JET Spotlight: Alison Beale

25th January 2020

JET Spotlight: Alison Beale

Alison Beale was an ALT in Taketa, Oita prefecture. She is Director of the Japan Office for Oxford University, also her alma mater, with responsibility for forging and fostering links between Oxford and Japanese universities. 

She talked to JETAA UK about her pride in being a JET and how the experience has shaped her life and career. 

1. What inspired you to join the JET Programme?

To be honest, I did not know much about Japan when I applied for the programme and really just wanted to go somewhere new and ‘exotic’ for a gap year after university. I was attracted by the idea of cultural engagement in a local community, and having the opportunity to work in a school. I was not expecting to spend the full (at that time) three years and certainly not the 22 years that I have. Discovering Japan through the programme was really a beautiful surprise. 

2. How did you find your experiences as a JET?

Life-changing. I had an incredible three years working and taking part in school life in Taketa High School, and I also had a very rich and stimulating life in the community: practising kendo at an elementary school, rehearsing, performing and socialising with the community drama club, learning tea ceremony with the older ladies, and much more. I felt that I was constantly re-assessing previously held assumptions, and learning something new. Actually, I still feel that way and that is the main reason I have stayed in Japan for so long. There is always something new and interesting to discover. 

3. What have you been doing since finishing JET?

I worked for CLAIR for 3 years and then joined the British Council where I worked in roles in Japan for a further 6 years and then held posts in Trinidad and Tobago and Shanghai. In 2009 I was posted back as Deputy Director of British Council Japan and then in 2012 I decided I wanted to stay in Japan and started working as Director of the University of Oxford Japan Office based in Tokyo. My career has therefore always been in cultural relations and education. 

4. How do you think your current role can further UK-Japan ties?

Oxford has historically long links with Japan and there are extremely strong academic collaborations across a whole range of fields. My role is to increase and strengthen those links. Universities play a pivotal role in society, and both countries will surely benefit through an ever greater exchange of knowledge, ideas and also, of course, people. 

5. What are your professional and personal Japan-related goals?

In addition to my goals relating specifically to Oxford, I am also keen to contribute all I can to the development of higher education in both countries. Japan and the UK are both incredibly strong in research and also hold shared values in education, and I believe we have a good deal to learn from each other. I believe this deepening of bilateral ties, particularly in education, to be my life's work. On a personal level I am very interested in the landscape, flora and fauna of Japan and go to the mountains every weekend. I have so many beautiful pictures of my trips and want to show people overseas what an intensely beautiful country Japan is. I must start my mountain blog soon!

6. What did you learn or discover during JET that you've taken into your life and career?

As well as obvious things such as love of Japan and Japanese language ability, my time on JET really taught me to be adaptable as I was often called on to do something unexpected and had to improvise. Being on JET also taught me to be more comfortable with ambiguity, and to keep a sense of humour. For me, being on the JET Programme was an excellent foundation for my career in international education and exchange and I am very proud to be have been a JET.

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