Backtrack #5 : The First Trinidadian in Matsuyama (Nichelle Mitchell, Matsuyama 2009-2014)



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

My name is Nichelle Mitchell and I’m from the island of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T). I was placed in Matsuyama-shi in Ehime ken on the island of Shikoku in August 2009.

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

As a graduate student at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine campus (UWI, Sta.) in Trinidad, I learned about the offering of a certificate in Japanese language from the Center for Language Learning (CLL) under the Faculty of Humanities and Education. I’d come across this course when I originally thought about doing my BA in African and Asian studies but later I changed my mind and did my major in Literatures in English instead. However, studying Japanese remained on my mind until I had the opportunity to return to it during my MA studies. It was during this course that I was introduced to the idea of JET by one of the teachers of the course; Mrs. Kazuko Rankine. I did a bit of research on the course but didn’t look into it seriously until I completed my studies and graduated from UWI Sta.

I applied because visiting Japan had always been a dream of mine ever since I saw the programme, “Japan Video Topics,” which was a production of NHK – the Japan broadcasting corporation. These videos had been a part of the Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT) programme lineup from as early as 1991 and I never missed an episode. They showcased various aspects of life in Japan ranging from the production of ceramics, the creation of robots, anime and manga, and of course a variety of traditional cultural practices. As a child, I was endlessly fascinated by what I saw and I knew that one day I’d have to visit Japan and experience all of the things that I had seen.

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

Initially I’d simply wanted to get to Japan. I had no idea of the work load that really awaited me as the idea of teaching English and teaching about my country in a “grassroots” cultural exchange wasn’t a fully-fledged idea until I made landfall and got to the orientation event in the Keio Plaza Hotel in Tokyo. The longer I stayed though, the more I wanted to help my students see the value of studying English as a second language and I also wanted to do my best to make the study material as palatable as I could. After spending the full 5 years on the programme, I think I was definitely able to become more flexible in my execution skills and I learned a great deal about tailoring lesson plans to suit the various learning styles that are present in the classroom.

Aside from that, I also wanted to represent Trinidad and Tobago as an ambassador of my country to the best of my abilities. For most, if not all ,of the students that I met in my five years, I was the first Caribbean national that they’d met. The students were very familiar with JETs from the USA, Canada, Australia, and the UK to name a few, but at the time of my placement, I was the only Trinidadian in Shikoku. It was certainly a unique experience to be the only representative of an entire country, and it was an important opportunity to speak on the Caribbean experience.

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

I think that I was able to highlight my country and the wider Caribbean region as an area unique onto itself. Many times the students only know about the countries outside of Japan as entities that exist on the TV and not as real places that they could potentially visit. I think that my presence as a JET and as a representative of T&T made a long lasting impression in terms of how they viewed non-Japanese people. 

Where did JET lead you?

After JET I wasn’t quite ready to leave Japan and so I began to look for similar working opportunities in Japan. I initially only looked at offerings in Ehime, but nothing really stood out to me. I was lucky enough to be friends with someone who knew of JETs working in the city of Osaka in a programme that replaced the JET programme there. I was linked to the application website and applied for a position. I was fortunate to be selected as a City Native English Teacher (C-NET) for the Osaka Board of Education just as I completed my time on JET. At present I’m still working with the Osaka BOE and I currently teach in a high school with occasional elementary school visits.

Right now, some incoming JETs have been delayed by more than a year, and are in the difficult position of choosing to indefinitely wait for Japan to open up or to give up on coming here. Do you have any comments or advice for them during this time?

If they’ve been offered the position and it’s their dream, then I think that they should hold on to their placement. It is an unfortunate reality that we just don’t know when the borders will open up to allow the JET programme to continue. There’s a possibility that it might not happen until 2022, but being selected for the program is such a great opportunity that it would be a shame to give it up. Of course their real life takes precedence and who knows what could happen as they wait. I do believe however that waiting will not be in vain. In the meantime, they should probably get a job and start saving as much money as they can because the move here can be an expensive one, and that first paycheck takes a month to arrive. Having an excess of funds at the beginning of their contract will definitely make life run smoother.

If you had been in their position, do you think you would have gone on JET if you’d been in limbo for a year?

Yes, definitely. As long as I had a place, I would have waited and taken up my position regardless of when. Japan was my dream for so long that even when my JET contract was over, I couldn’t bear to leave. As of this moment, it’s been 11 years and 8 months since I set foot in Japan. At this point I don’t think that I’ll ever leave.

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