Interview with Ella Berryhill


Ella Berryhill returned in August 2018 from 5 years on the JET program. She was placed in Takayama-mura, Gunma, a village of just under 4000 people. She loves to travel and visited all 47 prefectures of Japan during her time living there.

Q: Why did you want to join the JET program?

I had a wonderful time studying abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo and I wanted to experience more of Japan in a more rural setting. I also love kids and having just graduated wanted some experience in the job force so the JET program seemed like a good fit.

Q: What would you say to other people who would be interested in the JET program and teaching English in Japan?

If you are interested in working in rural Japan and like kids I would highly recommend it. An ideal JET candidate is flexible, independent, thinks on their feet and can manage their expectations. You might be asked to perform a solo class in 5 min without any previous prep time, suddenly find yourself giving a school tour to German tourists who don’t speak much Japanese or English, or even just be asked to recite the text book like a tape recorder every day. The ability to improvise and communicate well is what was really valuable to me during my time on the program.

Q: Do you have any tips on the application process?

If you don’t have any experience with kids (ideally in a teaching environment), get some. Also have a variety of people look at your statement of intent and if you get an interview make sure what you wrote is fresh in your mind.  

Q: Where were nearby JETs from?

In my region of Agatsuma we were all mostly from the Midwest/West coast, and we had two people from Canada as well. I also knew a few JETs from Australia.

Q: What did you do in your free time?

I took tea ceremony classes and played in the local Taiko drumming team with some of my students. I also attended the Kendo club at the junior high school sometimes. Our village hosted the regions sports festival one year and I learned all the traditional dances and performed for it. My local government also had a young people’s association for employees up to age 30. We would do volunteer activities such as trash pickup along roads and helping at local festivals. We also usually took one trip each year outside of Gunma prefecture; my favorite trip was to ski at the base of Mt. Fuji. During holidays I almost always took the chance to travel around Japan. Also I studied Japanese a lot and took the JLPT- N2 exam before I left.

Q: What ages did you teach?

I taught from ages 3 to adult. Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays were spent at the junior high school, where students were ages 13-15 and divided into 3 grades; Wednesdays and Thursdays I taught at the elementary school where students were ages 5-12 with 6 grades. Fridays, during second hour, I would go to the kindergarten down the street and teach the 3-5 year old. I also taught adult English conversation courses for locals every Wednesday night for an hour and a half.

Q: How did students react when you tell them you are from Alaska?

Everyone always says either “It must be so cold!” or “Oh, you can see the Aurora right? Someday I want to see it...” They also often mention any Alaska documentaries or TV shows that have been broadcasted recently.

Q: And how did you like your placement?

I didn’t love the moldy house I lived in but I loved my students and my community. In the end, I loved it enough to stay for over 5 years and I hope to return for some of my students coming of age ceremonies when they turn 20.