Crossing Boundaries

June 1, 2002

JETs all the way: convening at the Ogaki Festival

JETs all the way: convening at the Ogaki Festival.

The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program has been called "one of the most unusual revolutions in world history." Proposed as a "gift" to the American delegation at the 1986 summit between U.S. President Reagan and Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone, its objective is monumental: to turn an island country's buzzword of "internationalization" into reality.

Achieving this goal today requires colossal measures: a nearly $500-million annual budget and more than 6,000 foreign JET participants from forty countries around the world. JETs are active in almost every one of the 3,000 Japanese municipalities, either as foreign language instructors, sports coaches, or international coordinators in local government offices. Despite some early criticism, Japanese officials and foreign participants alike have touted the program as one of the most successful policies of the postwar era.

The vast majority of JETs are classified as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs). Most ALTs are placed in public junior high or high schools, though there is a growing emphasis on placing JETs in elementary schools as well. Their jobs entail not only formal instruction within the Japanese public school system, but also participation in a number of local "internationalization" events, from leading adult discussion groups to carrying omikoshi (small shrines) through the streets for annual festivals. The goal is true cultural exchange, with JETs acting both as teachers of foreign ideas and language and as students of Japanese culture for sharing with their homelands.

With today's strong focus on globalization and cross-cultural understanding, JET has become a popular alternative to immediate immersion in the working world post-graduation. Between twenty-five and thirty graduating Duke seniors apply for JET every year, according to Career Development Center interim co-director Donna Harner.

Says Harner, "It's the best supported and best organized international teaching opportunity out there, and there's so much emphasis placed on cultural exchange. Plus, the teachers are really valued by the community they serve--that's the real difference."