12 Jan 2020
7th April 2019
JET Spotlight: Simon Wood
Simon Wood was an ALT in Kumamoto Prefecture between 1995-1997. Following his return to the UK he joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. His career as a diplomat has taken him on four overseas postings – twice back to Japan, to Denmark, and currently Rio de Janeiro in Brazil as HM Consul-General.
1. What inspired you to join the JET Programme?
While at university I spent eight months as an English teaching assistant in France. I loved the experience of introducing English language and UK culture to schoolchildren there, and was keen to deepen that experience further afield. I'll admit I didn’t know much about either Japan or about JET when I applied, but I'm so glad I took the plunge!
2. How did you find your experiences as a JET?
It was a fantastic two years. I worked in one middle school and four different elementary schools, and the students, teachers, town hall team and neighbours were all helpful and friendly. The 'full immersion' experience of learning Japanese in a rural environment was challenging, frustrating, satisfying and amusing in equal measure.
3. What have you been doing since finishing JET?
On a personal level, I met my wife (a fellow JET participant) in Japan; we’ve now been together 23 years, and two of our three children were born in Japan! I noticed on JET that I really enjoyed 'representing' my own country while learning another country’s language, culture, politics and history; that led me to consider a diplomatic career. As a UK diplomat I’ve had a range of roles covering political relations, trade promotion, media work, consular issues and crisis management.
4. How do you think your current role can further UK-Japan ties?
At a JET conference, I remember a keynote speaker saying that JET turns people into “Ambassadors for Japan” – I think that’s true, and wherever I go as a UK diplomat I find myself telling people how great Japan is! Obviously, I've spent eight years or so directly working to strengthen UK-Japan ties in politics, international relations and in business. Even outside of Japan, I always look to establish contact with Japanese diplomats and officials to see how we can work together.
5. What are your professional and personal Japan-related goals?
Professionally, I’ve spent eight years working on UK-Japan ties, and I know in my bones I want to work again in Japan at some point. Personally, our three sons talk a lot about how much they enjoyed their time there – their recollections of experiences as toddlers are remarkable. We need to help them experience it again.
6. What did you learn or discover during JET that you've taken into your life and career?
JET is a remarkable experience that teaches you a combination of resilience, professional focus, adventure and a need to keep an open mind. I've learnt to look for the positives of other cultures (as it's too easy to focus on the negatives); to be proud of my country while not being defensive about it (we're far from perfect and we shouldn't hide that); and above all that as a Brit abroad you need to keep both a sense of curiosity and sense of humour!