Published May 08, 2023 by Bowdoin

Q&A with Future JET-setter Bethany Berhanu ’20

After her initial plans to teach English in Japan were delayed due to the pandemic, Bethany Berhanu ’20 is at last realizing her longheld dream.
Bethany Berhanu ’20 portrait

She will travel to Japan next year with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program. (And she's not the only Bowdoin graduate on the program: Jack Wellschlager ’23 has also accepted a position with JET).

JET works with fifty-five nations around the world, accepting qualified foreigners to work in schools, boards of education, and government offices throughout the country for one year. More than 90 percent of participants are hired to teach English to elementary, junior high, or high school students.

We recently caught up with Berhanu to chat with her about her love of Japan and what she's most looking forward to:

What drew you to the JET program?
What most drew me to the program was the ability to combine two of my interests, Japanese and Education. I felt like this would be once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to simultaneously work with young people while also utilizing what I learned about the Japanese language and culture in my daily life."

What do you hope to gain or learn, both personally and professionally, during your time in Japan?
I would love to gain more experience in the classroom. My role right now as a Scholar Coach [at the Schuler Scholar Program in Chicago] is primarily one-to-one meeting based, so I am interested to see what working in a classroom environment will be like and how that might inform my future steps. I also just want to improve my Japanese in general. Since it's been a few years since I've consistently used my language skills, I'm excited about the opportunity!

Do you have any details yet about your role there yet? Like where you will be based, what ages you will be teaching, and what your starting date is?
No details yet, but hopefully coming this month I'll find out more!

When did you get interested in Asian studies and studying Japanese?
I grew up watching Ghibli movies with my younger brother without realizing that they were Japanese. Since then I became interested in the pop culture aspect of Japan but it wasn't until going to the Japanese department's open house freshman year of college, that I realized that I could delve deeper into my interest with an academic lens.

What role did Bowdoin play in supporting your interest? (Or maybe even catalyzing it?)
All of the professors in the department, especially Aridome- and Selinger-sensei, were so welcoming and passionate about what they do, that it was a simple choice to add Elementary Japanese as a course my first semester. This kept going until I realized I wanted to change my intended major of neuroscience to Asian Studies. With their support and the support of Meg Springer from the CXD during my application, I felt confident going into the JET application process.

An excerpt from Berhanu's JET essay:
"Through JET, I want to share my Ethiopian American identity via various cultural activities such as traditional games, cooking events, and dance lessons. While the concept of “American” is rapidly diversifying in the United States, this diversity is rarely understood outside the country. I am excited to share a different perspective of Americanness that may not be well-known in Japan. One way that I hope to accomplish this outside of my teaching duties is to start or participate in a dance-oriented circle for the students. Dance, specifically hip-hop and contemporary, has been an integral part of my high school and college experience and allowed me to meet a wide range of individuals, and be more comfortable in my own body. I hope to provide a similarly open and welcoming space to students with any interest in dance, regardless of experience."