Chair of the National AJET Councilinterview by Albert David R. Valderrama (茨城県)
My name is Sandy Cheng. I was born in Taiwan, but when I was three years old, we moved to Australia, so I grew up in Australia. In university I actually studied pharmacy, so after I graduated I actually worked at a hospital as a pharmacist for a while. And then, I decided I wanted a change, and I decided I wanted to come to Japan. I figured my pharmacy license would not work in Japan, so when I was trying to figure out what I could do in Japan, my friend mentioned the JET Programme. So I looked at that. The deadline was in about a week and a half. I wrote up an application, I applied, I got through, and I came.
I’ve always had an interest in Japan ever since I was really small. The main reason is because my family background is Taiwanese, which means that from my grandmother and grandfather’s generation, most of my family can speak some Japanese because the Japanese were in Taiwan for a period of time. My own dad, his brother, and his sisters, all of their work was also related to Japan, so they all studied in Japan for a month or three before returning back to their home country.
When I grew up, all our family vacations were always Japan. In high school, I studied Japanese for five years. Then, obviously after high school when I studied pharmacy, I couldn’t do any Japanese, so there was a big blank there. After that, I decided I really wanted to try Japan.
How did you start your involvement with National AJET?
I had been doing two years of junior high school at that point as an ALT, and I felt like I wanted to add some more things into my timetable. I wanted to do some different things. The AJET Rep at the time, he posted about the opening, so I thought, “Why not? I’ll try something different.”
At the time, I didn’t have that many goals that I can specifically say. I just wanted to try to challenge myself and see what else I could do. And I went for it, got it, did it. So, it’s been one year of doing AJET Block Rep, and it’s been so much more than I could have expected it to be. It’s been really challenging as well–lots of sleepless nights, lots of work, but very, very rewarding. I don’t regret the decision at all.
It’s been a really great experience. I’ve met a lot of great people. I definitely developed a lot professionally, I believe. We’ve had a really great council this past year.
What made you think about running for AJET Chair?
This year I like to think we’ve made a lot of progress. We have made a lot of progress. The changes with CLAIR recently have put a lot of people off AJET. Our perspective on it is obviously very different from what the general JET view is. I want to keep moving AJET forward even if we don’t have the same relationship with CLAIR as before. From the current National Council perspective, there are so many things that we can still do as well. If National Council members didn’t do something, I had the feeling that it might just stop right there.
I talked to some other council members. The new Vice Chair (Xan Wetherall) and the new Treasurer (Aaron Gilling) were actually also last year’s council members. We said we would do this together, and we would keep AJET going even grander than before.
What are you looking forward to the most as AJET Chair?
I really want to be able to lead the new council in doing more than what we managed to achieve this past year. It’s not something I can say, “We’re just going to do this and this and this.” It’s going to be direction for the new council. This is what I’m hoping.
One thing I really want to get to is the website–really make it a useful tool. Currently it’s quite difficult to navigate. Hopefully we can change it to something that’s more useful for people, in terms of resources, opportunities, and things like that.
What advice would you give to JETs that want to get involved in AJET?
Speak up! They can always start getting involved right now. There’s a volunteer form where we gather everyone’s information–what kind of abilities they have, what kind of projects they’d be interested in–and we contact people on a need basis.
But even if we don’t contact them through those, people are still very much encouraged to participate in the local AJET chapter events. Each block is always in contact with a prefectural chapter representative, and we’re always trying to promote more community within the JETs and to participate in more block events. So if anyone is interested in helping with that, I don’t think any Block Rep is going to say no.◆
Sandy Cheng is a fourth-year JET Programme ALT in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture. She was the 2013-2014 AJET Block 6 Representative and Director of Sales and Marketing for the National Council. Cheng began her term as the 2014-2015 AJET Chair in June of this year. For more information about the Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching (AJET), please visit http://www.ajet.net.