Montevallo alum teaches in Japanese sister city

By GINNY COOPER MCCARLEY / Staff Writer

Alabaster resident and University of Montevallo alum Megan Daniel faced a problem many young graduates know well: She graduated near the top of her class with good grades, but had a hard time finding a job.

“I graduated, started applying for all of these jobs I wanted, couldn’t get any of them. Then I started applying for all these jobs I didn’t want, couldn’t get those either,” Daniel joked.

After months of job searching, Daniel learned about the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, which aims to “improve foreign language education in Japan and to encourage international exchange at the local level,” according to the program’s website.

Daniel applied for the program and got to the final interview, but the process was more strenuous than Daniel imagined.

“I was like a deer in the headlights…my mind just went blank,” she said.

Daniel spent the following year immersed in volunteer activities that would prepare her to be a teacher abroad.

Montevallo’s relationship with the Japanese city of Echizen created the perfect opportunity for Daniel to learn about the culture and substitute-teaching jobs in Montevallo and Alabaster gave her teaching experience.

During the next year’s interview, Daniel excelled and was accepted to the program. After finding out she was accepted, Daniel knew exactly where she wanted to live in Japan.

“On my application, I put down that I wanted to go to Echizen town, because I thought, ‘we have a sister city. This is awesome. I get to claim them too,’” Daniel said.

Echizen town is in the Fukui prefecture, which is situated on the Northern coast of Japan. The prefecture is “very, very rural, not famous at all,” Daniel stressed, with a population just over 800,000.

Initially, the move to Japan was overwhelming—“I though, oh dear, what have I done?” Daniel said—but after a year living and teaching abroad, Daniel’s feelings have changed completely.

She is headed back to teach for another year and “hopefully more than that,” and could easily envision living permanently in her new home.

“I leave school everyday absolutely just loving it. Bonding with the students, getting to know the teachers, the community,” Daniel said.

The community is “incredibly giving,” Daniel said, highlighting one experience where she went to a restaurant with Japanese friends and left with a jar of homemade orange marmalade, a copy of a book in Japanese and “several hugs” from the restaurant owners.

Another time, Daniel was at the doctor’s office suffering from a sinus infection, when an older woman asked her about her symptoms and returned with bags of fresh produce from her garden.

“It’s just so many small, random things like that. The people in Japan are incredibly giving,” Daniel said.

For others interested in teaching abroad, Daniel suggested volunteering and studying various programs.

“Get involved, volunteer. Really study. Study the program, and talk to as many people as you can,” Daniel advised.