Backtrack #22: Welcomed and Included (Heeni (Janie) Tito, Masaki ALT 1997-2000)



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

Kia ora koutou, ko Heeni (Janie) Tito ahau. I was a teacher at kindergarten, primary and junior high schools in Masaki-cho, Ehime-ken from 1997-2000.

I descend from Ngā Puhi and Ngāti Whātua iwi, of Northland, Aotearoa (New Zealand). Currently living in Wellington.

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

I first heard about the JET program through the University of Otago. It sounded like a great way to travel and experience a different culture.

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

My expectations of the program were that I would be able to learn the language, and earn enough money to travel around the country.  I really had no idea what it would be like in reality, as it was my first time travelling abroad.  It more than met my hopes and expectations, mainly due to the wonderful people I worked with in my office as well as the many schools I had the pleasure of teaching in.

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

I always felt welcomed and included in the community. There were so many opportunities to join in local festivals and a highlight was learning and performing with the local Taiko drum group.  People were kind, helpful and caring.  The schools on the whole, were the same. Always welcoming and usually keen to have me share my culture and language. There was definitely a range of teaching styles, and sometimes I wasn’t as well utilised as I could have been. However, even just spending time in schools and in classrooms, I enjoyed a great rapport with staff and students alike, and learned a lot from them. A lasting memory is the ever-changing school lunches and helping the students to clean our rooms each day.


Where did JET lead you?

After JET I returned to Aotearoa and after a few months of getting over the culture shock, decided to get my teaching diploma. It took me a while to get to that decision, as I desperately missed Nihon, and had the travel bug.  My mental health suffered over that time, and I would definitely recommend current JET’s to ensure they have a support network ready when they leave. It’s quite hard to explain to people who haven’t lived in such a different environment, how you can have a thing like culture shock, when you return to your homeland.

So doing JET lead me to teaching in secondary schools for about 15 years. I think it also gave me courage to try new things as 5 years ago I decided to retrain in software engineering and am now working in a company called Sharesies.

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

For JET’s thinking about next steps, I would say give yourself time to adjust to a new ‘normal’ and look after your mental wellbeing first and foremost. Then look at your work and study options second. 


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