perspective on his own career path and decisions. Quoting the saying, “the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else,” Jeff said his conversations with Kelly sometimes prompted him to think about how he can also improve how he approaches/does things. He concludes saying that lessons such as this were unexpected but truly valuable for mentors. By speaking with her mentee, Katherine, a career Foreign Service Officer, developed a new perspectives on her career and other ways that she could have a positive impact on the U.S.-Japan relationship and U.S. foreign policy.
Each mentee was able to identify concrete ways this program helped them with confidence and take action toward their future career goals.
The Mentor Talks discussion highlighted the following concepts:
- The power of the JET alumni network. The JET alumni network is vast and can lead to many exciting opportunities and experiences. It is important for JETs to connect authentically and be proactive in creating personal and professional networks. Alumni have the responsibility to share their experiences with others, especially recent JET returnees, as the JET connection could have a major impact in shaping someone’s career.
- The importance of Japanese cultural fluency. More Japanese companies and organizations are placing an emphasis on Japanese cultural fluency and knowledge instead of language skills. A familiarity of cultural nuances and working within Japanese culture is increasingly important. In addition, fields such as academia and politics require expertise beyond language and culture, and make it necessary to understand Japan’s role regionally and globally.
- Career paths are not always linear. JET alumni do not have to spend their entire careers in U.S.-Japan relations to contribute to the community. JET alumni should focus on identifying their skills and passions, and pursuing opportunities that they are excited about and see what it takes them. Take advantage of the JET network, connect with people, ask questions and most importantly, give back to the community.
JETAA Chicago J-Talks
Program dates: January 28, 2021; February 18, 2021
JETAA Chicago held two events as part of the J-Talks series funded by this grant. In total, 187 people attend the webinars, including 77 JET alumni and 105 Friends of JET (the public) from across the country and globally.
Finding Japan in the Midwest
On January 28, the JETAA Chicago held a virtual event, “J-Talks: Finding Japan in the Midwest,” which was sponsored by Sasakawa USA through a grant partnership with USJETAA. In their webinar series “Strengthening Ties Through Dialogue,” this first session explored Chicago’s Japanese communities’ hidden roots and discussed the role the Midwest plays in bridging US-Japan relations. The panel consisted of Mr. Erik Matsunaga, a writer and researcher who provided a virtual tour of Chicago’s historic Japantown; Mr. Dustin Henrich (Osaka, 2012-2014), President of the Heartland JET Alumni Association, who spoke on sister-city relations in the Midwest; and Ms. Jo Oyama-Miller, Board President of Madison-Obihiro Sister Cities, Inc who shared a touching look at the deep ties between the two cities and the transformative impact it has had on both communities. 96 people registered and 59 people attended, a higher number than their typical chapter events.
Mixed Multitudes: A Discussion about Identity in the U.S.-Japan Community
On February 18, 2021, JETAA Chicago presented the webinar “Mixed Multitudes” bringing together multiracial Japanese American/Nikkei speakers to explore their different experiences and help the attendees better understand and navigate the concepts of mixed-race identity in the US-Japan community. The six speakers, all of mixed Japanese descent, shared their insight and expertise in both a presentation and panel.
First, Dr. Mitzi Uehara Carter, Anthropologist and Interim Director for the Global Indigenous Forum at Florida International University, contextualized the discussion of multiracial identities. Using intersectionality as a framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social categorizations enable different modes of discrimination and privilege, these concepts foundational to the discussion were introduced, including an overview of hafu in Japan and nikkei in the U.S.
Second, a panel discussion covered topics such as how the multicultural identities in the speakers’ backgrounds affected their experiences in Japan, how these experiences informed their relationships with the U.S.-Japan community and how different aspects of their identities impacted cross-cultural relationships and understanding between Japan and the U.S. Panelists include Dr. Carter, Vinicius Taguchi, President of the Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League; Cori Lin, Artist; Jason Mattox, Core Leader of A JUST CHI of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago; Joan Ambo, Programs and Special Events Manager at Japanese American Service Committee; and moderator Lara (Zara) Espinoza, Vice President of JETAA Chicago (Shiga & Kyoto, 2010-2013).
There was a lot of interest in this topic with 170 registrants and 130 who attended live, which was a record for the chapter. Many attendees were from other notable national organizations such as the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice along with many JET alumni. Many attendees expressed desire to learn about the topic of multiracial/multiethnic identities in the U.S.-Japan community which Dr. Carter’s presentation centered around, and a majority of attendees identified Japanese ancestry.
A goal of this program was to foster discussion about understanding and navigating mixed race identity in the U.S.-Japan community through the lens of multiracial Japanese leaders, educators and activists. They aimed to show how JET alumni and others in the community can be bridges in advocating for more education and awareness around multiracial and intersectional identities.
We were impressed with the interest and impressive turnout for the J-Talks series. JETAA Chicago is very skilled at using social media to promote their events, which we credit for the impressive turnout. The topics covered were also unique to the types of issues typically addressed by JETAA chapters. One strength of this program was that it provided an opportunity for JETAA Chicago to engage with multiple organizations in the U.S.-Japan community and to bring so many speakers with expertise, such as Dr. Uehara Carter, to reach JET alumni and the U.S.-Japan community. These talks helped foster a greater understanding of the Japanese roots in Chicago, the importance of sister city relationships, an of some of the main differences and similarities between Japan and the USA in their ideas/mindsets and expanding on the many different ways people’s identity intersection impact them and others.
Additionally, JETAA Chicago had the experience of moderating their ideas to fit within the requirements of the goals of the grant, something that should serve them well should they seek to apply for grant funding in future. They also learned about utilizing new technology by using Zoom webinars for the first time. They plan to continue the J-Talks series in future with different topics.
JETAASC Kizuna: Connecting Little Tokyo’s Past and Present
Program date: February 10, 2021
On February 10, the JET Alumni Association of Southern California and Arizona (JETAASC) held “Connecting Little Tokyo’s Past & Present,” an informational webinar highlighting Los Angeles’ own Little Tokyo community. Panelists shared an overview of Little Tokyo’s history, its contributions to U.S-Japan relations, and its response to the pandemic including initiatives and community support. Panelists included Scott Oshima, Program Director, Sustainable Little Tokyo; Megan Teramoto, Small Business Counselor, Little Tokyo Service Center; and Kristin Fukushima, Managing Director, LTCC. The panel was attended by 69 individuals, including the 7 speakers and hosts. 22 of the registrants were members of JETAASC, 8 were JET alumni from different regions, and 32 were non-JET related participants.
Scott’s presentation covered different community projects Sustainable Little Tokyo has been offering to the Little Tokyo community such as the Bokashi Club, a group centered on Japanese traditions of composting, and the First Street North Project, a community response to protecting First Street North, a street filled with local Japanese-American businesses, some spanning back 70+ years. Megan shared stories of the impact of Little Tokyo Service Center’s work in the community, such as providing affordable housing and supporting small businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic. She explained both the rewarding aspects of supporting the small businesses along with challenges they have been facing such as offering translation services. Lastly, Kristin shared the history and background of the Little Tokyo Community Council, and its initiatives in supporting local businesses and residents in the community, such as the Little Tokyo Small Business Relief Fund, Go Little Tokyo, and Community Feeding Community. Her presentation also offered ways for the JETAASC community to volunteer with LTCC such as through offering graphic design and translation services. The panel was followed by a Q&A.
This event was the first time for JETAASC to work with Sustainable Little Tokyo, LTSC, and LTCC. Developing relationships with these organizations due to this grant program has opened doors for future collaboration between JETAASC and these Japanese community organizations. JETAASC intends to collaborate with these organizations again once COVID is over. Several individuals reached out to JETAASC after the event with personal feedback via email and social media to say that they enjoyed the event and learned a lot about Little Tokyo’s history and culture. Many participants mentioned that they were inspired to volunteer and support Little Tokyo afterwards. JETAASC is thinking about organizing a volunteer activity for JETAASC members to give back and support Little Tokyo.
Some participants wrote in their feedback that they would like more events on Little Tokyo, for example, a webinar focused on Little Tokyo’s history. One participant asked if they could have an event on the history of Bronzeville and what happened to Little Tokyo leading up to and after World War II. They learned that a JET alumnus even created a play about the Bronzeville neighborhood of Little Tokyo and are considering how they can organize a Q&A session with the director and collaborate with the Little Tokyo community on an event.
In addition to building these community relationships and ideas for future events with the Little Tokyo community, this was the first time for the organizers of the event, the co-presidents of JETAASC, to hold a virtual event like this. They reported that they learned a lot about preparing for things to not go as planned, the timing of promotion for events, and that the community is interested in partnering with their JETAA chapter.
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