Posted on Friday, January 16, 2009
Jonis Belu-John' 04 is currently serving as an English teacher in Japan as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) Program. After graduating from HWS, Belu-John moved to Washington, D.C., and helped with the Kerry/Edwards campaign, as well as a local election, for a few months. He then worked for four years as a legal assistant in the D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, a sizable global law firm, before applying to the JET program.
"I studied Japanese briefly at HWS and Professor Holland had always encouraged me to apply," says Belu-John. "I decided to do so now because I am ready to begin law school, and this would be the only time that I could do this."
The JET program involves a rigorous selection process comprised of a paper application, then an interview. Applicants indicate location preferences, but there are no guarantees on placement. Belu-John was placed in Osaka, Japan, the third largest city, and what he calls, "definitely the best place in Japan." He teaches at the Teshima High School, in a suburban neighborhood in Toyonaka City and "home to the ‘who's who of successful professionals including the governor himself," he says.
Teshima is home to 900 students who participate in an array of activities, clubs and sports that add to its charm, he says. From the renowned basketball team and a spirited hip-hop dance club, to the cooking club and several school bands, there is an activity for every student. Belu-John joined the tennis, judo and cooking clubs.
He is enjoying his experience and has the option of renewing the original one-year contract for up to four additional years. Although he hasn't decided how long he'll remain, he notes, "My favorite part is undoubtedly working with the kids. I've always worked with children in many capacities - mentoring, babysitting, and tutoring - but this is my first as a full-time teacher. I love it!" He also notes teaching is harder than he'd imagined, "It takes an amazing amount of creativity and energy to get and maintain a child's attention, especially when teaching in a language they do not know. Yet, it is completely rewarding. They really bring out the best in what they mean by the human experience."
Belu-John works with students in all three grades, teaching several classes a week. For first-year students he team-teaches with the Japanese teacher of English (JTE). Belu-John is responsible for oral communication and a section of the reading class and develops all of the lesson plans, reviewing them with the JTEs beforehand to make sure they are both on the same page. First-years learn things such as basic shopping, directions, introductions, etc. Second-year students listen to audio and answer questions to develop their listening skills. Finally, seniors practice conversing. Belu-John is also preparing three students for the English Speech Contest this month. The students have to give a speech in English and compete against 20 or so students from all over the city.
When he returns to the U.S., Belu-John plans to pursue graduate studies in law, but his focus has shifted more specifically to the interplay between law and development.
"I'm getting involved with several organizations that will allow me to travel to other countries and assist with some development projects such as housing in India or sustainable agriculture in Kenya," he explains. "One of the lawyers at my firm took a leave of absence and worked in Iraq right after we removed Saddam from power. He worked as a constitutional aid - on a contract with the Department of Defense - helping the government with writing their new constitution and other law-related matters. Jobs of that nature really interest me, and this experience has only intensified my belief in the power of cultural exchanges."
Belu-John earned his B.A., cum laude, in political science and French from Hobart and minored in African studies. He was a student trustee.