The March earthquake and tsunami in Japan devastated parts of that country and shook the economy around the world. It did not, however, shake the resolve of several Kentuckians who are headed to Japan this weekend to start new jobs.
The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program hires English-speaking college graduates to teach in Japanese public schools. Adrienne Ledbetter is from Bowling Green and is headed to a city near Mt. Fuji that recently faced a food crisis after authorities found radiation-tainted beef.
Ledbetter says she’ll make whatever accommodations are necessary to stay safe, but she’s excited about the move, particularly because of the strong ties between Japan and Kentucky.
“Without Japan and they’re moving manufacturing over here there would be far fewer jobs and far fewer investments,” she says. “It makes me feel really grateful, because sometimes I feel like Kentucky is not thought of so kindly by other parts of the United States.”
Ledbetter took several Japanese language classes at Western Kentucky University that she says should help prepare her for what she sees as an important role.
“It’s a JET’s job to improve Japanese and American relations between citizens and between individuals, not just politicians,” she says. “You know, a child that I have in my classroom may never have seen a foreigner before. And if I can be just one good example of a gai-jin, a foreigner, I feel like I’ve done my job.”
She’s one of eight Kentuckians leaving for Japan this weekend and about eight hundred Americans joining the JET Program this summer.