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Three New Hendrix Grads Preparing to JET

CONWAY, Ark. (May 23, 2018) – A long-term, cross-cultural adventure is in store for three 2018 Hendrix College graduates. On August 3, they’ll convene in Nashville to begin their training. The next day, they’ll fly to Tokyo to complete the process of becoming Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. JET is highly selective, with 4,000 to 5,000 applicants competing for approximately 1,000 positions in communities throughout Japan.

Lena Pham of Fort Smith, Ark., Pete Wills of Memphis, Tenn., and Laela Zaidi of Joplin, Mo., will report to their assigned locations in Japan for a minimum of one year, with the option to extend their contracts for up to five years.

In addition to their roles as teachers, the trio will have ample opportunities to learn – though the work required before and during the application process meant their learning began some time ago. Pham, Wills, and Zaidi all took a Japanese language class with Gwen Stockwell, director of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and International Student Services for Hendrix. They all used the language-learning app Duolingo to stay sharp on their Japanese vocabulary. And both Pham and Wills also attended a semester’s worth of weekly tutoring sessions with Aya Murata, who spent the past two years at Hendrix as a coordinator for the Japan Outreach Initiative.

“We’ve all worked to learn as much as we can in advance, but being immersed in Japanese language and culture long-term will offer an experience that we just can’t get in the U.S.,” said Wills, a biology major/psychology minor who graduated cum laude with distinction. Following the training in Tokyo, he will report to Kagoshima Prefecture to begin teaching.

Their cultural awareness also has increased thanks to Murata’s presence on campus and the programs she has provided. More opportunities to interact with Japanese citizens came in the Spring semester, when the campus hosted students associated with the Kakehashi Project, and Pham took part in a reciprocal visit to Japan alongside fellow Hendrix students and staff.

Though they didn’t know at the time of the Kakehashi Project visits that they would be accepted to the JET Program, they made the most of their time interacting with their Japanese peers. “It definitely motivated us to prepare and give it our all throughout the interview process,” said Zaidi, a religious studies major who graduated magna cum laude with distinction. She has been assigned to teach in the city of Ozu-shi in the Ehime Prefecture.

By living and working in Japanese communities, JET Program participants will represent the United States as cultural ambassadors and help to promote intercultural exchange and understanding.

“I am looking forward to bonding with students in the classroom and exploring everything that Japan has to offer,” said Pham, an anthropology major/Asian studies minor who graduated summa cum laude with distinction. Her placement with JET is Shizuoka-shi in the Shizuoka Prefecture.

About the JET Program

The JET Program is a competitive employment opportunity that allows young professionals to live and work in cities, towns, and villages throughout Japan. Most participants serve as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) and work in public and private schools throughout Japan; some work as Coordinators for International Relations (CIRs) as interpreters/translators. Since the JET Program was founded in 1987, more than 61,000 global participants (including nearly 32,000 Americans) have worked in schools, boards of education, and government offices throughout Japan.

About Hendrix College

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit