Backtrack #24: Bridge Building (Drago Flores, Ikata CIR 2011-2014)


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Making dreamcatchers as a community event

What’s your name, when and where was your placement, and where are you from originally?
My name is Drago Flores. I was placed in Ikata. I am originally from Minnesota in the United States.

How did you find out about JET, and what led you to apply?
I had heard about the JET program when I was in college but found out about the CIR position from my friend while teaching English in South Korea. The CIR position offered a chance to work on the JET program without teaching English being the main focus. It sounded like a great challenge on an established and reputable program so I applied.

What did you hope to achieve during your time on JET, and did that change over time?
I hoped to become a part of the community and share the culture that I knew with the locals. My main goal never changed over time but I could not have imagined at the time the extent to which I would become involved in the community. Not just the local Japanese community, but also the JET community. 

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Guiding a group of JETs around on a self-made tour of Honai that I designed as RA

What is your lasting impression of the work you did on JET and the communities you were part of?
In a word, my lasting impression of the work I did would be “bridge building”. Through workshops, speeches, and classes I built bridges between my local culture in Minnesota and the local culture of Ikata; through meetups and content creation I built bridges within the JET community in Ehime; through publications I built bridges and opportunities for discussion in the wider Japanese Ehime community. 

Where did JET lead you?
In return, JET build bridges for me into my future. I met my wife on JET and I honed my Japanese language skills to a point which allowed me to secure a job years later in Tokyo at a small but global manufacturer. 

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?
To be honest I did not have any concrete plans for what would happen after my time on the program ended. The only thing I was sure of was that I wanted to spend time with family again and that feeling only grew stronger.

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Volunteering in preschools around Ehime

What did you end up doing immediately after your time on JET?
After spending two months back home re-connecting with family, I came to realize that finding a full-time job would be a little bit more difficult than imagined. However, by reaching out to the JET community in the United States I found several opportunities and eventually full-time work. Not in Minnesota, but in San Francisco. Before finding full-time work, I took several small part-time jobs including working on the Kakehashi program twice as a guide. This was incredibly rewarding work and I’m still in contact with many of the students who participated. 

For JETs currently working out what they want to do when they finish, what advice would you give them?
Since my time leaving the JET program, the world has become much more virtual. Virtual meetings, virtual interviews, you name it. That means that there’s no excuse to not begin your job hunt early while you are still on the program. A great place to start would be to reach out to the JET community where you’re from. Find their website and write them an email. Don’t start off with anything too specific just a general inquiry (e.g. “Would you point me in the direction of someone familiar with job opportunities in the area?”) Get the conversation started today. Even just asking what kind of work JET alumni are doing in the area will offer valuable insight and get your mind thinking about what you might want to do. 

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A short-term job I had after retiring home after JET was as a guide on the Kakehashi program. This is a shot of me and the boys from the group when we visited New York City.

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