Two MC seniors accepted to Japan Exchange Teaching Program 

Two MC seniors accepted to Japan Exchange Teaching Program 

May 20, 2020

Maryville College seniors Jonathan Bates ’20 and Gabbie Kelsey ’20 have been accepted to the Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) Program, a Japanese government initiative that brings college graduates to the country to teach English.

The highly selective JET Program seeks to promote intercultural exchange and understanding by providing participants the opportunity to live and work in a Japanese community and represent the United States as cultural ambassadors. Each year, between 4,000 and 5,000 applicants compete for approximately 1,000 positions in communities throughout Japan. 

Bates to travel from MC’s international community to Japan for Program

Bates, a philosophy major from Livingston, Tenn., will depart for Japan in September for a year-long program to teach English.

“First and foremost, my job is to assist the English teacher of a said school with conducting exercises and lessons based in English,” Bates said. “I am there to acclimate the students with English and help them drive home some of the harder aspects of speaking English. In a way, I am crash-test dummy for them to throw their English against and help them develop their English skills.”

Bates added that another aspect of his job is exchange, and he will be serving as a cultural ambassador.

“My speech and conduct reflect America insofar as it will be many students’ first-time speaking English or meeting an American,” he said. “I can only hope to be a good impression. I plan on bringing my guitar and banjo to play. I also plan on – even though it is not my style – bringing a pair of cowboy boots, just for giggles.”

He learned about the JET Program through a Career Fair for first-year students, hosted by the Maryville College Career Center. The career fair is one of the requirements of the Maryville College Works program, a comprehensive career preparation program that is integrated into the MC curriculum. During the career fair, he met a JET program representative who talked to him about the program, but at the time, he wasn’t sure whether he was qualified or could afford it.

Bates became involved in the international student community at Maryville College at the beginning of his freshman year, after a chance meeting with three international students on campus. He was introduced to MC’s International House (home of MC's Center for International Education) and ended up connecting with several students. He quickly became part of the international community on campus.

“My international friends far outnumbered my American friends,” he said. “Every day was a new adventure of learning about other cultures and helping them navigate the interesting complexities of rural America. Through this all, though, I noticed these students were not entirely separate from American students. They shared the same interests and hobbies.”

Three years later, during his senior year, Bates was approached by a professor in the Humanities Division, who handed him a JET pamphlet and told him he would be an excellent candidate. Having that support and encouragement from faculty was a big deal, he said, and he decided to apply.

“They thought it would make sense for me to go and teach English in Japan,” Bates said. “I mean, I worked with international students, corrected grammar, worked with the Academic Support Center, and my thesis was about a Japanese painter named Katsushika Hokusai.”

His Senior Study, titled “Metaphysics and The Great Wave: A Study of Henri Bergson, Alfred North Whitehead, and Katsushika Hokusai,” examined “the process ontologies of Bergson and Whitehead through a comparative lens, analyzing Hokusai’s work for an implied process metaphysic,” he said.

“(The JET program) would give me firsthand experience of what I have heard about and worked with,” he said. “I would be able to reconnect with many Japanese students who have come and gone. I myself could become an international student. The offer was too much to give up, so I went to the interview and it was a success – solidifying my interest in JET.”

In the future, Bates aspires to be a professor or educator, and he hopes the JET program will allow him to gain more experience and him further discern his path.

“I would like to be surrounded by like-minded individuals with differing opinions,” he said. “I have studied philosophy for as long as I can remember and would even go as far to say I came out of the womb thinking philosophically. With that said, this gives me ample experience working with not only students, but students in a diverse environment with an added challenge.

“Not only that, but I am experiencing a culture rich with philosophical ideas not fully investigated,” he added. “It would be opportune for me to take this chance to see firsthand the artist’s work I did my thesis on, to understand the aspects of Japanese society influenced by Zen and Daoism, or to learn Japanese which would allow me to investigate these other three aspects more thoroughly. In the words of many of my professors: ‘It simply makes sense.’”

Japan study abroad experience inspired Kelsey to apply for program

Kelsey, an international studies major from Gallatin, Tenn., also will depart for Japan in September. She noted that the year-long program allows for contract renewals up to three times, which would give her the chance to spend between one and three years in the program.

She learned about the program through connections at Maryville College, including programs offered by the Maryville College Career Center, as well as flyers on campus that advertised the program.

“Many alumni have applied for the program throughout the years, so there has always been a relationship between JET recruiters and the school,” she said.

Before she arrived at Maryville College, Kelsey knew that international travel would be a big part of her life. She traveled internationally during a summer program in high school, and after arriving at MC, she immersed herself in the international community on campus. She was on the leadership team of the College’s Global Citizenship Organization, served as a Study Abroad Ambassador, and participated in various international programs and events on campus.

“It gave me a chance to connect the international community with the MC community and make some lifelong friends,” Kelsey said.

In the classroom, she took both elementary- and intermediate-level Japanese courses, and her Senior Study was titled “Cultural Diplomacy and Cinema: Hollywood’s Case for Japan,” which combines her major studies with pop culture and film.

Kelsey decided to apply for the JET Program after the spring of her junior year, when she studied abroad in Japan at Kansai Gaidai University.

“I enjoyed the people that I met there, as well as the overall experience enough to want to pursue a possible career in the country,” she said, adding that she wrote about her experience on the MC Center for International Education blog. “The experience was one that I will remember for the rest of my life. I enjoyed it because I got the chance to be in a new environment and study new things. I got a chance to learn more about myself and the opportunity to live in Japan.”

She applied to be an assistant language teacher through the JET program, which will allow her to assist a designated teacher in an elementary, middle or high school in Japan. She said she will learn more about the specific components during her orientation, but her responsibilities could include organizing speech contests, supplementing English lessons with games and activities, and possibly teaching some aspects of American culture.

Kelsey also hopes that her experience with the JET Program will help her further discern her vocational path.

“In the future, I intend to work in the international field in some way, though I’m still trying to navigate where, specifically,” Kelsey said. “I have always been interested in the relationship between countries, and currently I believe the JET Program would fulfill those desires, as well as expose me to possible career paths and networks.”

Written by Chloe Kennedy, Assistant Director of Communications


Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”