Unbeaten Paths: Nanyo Summer 2022 – New Faces in the Inaka

Edited by Jordan Rocke

G’day everyone! Finally, here’s our beloved small town newcomers in the Inaka heart of Ehime, Nanyo! This isn’t just the final Unbeaten Paths for this year, but assuming there is no surprise flood of Ehime JETs between now and April 2023, this will be the last Unbeaten Paths that I (Jordan) will be running. This is the 12th entry in the series, and I’m so incredibly blown away each year by how many people are willing to take the time to write up an introduction to put out into the world, saying hello to the other JETs in Ehime. What started 3 years ago as a simple project to allow JETs from smaller participating countries to talk about how they became interested in JET without the networks that US, American and Canadian JETs have has turned into a project that occupies a spot on my calendar every year (or several spots, thanks to the odd arrival patterns COVID forced on us). During COVID, where events are often difficult to justify, it has been a wonderful way for me, and hopefully others, to learn a little about the other JETs who aren’t that far away.

I won’t ramble any further, but thank you again to everyone who has read and/or written for these articles, and a special thanks to Farah in Niihama, who used the phrase “Unbeaten Paths” in her entry in the original 2019 post, and I haven’t stopped using it since! Anyway, onto the JETs!

Prefectural

Mishal Butt (Uwajima)

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Hello everyone! My name is Mishal, and I am an Uwajima JET. I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada and moved to Uwajima approximately two months ago. 

Before moving to Japan, I helped shift my parents’ small storefront business online. It was very challenging; I learned a lot and wouldn’t be the person I am today without the experience. However, I also realized that life is too short to sit behind a computer all day. What I thought was originally my dream soon turned into something I dreaded doing every day. I felt stuck in a routine and like I had reached a plateau in my personal growth. I decided I wanted to challenge myself and move to a country I know very little about and try a job I have no experience with. One thing led to another, and here I am! 

Besides my job, my hobbies include hiking, skiing, and rock climbing. I am honestly not very good at any of my hobbies, but I enjoy them, and I think that’s what matters the most. I love the outdoors very much, but at the same time, I am also a huge scaredy cat, so I always need a bit of a push to get out of my comfort zone.

Before coming to Uwajima, I was very nervous. Although I decided to put “rural” on my application, when the time came, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to adjust to living in a small town in Japan. Despite my initial reservations, I am happy living in Uwajima. My teachers have been nothing but welcoming to me. Even the town has been so wonderful, and I love the community feeling in my town. It honestly doesn’t feel like a small town to me; I think Japan’s version of a small town is very different than Canada’s. 

I look forward to the many new experiences and growth from this experience. To anyone reading this, I am always down for a fun time! So, if you ever want to hang out, please don’t hesitate to reach out. 🙂

Kihoku

Nicole Hiroi

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Hi everyone! My name is Nicole Hiroi (she/her) and I’m a current JET placed in Kihoku-Cho. Between myself and the other ALT in our town, we split 8 schools (6 elementary and 2 middle schools). Although this sounded overwhelming at first, it’s incredibly entertaining and super fun to meet students and teachers across different areas of our town. The people in Ehime are truly the kindest and I’m thankful to be here.

A bit about myself- I grew up in Huntington Beach, CA, USA, and went to the University of San Francisco for both my Bachelors and Masters in Nursing. Before coming to Japan, I worked as a nurse for 5 years and worked my way up to the supervisor level on a heart failure/transplantation unit in Los Angeles before deciding that I wanted to apply for the JET program. Fun fact about me is that I sold my house in LA to move to Japan! 

It’s obviously very different and a huge change to be working as an ALT now but I’ve always felt that it’s important to follow the paths you feel called to. I’m half Japanese and always wanted to be able to connect with this part of my identity and I’m so happy to be able to do that now. I completed a homestay in Osaka when I was in high school but couldn’t get it out of my head that I wanted to move back for longer. I also traveled to Japan with my husband, Kent, so it’s been super fun to explore new places with him on our first year of marriage, and to have him meet old friends and family. Ehime is great though and not where my family is from so it gives people an excuse to come visit us and see something new! I can’t wait to continue exploring and enjoying our time here.

Uchiko

Jennifer Nagenrauft (CIR)

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Hey everyone,

I’m Jennifer Nagenrauft from Germany and I now work as a CIR in the cute little town of Uchiko. Please call me Jenny. 

I am originally from the southern part of Germany, the region around Munich, but moved to the West of the country, specifically to the wonderful city of Bonn for my Master’s Degree in Asian Studies. After my graduation I started working at a global mobility service company and supported foreigners with their relocation to Germany. From my background you can already tell that I love working with people from different countries and cultures, and that I’m always open to learn new things. In my private life I like to hike and take walks and I’m always down for a good beer with good friends. 

My relationship with Japan started – and I assume some of you can relate – with Anime and the Ghibli movies. I started to learn the language as a minor subject at university and finally made it to the land of the rising sun for the first time in April 2016. The feeling was exactly like I have imagined. From then, I came back two more times, with one stay being an exchange year from 2018 – 2019 at the University of Tsukuba in Ibaraki-ken. 

Now I’m really happy for this new opportunity to stay in Uchiko as a JET and to experience a completely different life. Since I came here in late August, I’ve already met so many nice people and got to know the surroundings, mostly exploring them by bike. The people in Uchiko are very welcoming and I try to join as many community events as possible. 

See you around, cheers!

Ozu

Emily Guo

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My name is Emily (she/her) and I arrived as an Ozu JET this past summer. 

Before coming, I felt nervous about a lot of aspects of life as a JET. I’d never taught in a school before and came in with very elementary Japanese. This was my second time in Japan, the first was a family trip to Kyoto and Tokyo when I was maybe six years old. Other than what I’d seen in anime and other media, I felt I knew very little about what living in Japan might be like. I was jumping into a lot of unknowns.

I’m originally from the Boston area and studied at a university near Chicago. As to “why JET,” I initially applied to JET at the height of the pandemic. I had just moved home from college after graduating in 2020 and was working at a couple coffee shops and looking for new experiences to grow in. I ended up getting Alternate that year and had pretty much moved on – signing a new job contract and a lease – when the email that I was upgraded came in. After a turbulent and emotional week, I declined and resolved to apply again for the next year. I got accepted the second time around, but to be honest I was in a pretty different place when it came time to accept and depart than when I applied. My reasons for going feel like they got less clear the closer it got. But I’ve always thought that the reasons we do things tend to reveal themselves in hindsight, anyway, so I’ll have to wait and see.

It’s been about three months since arriving here. From time to time, people ask me “Nihon wo nareta?” Are you used to Japan? to which I have no good answer other than, “yuukuri yuukuri” – slowly, slowly. I’m not sure what answer there even is to that question. Some days feel better, some days are still hard.  Classes are slowly getting easier. I panic a little less if my JTE has to leave the classroom. I recognize more students and remember a few names on a good day. I remind myself that even if I don’t know how to say something perfectly in Japanese, I can say what I know and somehow the meaning will get across. I bought some winter blankets and warmer clothes to feel more cozy as the chill in the mornings and at night linger a bit longer.

As winter rolls around, things will undoubtedly get a little harder. There will be new challenges to overcome in the next season but that’s okay. Having peers in fellow JETs helps – people who have gone through a lot of those bumps themselves and have felt the rewards of working with students. We’ve all gone through or are going through it at some point. So, nice to meet you! Looking forward to being in your company for the next while – yoroshiku onegaishimasu 🙂

Patricia Sroka

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Everyone has different dreams for the future, but dreams are important to each person.

Hello! Nice to meet all of you! My name is Patricia Sroka. I was born and raised in New Jersey. Currently, I am located in Nagahama, Ozu, Ehime and working at five schools. Interacting with various colleagues and students brings joy to my life! I enjoy spending my time among the local residents and in nature. 

I graduated from Montclair State University in 2020 with a BA in English and minors in Asian Languages, Asian Studies, and Japanese. After graduating, I became a substitute teacher. Coming from a large city, I was able to learn, observe, and teach in multiple schools. I really enjoyed teaching in elementary schools where I was able to teach many different subjects and grades. As a JET Program Participant,  I am able to combine my passions for teaching English, learning Japanese, and writing. 

But why Japan, you may ask?  In high school, I became interested in Japanese history and school life. I am fascinated by the influence samurai had on Japanese society. Additionally, I am interested in how Buddhism and Confucianism shaped the various schools of teaching. Also, I enjoy learning kanji. Being able to read kanji in literature would be a dream come true! Besides Japanese history, I enjoy watching Japanese dramas and listening to music such as J-Pop and J-Rock. I am grateful to be given the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the culture I am passionately learning about. 

As a person who grew up with a Polish background, language and culture play an important role in my identity. I have been to many countries in Europe such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, and Poland. It is always refreshing to visit the country where my parents came from. I also traveled to Canada, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. This is my second time in Japan. I love exploring new landmarks, nature, and customs. I think it is an interesting experience to interact with people from around the world.

Now, what do I do in my free time? I like to explore Ozu and Matsuyama on the weekends. During the weekdays, you will see me either playing with the students or assisting the other teachers. When the weather is nice, I like camping, hiking, rafting, and playing badminton. On other days, I usually read books, watch dramas, or listen to music. The world has so much to offer in the form of art that it is impossible to not to enjoy them!

By becoming an Assistant Language Teacher, I hope that students will enjoy learning English. Also, I hope that I can inspire them to take an interest in different countries and cultures. As much as I want students to learn what the world has to offer, I also want to learn about Japan from them. I want to be able to converse with my colleagues and students in both English and Japanese. Hence, being in the JET program provides me the opportunity to strive for my goals!

Uwajima

Ashley Leung

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Hello! My name is Ashley, and I’m from Los Angeles, California (*sips green juice*). I’ve been an ALT at Uwajima for about three months, and it’s been cultivating to say the least! 

I enjoy reading, watching dramas, and occasionally dancing in my free time. Severance by Ling Ma and Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville are two of my favorite stories, partially due to sheer relatability. My favorite dramas include The Untamed and Goblin. Love me some slow-burn romance with intricate plots!

My parents immigrated from China to the U.S. in their 20s, and I was able to grow up under the influence of multiple cultures. Chinese is actually my first language (despite being more fluent in English now), and I’m still trying to brush up my Chinese reading/writing skills (which are at about the level of a third grader…). As an only child, it was always exciting to visit extended family in Xi’an. Now that most of my cousins are adulting, marrying, having kids, and whatnot, I do reminisce about being a cheeky kiddo around them. I’ve managed to meet two junior high students here who are from China (what are they doing in this small city, I’ve wondered). One of them constantly asks me if I’ve learned Japanese yet; I’m sorry to disappoint him everytime…

I’m also constantly listening to music (part of the survival pack for living alone, I guess). The Japanese grandpa tending to his front yard in the late afternoon absolutely hears Taylor Swift blasting from my phone as I walk back from work. Joji, Lana Del Rey, Coldplay, CORPSE, Mitski (her “Once More to See You” is the most romantic expression) are great.

I studied English in college, and despite its bleak (financial) prospects plaguing the back of my mind, I loved it! Asian American literature and gender/sexuality studies are my main interests, and I’m delighted to see so many Asian and Asian American creatives flourishing. It’s comforting to know that those subfields are expanding in graduate studies, which I plan on eventually pursuing.

Coming to Japan is what I consider a first step into adult life, and I’m happy to conclude that my interest in teaching has only solidified. I really appreciate being able to experience the mundanity of Japanese life; my phone is brimmed with photos of random alleys, stray cats, and mediocre sunsets. Both tourism and inhabitation have their distinctive charms.

I’m excited for the rest of my year in Japan. Anyway, nice to meet you!

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