Backtrack #21: Just A Lot of Heartful People (Ingrid Lezar, Uchiko ALT 2008-2011)

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What’s your name, when and where was your placement, and where are you from originally?

I’m Ingrid Lezar (née Strasheim), originally from Stellenbosch, South Africa. My placement was in Uchiko from 2008 to 2011. 

 How did you find out about JET, and what led you to apply?

I was interested in TEFL as an option for going abroad, since I’d only ever been to South Africa’s neighbouring country of Namibia at that stage – 2007. I think someone mentioned JET to me. Japan and JET both seemed like the most ideal option in terms of what was available.

 What did you hope to achieve during your time on JET, and did that change over time?

I don’t recall exactly; I guess I wanted to learn Japanese and get to know Japan, travel, also improve my fledgling skills as an EFL teacher. Over time I realised I could offer students a small window onto other worlds, to bring them just a little bit closer than a book or a video might by itself. So in looking to expand my own horizons I hopefully returned the favour in a small way. 

What is your lasting impression of the work you did on JET and the communities you were part of?

The international association in Uchiko has “heartful” as its motto – “Heartful UTIA” – and really just a lot of heartful people all around is what I will always remember. So many people, especially our UTIA and BOE colleagues and our eikaiwa students, as well as some teachers, really took it upon themselves to help us and make us feel at home.  

Where did JET lead you?

I think living in an environment that was so radically foreign to me at the time was an important ingredient in my quest to understand the workings of information exchange and communication better.   

One of the biggest concerns for JETs is what they are going to do when they finished JET. Did your plans for after JET change during your time on JET, and if so, how?

I honestly don’t quite recall what my plans were. I suspect I thought I would teach English for some time to come. I probably also planned to study further, which I did eventually do.  

What did you end up doing immediately after your time on JET?

My husband and I moved to Germany with a job offer he got. I spent some months mainly focusing on learning German and then also got back into TEFL for a while. After two years I then registered for a master’s degree in Estonia and spent the next two years between Estonia and Germany.   

For JETs currently working out what they want to do when they finish, what advice would you give them?

I think there’s a balance one is always trying to maintain and optimise, especially if you’re a generalist like me, between what you are able to do and what you want to do. And certain factors will push you around, money of course being a key one, but also time or family commitments. So maybe you can teach English or communicate in Japanese but these skills aren’t central to where you’re headed. I think it makes sense to use your current abilities to get by, but don’t lose sight of your bigger goals. No step is too small, all that matters is that we keep taking them regularly. Then opportunities to go more fully into the desired direction are bound to come up.   

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