Member of the Month: Chris Gray

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In an effort to better know our members both new and old, we’ll be posting a brief introduction to one lucky JETAADC member each month. If you’d like to be featured as our Member of the Month, please contact Kat Kovacs (newsletter@jetaadc.org) or David Baasch (david@jetaadc.org).

Traditional make up for the Fox Bride Festival in nearby Agamachi, Niigata. I actually did learn what the fox says, and boy was I not expecting it.
Traditional make up for the Fox Bride Festival in nearby Agamachi, Niigata. I actually did learn what the fox says, and boy was I not expecting it.

Name: Chris Gray

JET Placement & Years: Gosen-shi, Niigata-ken, 2012-2014

Where I’m from: Vienna, Virginia

What brought me to DC: See above.  Also Ben’s Chili Bowl.

 The funniest story from my time on JET (that’s fit to print!): My placement had three ALTs: Myself, Amanda and Carly. Early on we made an effort to attend every event around town and show our faces. Naturally I’d bump into a few of my students, who totally flipped out seeing their teacher out of school. So I’d show up to class the next day and inevitably a student would ask me, “Hey, Chris-sensei, which one’s your girlfriend?” To which I’d off-handedly reply that they both were. I had to discontinue this practice because almost all my students accepted that story at face value. I think in general the places that they and other people would go trying to figure us out were really funny. People asked if Amanda and Carly were sisters, if I was married to one of them–one time someone asked if I was Carly’s dad, which is probably a statement about foreign guys with beards in Japan.

Rocking my Jack Skellington kigurumi at our Halloween party.
Rocking my Jack Skellington kigurumi at our Halloween party.

 What I miss most from Japan: Oh man. The trains (sorry DC metro).  The insanely gorgeous countryside. Vending machines. Hitting the onsen, that’s probably the number one thing. Living in Niigata I got a decent amount of snowboarding done (yet another thing I miss), and you always go to the onsen afterwards. I went out once this winter and I missed it big time.

 The lesson I learned while on JET: This might be a little out there, but probably the biggest thing I learned was how to take things as they come and not to stress out disproportionately. Trying to get adjusted to my community and to my workplace presented challenges every day, but learning to keep focused on what was at hand. Taking things step by step helped me stay happy and not overwhelmed wondering how I was gonna cope in the long run. It’s an idea that was conceived during my first few months in Japan, but since then I’ve thought back on it a lot to keep me going when things get tough.

The picture that started it all. Our official photo circulated in Gosen's local newspaper.
The picture that started it all. Our official photo circulated in Gosen’s local newspaper.

 The perfect JETAADC event would be: Everyone gets together and we all talk about the fun stuff we did when we were in Japan. Hear me out on this! I’ve discovered by talking to other JETs (including two previous Members of the Month) that at this or that festival we were in the same place (literally within a hundred feet of each other) at the same time. Obviously Japan isn’t a huge country, but still, that just completely blows my mind! Now I’m super dedicated to finding more almost-not-quite-run-ins with other JETs.

 What Japanese word or phrase do you still find yourself saying in the US?: There’s a few that pop up in my head every now and then, but the one I use almost all the time is “Ite!” (like the shortened version of “Itai!”) whenever I stub my toe or otherwise bump into things. Not…that I do that super often.

Hanging out with some of my fellow returnees from Niigata at the JETAA DC welcome back reception last September!
Hanging out with some of my fellow returnees from Niigata at the JETAA DC welcome back reception last September!

 What were your favorite places to have visited in Japan, and which places would you like to go back to visit? Last year I visited the Sapporo Snow Festival, which was amazing. It was a great time to go because the Olympics were going on at the same time, so people were pumped for both and it was a really exciting atmosphere. I never got a chance to visit Kyushu, so I’d love to go check it out some time.

 What is the most memorable moment of your JET career that you would love to live again? Honestly, the leaving. Not in the “thank god I’m finally getting out of here” way, but doing all the farewell stuff with my teachers, students, and my board of education. I got this huge outpouring of appreciation from everyone, and even though I was only there for a short time it really made me feel like what I’d done had mattered to my community.

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