by Thomas Lin
In July of 2012, I took 32 high school students from all across the United States for a two week study tour in Japan including the Tohoku region, which focused on the two cities of Rikuzentakata and Ishinomaki. These were the cities that Montgomery Dickson and Taylor Anderson were assigned to during their tenure as JET Assistant Language Teachers. The JET Memorial Invitation Program (JET-MIP) is dedicated to these two aspiring individuals who worked hard to promote exchanges between Japan and the United States and built lasting friendship between people of both countries. Sadly, both Monty and Taylor lost their lives during the March 11 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami and the JET Memorial Invitation Program was started to continue their work by nurturing future generations to build networks with their counterparts in Japan. Building bridges is the theme of the program as the participants sought to discover their passion as it relates to Japan and consider a future in international diplomacy through programs such as JET.
JET-MIP was started last year and the 2012 program is the second year of a five year program. I was assigned to this project early on and was tasked with handling the application and participant selection. We had a competitive application process to find 32 of the best Japanese-language students in the US. First applicants had to take a Japanese-language test in the form of the National Japanese Exam organized by the American Association of Teachers of Japanese. The second new element was the online Skype interview to determine the applicants speaking ability and also to get an initial impression of their personality. After the interviews, we selected 32 participants and also had a few on the waiting list in case any of the selected were unable to participate. In the end the 32 students we selected ended up all going on the trip and based on the feedback we received, this group was very well rounded and received multiple compliments about their Japanese-Language abilities.
In the weeks leading up to the departure date, I setup a Facebook group for the 2012 participants so they could get to know each other online so the ice breaking process would be easier once everyone met face to face. I also sent out weekly email updates to inform the group of the itinerary and to provide useful information and answers to questions that would help them prepare for the trip. Since this was the first year everyone participated in the Tohoku study tour (2011 participants were given the option of going to either Kobe or Iwate for their study tour), the itinerary and lodging changed constantly and was not finalized until right before we left for Japan. The two major cities that we planned to visit was still in recovery mode so it was a challenge to arrange accommodation for 32 students, but in the end the staff at the Kansai Center worked tirelessly to arrange the Tohoku itinerary.
As the departure date neared, everyone become more and more excited and the frequency of posts on Facebook also increased. All the participants were eager to meet each other as well as go to Japan, many for the first time. We were busy here in Los Angeles as well preparing for the pre-departure orientation and getting everything ready so this event would go off without a hitch. Then on the morning of Sunday, July 8th, we headed to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to pick up the participants to officially start the 2012 JET Memorial Invitation Program.
Next Issue: Pre-Departure Orientation