By John Syme
On March 11, Marshall Adams ’91 and Mika Nabeshima ’91 were moving into their new apartment in Yokohama. Then the earthquake struck. “The furniture was moving, so I moved to a doorway in a concrete wall,” Adams wrote on his blog that day. “Our place is on the ninth floor, so the building was really rocking. A few books fell, one tall floor lamp, and one box of photos, but luckily that’s all at our place.”
In the ensuing weeks and months, Adams blogged about Japan’s power blackouts, quake reports, radiation levels, and news coverage— including an interview he did with a hyperlocal news site in La Cañada, Calif., where he and Nabeshima and their two boys lived recently.
Adams and Nabeshima are two of the many Davidson alumni who have participated in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. And while most participants haven’t had their same degree of cultural immersion—marriage, children, and dual transpacific careers in Japanese corporations and in urban planning— they do share many perspectives.
Davidson JET alumni see their teaching experiences in Japan as a logical extension of the global and liberal arts perspectives they developed at Davidson.
“I wanted to see if I liked teaching, and I wanted to see the world,” said Julia Kudravetz ’02, an English major and French minor. It turned out she did like teaching, very much. She got an M.F.A. in poetry and is an English instructor at Lynchburg College. She said that teaching in the small mountain village of Takayama has been seminal to her understanding of the teaching profession.
“It was really about learning how to teach anyone anything, or at least learning how to teach when you don’t have a lot of initial understanding and resources!” she said.
“I had hoped that spending a year in a small fishing village
on the other side of the world would give me the ‘Aha!’ revelation
of what to do with my life.”
Callie Seymour ’09, a Spanish major and former JET teacher in Shimonoseki City in Yamaguchi Prefecture said, “I found what I think many Davidson grads find…that a Davidson education means you are not constrained by your major….I have many friends who taught English in other countries, and I have yet to hear of another program that takes care of its participants like JET does, or expects as much of them.”
Emily Moser ’07, who studied art history and French at Davidson, was assigned to teach in a small oceanside town called Onagawa.
“At the time, you couldn’t even Google it—there was nothing in English written about it!” she said. “I had hoped that spending a year in a small fishing village on the other side of the world would give me the ‘Aha!’ revelation of what to do with my life. It didn’t; but it did give me an entirely different worldview, an awareness of how the American perspective is only one way to view the world,” said Moser, now a Teach Abroad coordinator in Maine for the international student placement organization CIEE.
“Even now, three years later, my relationship with the JET Program continues to evolve. The town I taught in was hardest hit by the tsunami, and the response by the JET community was overwhelming. Within hours of the news, thousands of JET alums pulled together on Facebook and other social media sites to develop fundraisers and relief efforts,” she said.
Back in Yokohama, Adams and Nabeshima are returning to Japanese lifestyles after their family’s most recent stint stateside.
“Sometimes you feel at a loss, like what in the hell is going on?’” Adams said, “but I’ve been honed and sharpened by studying religion or politics or history at Davidson to get around the headlines and my own biases. That’s why I’ve been able to enjoy it so much living here. I like to think that I’m open-minded, and I don’t think I was just born like that.”
Photo: Courtesy Callie Seymour