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CIS Alumni Spotlight: Kamala Frazier '18 on Living and Teaching in Japan
Many students have a goal of living and working abroad after graduation, and for those who have studied abroad during their time at OU, the pull to explore the world can be even stronger. December 2018 graduate Kamala Frazier is one of those students who managed to make it happen.
An International Studies major with minors in Psychology and Japanese, Frazier, who hails from Edmond, sought a career move that would allow her to return to Japan, the country she fell in love with during her study abroad experience. She decided to apply for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program and was hired as Assistant English Teacher in Kyotango City, Kyoto Prefecture, where she has continued to work throughout the pandemic. Though living abroad alone was difficult at first, she has adjusted happily to life overseas.
The CIS Snapshot spoke with Kamala on how she made her dream a reality, her experiences teaching in Japan and her advice for students interested in a similar path.
How did you get interested in living abroad in Japan, and what prompted you to apply to the JET Program?
I studied abroad for a semester, spring 2018, at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto City. I mostly studied the Japanese language through their intensive language track, but I also participated in other cultural classes, such as Wagashi, or Japanese confectionery. I really enjoyed my time in Japan studying and traveling around the beautiful country.
When I came back to the US that fall I unexpectedly found out that it would be my final semester at OU. Therefore, I wanted to be as involved on campus as possible before graduating. I became more involved in the Japanese Club, creating many memories and making friends with the Japanese exchange students. The Japanese teachers would often promote the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, especially in the fall because the deadline to apply is in November. Since graduation came a bit earlier for me than expected, I was still unsure of what I wanted to do in the future. However, after some thought I wondered what it would like to be a teacher since I love kids and helping others. So, I thought JET would be a good program for me to see if I liked teaching abroad and it would give me an opportunity to return to Japan.
Tell us about your job as Assistant English Teacher. What do you do day to day?
I currently teach at one junior high school and three elementary schools. I work alongside the Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs) assisting with various tasks. I typically have three to six classes per day, usually more at the elementary schools. During class, I do a lot of reading and pronunciation work, as well as creating example sentences using new grammar and making skits or example conversations with the JTEs. On days that the students are doing writing or speaking practice, I help answer questions and think of ways to express the student’s thoughts in simple English that suits their levels. Outside of class, I check almost all of the students’ writing and correct it. I also create a monthly English Board at the junior high school, which I create materials for in my spare time. I usually post American and world holidays, an interactive English activity and recent highlights of my life in Japan.
What are some of the things you like most about living in Japan and teaching? Do you have some favorite places you've visited?
I absolutely love my placement city and I think I am very lucky to be placed in such a wonderful and warm community. Kyotango City has both the mountains for hiking trips and the sea for swimming and BBQs with friends. The people here are very kind and helpful. My students are wonderful and I enjoy talking with them and learning with them in class every day. One of the things I love about my job is that during vacation I can travel across the country. Of my travels, my favorite trips would be Hokkaido for the snow festival and cycling across Shimanami Kaido (a cycling route across islands in Hiroshima and Ehime prefectures). Also, Japan’s cherry blossoms in spring are beautiful and the bright colors in fall are stunning as well; both seasons are a wonderful time to be in Japan.
What have been the biggest challenges about moving abroad to teach?
I definitely think that the first few months were the most overwhelming and difficult for me personally because as an early arrival everything happened very quickly, so it took some time for the shock and other emotions to hit. I interviewed in February, received my acceptance notification in March, and flew out in April. It was also the very first time I was living completely alone, without roommates. So the first few months were also a bit lonely since I hadn’t met my current friend group yet.
I am extremely grateful to one of the Board of Education workers, who was also a JET, for reaching out to me and inviting me to eat and hang out in the beginning. Because of them, I was able to meet all of the amazing friends I have now. The other difficult thing would be going to classes completely unprepared since I didn’t really have any prior teaching experience. It took some getting used to and I had to figure out how slow I needed to talk and what kind of English I needed to use, so my students could understand me. It almost feels like a different language, but I can adjust my speech with little problems now compared to when I first started out.
How has the pandemic affected your work and experience?
Surprisingly, not much changed when the pandemic came to Japan. Classes were canceled during the first wave in March, but soon classes resumed in late April and continued normally in May of last year. We still meet for class now, but we have to wear a mask and check our temperatures every morning. When the pandemic first came and we were encouraged to stay home, I will admit it I was lonely being alone in an apartment all day with no social interaction.
If students are interested in working in a position like this after graduation, do you have any advice for them? What should they do to prepare?
I definitely would say don’t be afraid to try. If it looks like something you would enjoy and you want to apply, just go for it. You never know what will happen. As for credentials, having a TEFL or any kind of teaching experience will make you stand out. Also, this kind of position definitely requires flexibility and adaptability, especially since you will be moving to a completely different country, with a very different culture from your own and you will need to be very open-minded and patient. Getting involved on campus, or other extracurricular activities that can help you develop these kinds of soft skills will be beneficial. Get out of your comfort zone as much as possible because I guarantee you that you will be out of your comfort zone a lot while transitioning to working abroad. One of the best things I learned while working in Japan and on the JET program was learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Anything else you'd like to share?
I want to say that if you have the time to do a study abroad experience during your time at OU, I encourage you to do so. Even if you think it won’t benefit your major, or it will delay your graduation — I know, it may not seem like something you need for majors like mathematics or engineering. However, traveling abroad isn’t just for the students who have to, or who are studying language or history. Traveling abroad is an opportunity to grow as a person, to learn about new perspectives and ways of thinking from other countries and cultures from around the world.