Eden Law, President of JETAA NSW
Eden Law is the current president of JETAA NSW, the alumni association for past JETs, as well as the Australian representative. He works as a front-end developer and even though his job isn’t directly related to Japan, he still keeps a strong connection to Japan through his involvement in JETAA, and relationships made as a JET.
What was your first introduction to Japanese culture?
Like most people, Eden says his first introduction to Japan was through anime and pop culture even though at the time it wasn’t too obvious that he was taking in Japanese culture. His high school offered Japanese as a subject for year 10-11, and he was able to travel to Japan thanks to a sister school relationship with a school in Kyoto.
With minimal Japanese language skills, he also got to stay in Tokyo on top of experiencing authentic high school life in Kyoto.
After high school, he studied a double degree in law and commerce. Some of his uni friends went on to the JET program after graduation, and their stories of the program and their time in Japan left a lasting impression on Eden. With Japan constantly in the back of his mind, he applied for the JET program in 2009 (to begin in 2010).
What was the application process like?
The initial application is long and asks for a lot, “but it also made you think more clearly about your reasons for going on the JET program, which I think is a necessary thing because you’re about to commit at least one year of your life on the program and you need to be sure that this is what you want to do”.
There’s a gap of about six months between handing in your application and hearing back about whether or not you were successful, which can feel like there’s “something hanging over your head… keep[ing] you in a state of suspense”. The next stage is a round of interviews. Coming from someone who has gone through this both as an applicant and as an interviewer, Eden’s advice is to not get too nervous and to arrive with your reasons for applying for JET clear in your mind.
As for his time on the program, Eden says his time was “unique”. Iwaki, where he was placed, is in Fukushima just outside the nuclear exclusion zone and he was there when the 2011 tsunami hit. Seeing the destruction and damage to the region was personal for Eden as he saw the community, his students and colleagues be affected by it.
“It was one of those towns heavily featured [on western media] in the days following the disaster”, but seeing the community come together and “being a part of that community” left Eden with a life-long bond to Iwaki. He returned to Australia not long after, determined to continue helping. With his knowledge of JETAA and the fact that they were officially tied to the program organisers and Japanese government, he saw the alumni community as the perfect avenue for his ideas to help Fukushima.
His first project with JETAA was a booth at the Sydney Japanese Festival where festival goers wrote messages of support on kangaroo shaped origami and sent several hundred of them to the schools back in Iwaki that Eden had taught at. The schools, particularly, the students, were surprised that people outside of their town were offering so much support. “Being completely immersed in the community” is a huge factor in how fond his memories of Japan are, despite the disaster. He also says “working in high schools is another aspect of society that most people don’t get to experience. You’re working with young people and all these things help to break down stereotypes of misconceptions that you might not realise you have.”
What’s your advice for someone who’s preparing to live in Japan?
Whether you’re also planning on joining the JET program, or have a working holiday visa, moving to another country takes a lot of organisation. “I’m not sure you can fully prepare to live in Japan. It would help if you’ve made trips to Japan before to experience the country.”
On top of this, Eden suggest going in with an open mind, “don’t assume anything … get out there and make friends with the community, don’t hang around with just the expat community”. It’s easy to make friends with other English speaking foreigners in Japan and bond over your similar experiences, but Eden says he “would have felt that my experience on the JET program was incomplete or one sided” if he didn’t get involved with the local community events and culture.
“Just have fun… you never know where it’s going to take you”
How did you end up as the JETAA NSW President and Australian representative?
The JETAA, with its official status and government connections, meant he was able to maximise his efforts and impact in his projects to help support the Iwaki and Fukushima communities. His early interactions and initiative in starting projects kept him linked to the Japanese community, and a few years after coming back he put his hand up and was nominated to be the president. His consistent effort allowed him to also be voted the Australian representative (JETAA has chapters all over the world) letting him travel to Japan and other places for JETAA meetings and events. He says their biggest obstacle is that many returning JETS aren’t aware of JETAA – JETs currently on the program have their own support community and they’re unaware that there’s a community for them when they get home.
JET has given Eden access to a lot of really cool stuff, and he says to “watch this space” when it comes to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as the organising committee wants JET to be involved (although how and to what extent is still being worked out).
What’s something that you’ve achieved thanks to your connection to Japan?
“Personal development. I definitely wasn’t good at public speaking, but when you’re being thrust in front of a group of high school students and you’re supposed to teach English and get their attention … everyone’s attention is on you
“I don’t have as much fear of public speaking as I used to … Meeting so many people and being inspired by people who are just going ahead and doing things in spite of the obstacles. There’s nothing to fear but fear itself [it] is a bit of a cliche but it’s actually true. Not doing anything at all can be a bit of a shame.”
For students who struggle with Japanese as a language, what can they do to maintain a link to Japan?
There’s lots of ways to improve language ability, like the Japan Foundation, TAFE, and even university if you have the time to do so. From there you can join cultural groups, “keep your ears and eyes open, volunteer, you will come across people who are already in that cultural sphere and from then on if you keep making connections the momentum will start to build and you’ll find yourself involved in projects.”
Eden mentions a number of local groups, ranging from kyudo archery, to taiko drums, and the kimono club of Sydney (we also have yukatas available for hire!). “There’s a lot of community interest groups out there.”
Eden will also be a speaker at the 2017 Careers in Language Fair. Head to our event page for more details. [This event has now finished]