JET Alumni International Conference
Friday, October 30, - Sunday November 1, 1998
This year’s JETAA International Conference took place in Atlanta, Georgia with over forty-five participants. Most of them were from the U.S. and Canada. One was from Dublin, Ireland and another from Canberra, Australia.
The Conference began with an evening reception held at the residence of the Honourable Yasuo Saito, Consul-General of Japan in Atlanta on Friday, October 30th; with the Plenary Sessions taking place on Saturday, October 31 st.
The Plenary Sessions were delayed due to some confusion over which rooms in the hotel were to be used. As a result, most of the scheduled afternoon sessions had to be shortened.
The Opening Ceremony consisted of speeches by Katsutoshi Ohta, Senior official of CLAIR, Tokyo; the Honourable Yasuo Saito, Consul-General of Japan in Atlanta; and Yvette Pharo, President of the Atlanta JETAA Chapter. Following the opening remarks, representatives of JETAA Chapters spoke on behalf of their local associations. They are as follows: representing the U.S., Mike Levy of Houston JETAA; for Canada, Tom Robles of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan JETAA; for the United Kingdom, Paula Kelly of Dublin JETAA; for Oceana, Cathy Wallace of Canberra JETAA; and for East Japan, Daniel Lintz, based in Tokyo.
The general state of JETAA chapters seems to have stabilized since last year’s International Conference. Local chapters have established an annual routine of activities surrounding recruitment, orientation and the reception of recent returnees involved with the JET Programme. Other activities include career forums for recent returnees, acting as liaisons with International – particularly Japanese – students who are studying English as well as local Japanese-Canadian communities. Most chapters are now easily accessed via the World Wide Web with some having created or are in the process of creating a Web Page for their respective chapters.
Relationships between local chapters and embassies or consulates vary from very good to moderate. For those chapters in major centres, where there is access to more resources, projects and activities are usually more numerous and varied. Some chapters expressed difficulties in maintaining open lines of communication with their consulates, particularly those which are not located within close proximity to their representative consulate. There is also difficulty in recruiting returning JET’s to becoming more involved, thus maintaining a sense of continuity from one established JETAA body to a new one. Many recent returnees who do get involved express concern over not knowing what their individual administrative responsibilities are. This is usually due to JETAA members who leave their associations without ensuring that those who replace them are adequately informed of duties and responsibilities. Those associations without by-laws or a constitution are most susceptible to such a predicament.
The main goal of this year’s Conference was to decide whether an international JETAA needed to be created or not. If so, a specific set of by-laws as well as a mandate needed to be implemented in order to establish an official body and, thus, present CLAIR – the funding source for these conferences – with the documents which would help to justify future funding.
Debate and discussion over the purpose of an international body as well as the wording of the mandate and by-laws ensued, and continued for the better part of the day, leaving little time for the discussion of local chapter issues. This frustrated many of the delegates, who had come expecting to address such issues.
As a result of the day’s effort, a tentative mandate and set of by-laws declared, as official, the creation of JETAA International.
It is emphasized, however, that the decision to create an international body to represent local JETAA Chapters is still being widely discussed. Much of the debate centres on the fact that Conference delegates were not sent preliminary information on the issues involved, particularly about having to pass by-laws and a mandate. Many of them felt rushed about having to vote on issues which, they felt, they weren’t given enough time to contemplate. Many viewed the exercise of having to vote on these by-laws as premature and not fully representative of JETAA Chapters. The point was made that these International Conferences have, thus far, taken place exclusively in North America, with the majority of the delegates being from either the United States or Canada. Could this international body be truly representative given the circumstances and dynamics of these gatherings?
On the other hand, those who favoured forming an international body felt that time was a factor in the creation of such a body and that, if delayed, would require another year before a decision could be made about it. Because of the nature of these conferences – their infrequent occurrences, the length of time taken to reach consensus, the lack of time to address all issues and the number of issues to be discussed – some Conference organizers felt that an international body needs to be formed before local chapter issues could be addressed. Hence, the necessity of passing the mandate and by-laws before the end of the Conference. There was also the goal of being able to appeal to CLAIR Representatives for further funding of these conferences as well as of local chapter activities that required concrete goals and objectives to be presented to CLAIR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials.
In addition to formulating a mandate and by-laws, tentative executive positions; a sub-committee to discuss the newly-created mandate and by-laws; a committee to prepare for next year’s conference as well as to lay out the foundation for JETAA International; and the official JETAA International Logo were created. Such decisions are tentative and will be finalized by January 1999. Conference delegates will keep one another apprised of on-going developments, via the Internet, over the next few months.
As in years past, the International Conference provided opportunities for new friendships to form as well as a forum for further discussion of JET Programme- and JETAA-related issues. It was noted during one of the closing speeches that nowhere else was there a volunteer organization comprised of international members that, despite geographical boundaries and differences of opinion, could act so cohesively towards achieving its goals. Only time and effort will tell as to whether the momentum attained at the Conference can be maintained outside of it.
Special thanks go to Conference organizers and hosts, in particular, Yvette Pharo, Atlanta JETAA; Consul-General Yasuo Saito; Katsutoshi Ohta of CLAIR, Tokyo; Anita Chandan, John Elsner, and Libby Wolfensperger. As Always, they conducted themselves admirably and with grace to ensure a successful event.
Tom Robles, President
Manitoba-SaskatchewanJET Alumni Association