Building AJET: The President’s Summary

By Lee Anne Ledwell

My name is Lee Anne Ledwell and, as I’m sure most of you are aware, I was the Ehime AJET President from 2018-2019. Together with the current president, Laura Beardslee, we were able to rejuvenate Ehime AJET into the blossoming organization you know today. I wanted to take the time to write out this article explaining everything that has happened with Ehime AJET from its resurrection to what our council has accomplished this year to where I hope future councils will lead us.

I became interested in AJET after seeing the hard work Imani Cruz (the former “Leader”- more info on that later) put into raising money for the study abroad scholarship for one lucky high school student at the Skills Development Conference in Matsuyama in December 2017. As a former study abroad student myself, I wanted to help our students gain that experience as well. Needless to say, our prefecture is pretty rural, so I want to give any opportunity we can to our students to explore the world and other cultures. I emailed the official Ehime AJET account asking to join and help with the scholarship. When I got the reply, I. Was. TRIGGERED!

(Hold onto your tea, sisters. Cuz it’s about to get spilt.)

Before Laura and I, the RAs and PAs decided to split up the responsibility of hosting AJET events and helping a determined few to continue the Ehime AJET Scholarship as there was no longer an AJET council. Imani wasn’t officially elected as president, so she called herself a leader. Imani and a few others still fundraised for the scholarship, but weren’t able to send anyone abroad last summer. Those before me were just doing their best to keep the ball rolling so that the scholarship (a once in a lifetime opportunity for our students) wouldn’t die.

When I joined AJET, I was still a first year JET, but I realized pretty quickly that no one else would be joining me. I wasn’t sure if I could handle being the sole person responsible for restarting AJET. As you can imagine, things like depression and anxiety are often extremely unhelpful in the face of sudden, overwhelming challenges. They’re like two devils on either of my shoulders bickering.

“This is a lot for one person!” my depression said. “You aren’t that good at talking to people.”

“But if you don’t, those students won’t get a chance to study abroad like you did!” my anxiety chimed in.

It went like that, back and forth, on and on.

“Who’s going to help me?” depression would ask.

“You’ve already committed. It’s selfish to just do nothing!” my anxiety would reply.

I worried about not only my own workload, but also about what others might think of me if I asked them to add to theirs. I knew that I wanted to do my part, but I was stuck needing help and too scared to ask for it. I didn’t even know where to start.

There was a lot of confusion surrounding AJET, but I jumped head first into the abyss. Luckily for me, Laura found out that Imani passed me the baton, and like the beautiful opera-singing angel she is, she fluttered into my DMs all the way from Ainan to the other side of the prefecture in the islands of Imabari. We discussed for months about how to make AJET a thing again in Ehime. We not only wanted to get our shit together before the new contract year, but also to give the incoming JETs of 2018 a chance to run for a position on our council. So, we held an election for a half-term in September that really ended up not being an election because everyone ran unopposed. (Not that I’m complaining. My fellow council members were great.)

In just six months, I feel like our council has accomplished so much. For me, I feel like the biggest accomplishment is, simply put, the fact that it exists. Besides that, we have written out procedures and guides for future councils, raised money for two high school students to study abroad this summer, revamped our website and Facebook page, and hosted fun events such as the Murder Mystery Dinner and the SDC enkai. Thanks again to our RAs for being such good sports during the enkai. We had a competition between the three regions for who could raise the most money during the enkai for the scholarship, and Jose Catalan from Toyo A took on that cake to the face like a champ! I also think our Event Coordinators, Kate Flake and Ada Smith, really deserve a round of applause for setting up all of our events. It’s a big responsibility to take on, but they work so well together as a team. I feel confident that they will continue to host interesting and successful events this term as well.

Like I said at the beginning, the scholarship was my main reason for joining AJET. I’m so proud of everyone for meeting our goal so early. In previous years, Ehime AJET gave ¥200,000 (roughly $2,000 USD) to one student, but we wanted to help more than just one person. We reorganized things a little bit and, as a council, decided that our scholarship will be split between two recipients: ¥100,000 ($1,000 USD) each. If in the future the council feels that they can fundraise more, they can reorganize as they see fit. But for now, I feel like this is where AJET is comfortable staying at. The current council will be deciding this year’s recipients, so Senior High School ALTs be listening for more info to pass onto your students.

As a side note for the blog, we have returned to regular posting thanks to our wonderful editor, Jordan Rocke, and our many volunteer writers. I hope you all have had the chance to read our past articles and look forward to our future ones. One of my current favorite articles is “The Nightmare of Names” by Tim Van Gardingen. As someone with between 700 and 800 students (too many for me to actually count), I find it very relatable. I teach at two junior high schools and three elementary schools across two islands in the Seto Inland Sea. I remember faces easily, but the kanji on their name tags are just impossible. I appreciate Tim for being able to put my feelings and frustrations into words. I’m sure many of us feel the same way, and that’s why we have the Mikan Blog. It’s important for us to build and maintain this community so that we don’t feel alone or overwhelmed by the struggles of our unique jobs as JETs.

In the future, I hope that we have more diverse volunteers come forward to write on topics such as LGBT+ experiences, POC experiences, mental health issues, and even just your own experiences before, during, or after JET. I want there to be at least one article you- the reader- can relate to. If there’s not one that speaks to you, consider writing one yourself. They say Every Situation is Different, but I’ve found that that we share more things in common than not. I feel like ESID is just a phrase that people say to cover their ass in case their advice to you doesn’t help. (Y’all still got tea left to sip?) ESID is not the be-all, end-all answer to everything. Everyone has something valuable to add to our community, and I find it important that we support each other. The Mikan Blog is just one way we accomplish that.

Aside from the blog, my hopes for the future of Ehime AJET is that we grab the attention of more local JETs. I hope for more people to throw their hat into our elections and to sign up for our short term volunteer list. The more people we have involved, the better able we will be to host events, raise money for our scholarship, and expand to even greater things. Now that we are more active online and on social media, I personally feel that it will become a reality. I have faith in our current council to get the job done and make AJET a household name in Ehime again.

I was nervous joining Ehime AJET (and writing this article) at first, but I couldn’t be happier that I did. I’ve overcome my own inner struggles to create something that I hope will last as long as the JET Program(me) does. I’m so grateful for those who chose to step up and contribute to this wonderful organization, and I genuinely consider you all as friends now. I couldn’t have made it this far without you.

Lee Anne Ledwell is a second-year ALT living in Hakata Island of Imabari City. She is from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, USA and has a degree in Foreign Languages with a concentration in Japanese. She enjoys singing, traveling, and petting every dog that crosses her path.

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