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By Sophia Lorusso (she/her), Junior English Major.
Pictured above: Laura Payne at Mt. Daisen. Tottori Prefecture
In 2017, Laura graduated from Southern Oregon university with a BA in English and many Japanese language courses under her belt. While obtaining her undergraduate degree at SOU, Laura got to study abroad in Nagano, Japan for six months during her junior year. She had landed a private tutoring job with a middle school student and from then on, she knew she wanted to teach in Japan. Laura loved seeing the student grow and the connections that she made while there. She explains:
“As soon as I got back to Oregon, I sent an application to the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program. ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) who are hired by JET usually leave for Japan the summer after they turn in their applications, so seniors in college who provide proof of graduation later, are allowed to apply. I think the things that helped me the most in this application process were my English degree, experience living abroad, previous tutoring job (JET wants you to have teaching experience of some kind), and my Japanese language skills. Japanese proficiency isn’t required for the JET Program, but it’s a huge plus.”
Upon returning home from her study abroad experience in Nagano, Laura began the process to return to Japan as soon as she could. A month after graduating in 2017, Laura packed her bags and set off to Izumo City in Shimane, Japan to work as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). Laura was able to secure two TESOL certificates through a grant from the JET Program. She also appreciates all of the help that the program provided – they gave her resources and training that helped her navigate the education system in Japan.
Pictured Above: Laura participating in a taiko drum performance with locals and foreigners at a festival.
As an ALT, Laura’s days always looked different. She had to divide her time between two junior high schools, an alternative school, and the local City Hall. She was helping different English classrooms everyday day and would co-teach with the main teachers. Depending on the grade of the students, and teacher that she was helping, her workload would differ. In the classrooms she would create language activities, model pronunciations for students, and give presentations on her life abroad. Outside of the classroom she graded papers, prepped for future classes, and promoted study-abroad scholarships. Laura also organized a lunchtime English Club for the students and updated the English bulletin board every month.
Pictured Above: Laura at Ryuzugataki Falls in Unnan City, Shimane Prefecture.
After three years of working for the JET Program as an ALT, Laura moved back to Oregon in 2020 to obtain her Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Portland. Laura describes how she was able to move back to Japan after graduate school:
“The connections I made during the JET Program definitely helped me. While I was in graduate school, I contacted an acquaintance who worked at Shimane University. I was considering teaching abroad again and I wanted to ask her about what it was like to teach at universities and international schools. She gave me a lot of good information about the application processes to these institutions, and then later mentioned that a job was open in
Shimane. I put my name in and I was accepted.”
The JET Program allowed her to gain teaching experiences and connections that helped her get to where she is today.
“Honestly, so much of who I am today is because of my experiences in Japan.”
— Laura Payne
In September of 2021, Laura journeyed back to the Shimane Prefecture, and is now working as a Special Commissioned Instructor (and part-time TESOL teacher) at Shimane University in Matsue City. Matsue City is the capital of this prefecture and is also a castle town! Laura teaches online classes four days out of the week and has two lunch clubs. As a part-time TESOL teacher, she also schedules side jobs that might entail judging speech/recitation contests, coaching students who are preparing for language contests, or private tutoring. Studying and working abroad has shown Laura the kind of teacher that she aspires to be. She says, “Honestly, so much of who I am today is because of my experiences in Japan. Since I’ve worked with so many different teachers and in so many different school environments, I was able to think hard about the kind of educator I wanted to be and what practical things I could do in a classroom to become that educator.” Her time in Japan has added to her life in so many ways: traveling, appreciating other cultures, teaching, forming new connections, and developing relationships with her students.
Being in Japan has allowed her to not only find her dream career, but it has also showed her the beauty of the Japanese culture and indulge in simple things that she hadn’t before:
“I learned to appreciate cooking while in Japan. I had a lot of time in the evenings at one point, so I started experimenting with recipes, and eventually I realized that cooking was relaxing. I’m also more conscious of keeping things clean now, because one of my students taught me that cleaning a space can clear your mind. The way that Japan takes time to cherish the changing of seasons by admiring seasonal food, flowers and holidays taught me to slow down and appreciate time passing. I could go on and on about how my time here has shaped me because working here was my first real job. This was where I got my first apartment that I could afford to pay for myself. This is where I actually felt like I was an independent, stable adult for the first time.”
Going from the fast-paced style of the US to the slower, more appreciative lifestyle of Japan has greatly impacted Laura and will stay with her. She uses her BA in English and MAT everyday while teaching. Laura gives a lot of credit to her English Education Capstone project and linguistic courses here at SOU. Her capstone taught her how to do lesson plans and her linguistic courses gave her the grammar foundations needed to teach English.
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