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Amaris Lopez - Ehime (2022-present)

Updated: Mar 19



Where were you in Japan as a JET, and when?

I was placed in the beautiful prefecture of Ehime on the island of Shikoku in the year 2022 and plan to stay until 2025.

 

What sparked your interest in applying for the JET program?

My curiosity about immersing myself in Japanese culture to gain a deeper understanding of it and to strengthen my pedagogy and Japanese abilities was the impetus behind my involvement in the application process. On the other hand, the JET Program was initially presented in the World and Language Department (WLC) of my university. Every single one of the Japanese majors at California State University, Monterey Bay, as well as my professor, Sekine Sensei, encouraged us to apply after we had completed our bachelor's degree to gain experience that would not only help us become better teachers but also improve our Japanese language skills.


What are some of the things your prefecture is known for? e.g., food, hotspots, etc.

The production of oranges and participating in outdoor activities such as cycling, surfing, fishing, and traditional activities are the primary things Ehime prefecture is known for. In addition, one of the oldest, still intact onsen served as the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki to construct the onsen featured in Spirited Away, called Dogo Onsen.



Did you pick up any of the regional dialects? What are some of your favorite words or phrases?

The regional dialect of Ehime is called the Iyo dialect. One of my favorite words is “Dan Dan,” which means thank you. I think it sounds so cute!

 

If you were to return to live in Japan, would you choose to live in that same prefecture?

I was raised in one of the biggest cities in Mexico, Tijuana. My experience in Ehime has made it one of my homes. I would like to still live here, but if I had to have a second option, it would be Fukuoka due to the diversity and California vibe that it has.


How has your connection to Japan changed since living there?

Ever since I began working in Japan as an instructor, my relationship with the country has undergone a significant transformation. Japanese culture is mostly recognized for its reserved and privacy-oriented nature. I was a little bit worried that I would not be able to establish any friends or join any kind of community because I was aware of this. I am confident that I can enjoy my time spent in Japan and that I have established a community that has quickly become a family to me. Many of my Japanese coworkers are my friends, and we have been able to experience many things together, such as traveling, going to museums, eating homemade Mexican food, and successfully creating new projects for our elementary school.



 In what ways has working in Japan influenced your teaching methods or philosophy?

When I first entered the elementary school, I thought I would take on the role of an assistant language teacher, but I was an English language teacher. I had some ideas about pedagogy from growing up in a household full of teachers. However, it wasn't until I was thrown into the biggest elementary school in my prefecture that I had to learn many things. Thankfully, I was blessed to be placed with my amazing supervisor, who has been teaching for more than 20 years. Hitomi Yoshioka is the person who has influenced me the most in terms of teaching methods and philosophy. Together, we combine our teaching experiences and techniques.


The biggest lesson that I know holds up well is that children need global competency and a goal at the end of every lesson. They remember things more often when they're connected to their personal lives and passions. When I first started working with my elementary school, I noticed that the English lessons for the 3rd and 4th graders were just focused on learning vocabulary and playing straightforward games such as bingo, which are essential. However, as a language learner and educator, I know there has to be a goal at the end of the lesson. My teaching methods focus on first learning vocabulary and the given question or grammar, then color-coding the translation in Japanese. Afterward, there is a listening activity and a cultural video about a given topic, and then kids can build their craft, such as a pizza, and so on. Not only can the kids learn English, but they also incorporate their own interests through the given lesson. My teaching techniques are the result of not only my experiences in Japan but also the techniques I learned in the American and Mexican educational systems. This showcases the power of uniting and sharing different countries' educational resources or techniques.

 

You mentioned establishing a community in Japan. Can you please describe a community event or tradition (if any) in Ehime that you particularly enjoyed or found meaningful?

The Matsuyama International Center's (MIC) cultural week was one event that I really enjoyed. I volunteered to do a small workshop about my Mexican heritage with two more of my Mexican friends by comparing our holidays, where we celebrate our deceased ones, "Dia De Los Muertos" (Day of the Dead), and Japan’s Obon (お盆). We also had two activities where people could build their own Mexican skulls or create papel (paper) mache. Not only was it an amazing opportunity to share my culture, but I also got to see many people from many different cultures working together in another country. This cultural week is held every year, and it just showcases the power of taking initiative and spreading global competence, but most importantly, it inspires and laughs.




How do you think your experience in Japan will influence your future career or life choices?

Before coming to Japan, I took some courses to understand more about the culture as a Japanese language and culture major. I knew the surface level of how their society works—laws, history, and beliefs. One of the factors that stood out the most was their dedication to their communities. As an English teacher in my elementary school, I have seen how dedicated my teachers are in terms of staying longer hours to satisfy the students' educational competence or to assist a teacher who is absent. Not only in my job, but in every small town or big city that I have traveled to, there are always events going on around the area, clubs, and communities. It's astonishing how they make sure that students in small towns get an education or a public transportation event to the smallest towns in Japan. Due to this, the dedication they have for their communities has inspired me to do the same for other students and just people in general.


Another life lesson that I have experienced during my time in Japan as an English teacher has been the implementation of global perspectives and international collaboration. I've been an English language teacher for 3 years, and one thing that I'm most proud of is expanding global competence inside my classroom, and I've been able to do this due to the open-mindedness of my supervisor, staff, and board of education. One of the first events that we were able to perform was a collaboration with Mr. Nakaya, a retired educator and global competency activist. He is well known in the prefecture of Ehime for presenting talks about developing countries and global issues to schools, from elementary all the way to university. We were able to educate around 300 students (5th and 6th graders) on topics that wouldn't have been possible without the help of my supervisor.



Another accomplishment was the creation of a multicultural corner inside my elementary school with the microgrant by USJETAA. Our school has many international books about important historical figures, such as Anne Frank, Malalai Yousafzai, Messi, and others. With all of this being said, to answer this question, I will use some Japanese phrases that have stuck with me as an English language teacher in Japan, the first one being ishindenshin (以心伝心), which means reading each other's hearts. I came to Japan only knowing low-intermediate Japanese, which made me think that I would struggle to connect with the students. However, it was very different. Many of my teachers tried really hard to connect with me and my students. Even though we may not understand each other fully, we understand each other's emotions and hearts. Just like this Japanese phrase, in the next steps of my future career, I will try to expand ishindenshin inside of communities through education and culture; there is no language barrier that can uphold the communication of heart to heart.


Another important phrase that connects with my second learning experience is 橋渡し(hashi watashi), which means a bridge of people. Many of my teachers started to call me this after implementing cultures into my lessons and also bringing collaborators inside of our elementary school. As I previously mentioned, I grew up in a region that was home to several different cultures. Hence, I can see how cultures have impacted me and other people around me. As an educator and advocate of global competency, I strongly believe that we need to take initiative and connect communities, people, and cultures. Each one of us has different experiences, techniques, or resources, and when we exchange these, we are not only exchanging knowledge and support, but we are also building trust and creating changes for anyone. Hence, that's why I want to still be a “橋渡し(hashi watashi)” for the upcoming generations or anyone wanting to find themselves.


How do you think living in Ehime has changed you personally? 

Ehime has changed me in so many ways that I can't describe. When we think about Japan, we think about big cities, big lights, and big crowds. However, Ehime has everything that a human needs to be satisfied, you can find amazing festivals all around the island, you have the view of the mountains, the fresh air of the ocean breeze, and of course, oranges. However, what has changed me the most are the people from Ehime. They are one of a kind; they are humble and joyful, and they will always treat you with a smile. They don't aim to live in a fancy apartment or win the lottery; they just want to enjoy the smallest things in life and also celebrate small and big achievements. When I think about how Ehime has changed me personally, I can for sure be more relaxed and enjoy myself, but I can also be grateful for the little things in life. Since I grew up in one of the biggest cities in Mexico, which is Tijuana, I can say that living in a small town like Iyo, Ehime, has changed my lifestyle and taught me not to forget to appreciate the things that we take for granted. Such as a sunset, reading a book, laughing with friends, or just eating a good meal.


What has been the most unexpected lesson or insight you have gained from your time in Japan? 

There are two unexpected lessons I've learned in my time in Japan that convey both my personal and professional lives. The first is that a foreigner like me could make changes in an elementary school in Japan. So far, as an educator, I've been able to make a lot of changes inside my school that I never imagined. Two years ago, when I was departing from Los Angeles, California, to Japan to attend my training at JET in Tokyo, I would have never imagined having such an amazing experience in Japan. I would have never thought of hearing my students say "adios," "hola," and "seeyouなら (nara)”. I would have never thought about my students hugging me at all; I would have never imagined having cooked Mexican food for many of my Japanese friends or coworkers; I wouldn't have ever imagined having met a community of Latinos in one of the smallest islands of Japan. The biggest lesson that I've learned through this relationship is that no matter the place, time, or situation, one can create a ripple of change, and that is by taking initiative.



Japanese people are active in so many activities, and they respect everything. There is something particular about how Japanese people live their lives with such tranquility and harmony. It astonishes me how they live life so peacefully but still see life at a different level. Another one is the devotion they have for each other. It's incredible to see my teachers, parents, and staff supporting the students without expecting anything in return. For example, in the morning, my elementary school students are expected to walk to school in small groups, followed by parents who have volunteered to make sure the students are able to get to school safely. I can even mention the astonishing way they try to advertise many events, such as matsuri (Japanese festivals), graduation ceremonies, clubs, etc. The Japanese as a country try really hard to give their people easy access to a good quality life, but most importantly, to live in harmony.



Thank you, Amaris, for this extra long JSB Meets JET Alumni article!


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