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Local Profile: Kylie Clark has a positive impact

By: David Knickerbocker

Date Posted: 2002-02-15

Kylie Clark, a twenty-five-year old Australian citizen, is a true example of a foreigner making a positive difference while living as a guest in Japan. She works as the only non-Japanese at Itoman City Hall in the Women’s Issues and Peace Promotion Division as part of the JET program. Kylie has taken an active interest in Okinawan culture and has made the most of her time while living on island. She enjoys her job but is kept immensely busy. “I get to do a lot of interesting stuff working for Itoman,” she says. “There are many international events held there, so I am always very busy with translating. During the International Sculpture Symposium, there were international artists who couldn’t speak Japanese, so I had to help them out. Now a book for the symposium is being published, so I have to translate it. Also, whenever foreigners have problems, they come to city hall and I translate for them.”

Aside from working a desk-job at city hall, Kylie also does a lot of school visits and is trying to set up an e-mail exchange between Melbourne, Australia, and Itoman City so elementary students can e-mail one another. Her work keeps her very busy, to say the least. “With my job, I do a lot of overtime, weekends and nights,” says Kylie. “It’s supposed to be a nine-to-five job, but there’s always a lot going on.” However, Kylie says she enjoys her job and was very surprised by the way her co-workers were dressed when she first started working at city hall. “Being government workers, I expected everyone to be wearing suits, but they were all wearing Hawaiian shirts,” she says, laughing about the relaxed dress code.

Kylie has been on Okinawa for six months now and loves it. She came to the island in August 2001, her second visit to Japan. Before Okinawa, she spent one year in Akita Prefecture as a high school exchange student before residing in Tokyo for a year as a university student.

“In high school, I wanted to learn a foreign language, and it was easy to come to Japan as a foreign student,” explains Kylie. “I lived in a small town of 1,000 near Melbourne, Australia, so I couldn’t study a foreign language. The fastest way to for me to learn was to go to that country.” She home-stayed during high school and lived in an all-girls dorm in college and so is now very pleased to be out of school with a job, income and an apartment. Being her second time in Japan, she claims that this time has been the easiest ever. “I didn’t even know Japanese my first time in Japan,” she explains. “I learned a lot while home-staying in Akita and at the university in Tokyo.”

When applying for the JET program, Kylie was given three choices on her preferred place of residence. Okinawa was her number-one choice, with Kagoshima and Nagasaki following as second and third. “Most people don’t get any of their three perferences, so I was very lucky to get my first choice,” says Kylie. “The JET program is really a good thing. Because of this program, there are foreigners throughout Japan, even on the smaller islands. It’s very good for internationalization.”

Kylie knew quite a bit about Okinawa before coming to the island. “I learned about it at my university, and my best friend was a girl from Urasoe,” says Kylie. “I heard it was a beautiful and interesting place, so I wanted to go there.” Chatan City and central Okinawa are her favorite destinations for a night out on the town. She loves heading to Chatan to go to izakayas and restaurants and also to watch movies, but she finds the traffic very frustrating. “Sometimes it takes ages to travel up to Chatan from Itoman,” she complains. She says that even with her busy schedule, she always tries to find time to enjoy Okinawa and the surrounding islands. “Recently, I traveled to Iriomote Island and went kayaking,” says Kylie. “Iriomote is not like Japan. It’s all wilderness, which is extremely rare here.”

Kylie’s JET contract is for one year, and though she loves Okinawa, she says she will not extend. After her contract expires on July 30, she plans to go to Australia and obtain a visa for England, where she hopes to stay a while and get a British passport. During her final six months on island, she intends to find some time to enjoy swimming at the beach. She will also be busy getting a team of foreigners together for the June 24 Itoman dragon boat races.

What is the JET Program?

The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program seeks to enhance internationalization in Japan by promoting understanding between Japan and other nations. It also fosters foreign language education in Japan as well as international exchange through ties between Japanese and foreign youth. The program gives its participants the opportunity to serve in public and private junior and senior high schools and in other areas of the Japanese government. The JET Program started in 1987 with the cooperation of participating countries, and as of 2001 there were 6,190 participants from 39 countries enrolled in it. This program has had an excellent reputation over the years and is highly regarded in Japan. There are a number of Web sites on the Internet with information on the JET Program, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs homepage: www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/jet/.

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