Clarksville, TN – Holly Bunner shouldn’t have fond memories of Japan. The last time she was there, the Austin Peay State University student spent four hours on a bus, then bicycled through the rain to a small noodle shop. After her meal, she took an awkward step on a small ledge outside the shop.
“Holly stepped on it in exactly the wrong way and broke her foot,” Dr. David Rands, APSU associate professor of history and director of the Asian Studies program, said. “So she’s had the experience of going to a Japanese doctor and getting a Japanese cast on her foot, and after all that, she still seems to like Japan.”
She likes the country so much that, following her graduation this May, she plans to move there in August. Bunner is one of three APSU students recently selected for the Japanese Government’s highly selective Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) program. APSU students Geno D’Arco and McKenzie Mullins will also head to Japan in August to work as assistant language teachers.
“A lot of larger schools treat the JET program applications the same as Fulbright applications,” Rands said. “This is pretty much the biggest grant the Japanese government can give. With our students being accepted in such big numbers, it makes a statement about how dedicated they are.”
On a recent April afternoon, Bunner and Mullins stopped by Rands’ book-lined office to talk about their upcoming adventures East. The room’s subdued, academic atmosphere did nothing to diminish their enthusiasm.
“I’ve just always been interested in learning Japanese, and then when I found out Austin Peay had Japanese classes, I signed up,” Mullins said. “Then I heard about the Asian Studies minor, and I was really excited.”
Bunner’s interest in Asia started when she was a girl, when her family briefly lived in the Philippines. Once at Austin Peay, she enrolled in the Asian Studies minor and soon learned about the JET program.
“Now I want to go to graduate school for Japanese literature, but to do that I need better Japanese language skills than I have now,” she said. “This seemed like a good thing to do.”
Through the JET program, Bunner, Mullins and D’Arco were awarded a yearly contract to teach in Japan, with the ability to renew that contract up to five years. They’ll receive around $33,000 a year, subsidized housing and health insurance during their time in Japan.
And what are the APSU students looking forward to the most? They want to see the other side of the Pacific Ocean, visit rural villages, connect with friends from Study Abroad programs and, according to Mullins, eat ice cream.
“When we studied abroad in Japan, they had soft serve ice cream,” she said.
Austin Peay had more JET placements this year than some larger schools in the state. The Japanese Government receives about 5,000 applications a year, but it awards less than 1,000 placements.
“I did the JET program right after my undergrad, in 1993,” Rands said. “And it really help set me up to go on and do my master’s in Japan. It’s a really good stepping stone. There’s a really good JET alumni association. Once you come back, there’s all types of networking.”
For more information on the APSU’s Asian Studies program, contact Rands at email@example.com.