JQ Magazine: 2013 JETAA National Conference in Minneapolis Recap

2013 JETAA National Conference participants with former Vice President of the United States Walter Mondale in Minneapolis Sept. 26. (Courtesy of Yeu-Li Huang)

JETAA USA National Conference participants in Minneapolis with former Vice President of the United States Walter Mondale, Sept. 26, 2013. (Courtesy of Yeu-Li Huang)

By Yeu-Li Huang (Yamanashi-ken, 2007-2010) for JQ magazine. Yeu-Li is the current chapter secretary of the JET Alumni Association of the Southeast (JETAASE).

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – The JET Alumni Association of Minnesota (JETAAMN) hosted this year’s USA National Conference from Sept. 26-29 with assistance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR). Attendees included delegates from all 19 JETAA USA chapters, as well as representatives from CLAIR, MOFA, and the Consulate General of Japan at Chicago.

Each national conference spotlights particular challenges facing the JETAA community. This year was no different, as critical topics included continuation of the JETAA national initiatives, common issues facing JETAA chapters, membership outreach, and collaboration between JETAA chapters and other Japan-related organizations.

Thursday, Sept. 26

The conference got underway with an evening reception at the restaurant Crave, featuring former Vice President of the United States Walter Mondale as a special guest. A native Minnesotan, Mondale was also the U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1993-96. In his speech, Mr. Mondale praised the work that the JET Program has done in building personal relationships between Japan and the U.S., and called for “JETers” to continue fostering those ties.

Friday, Sept. 27

The first day of sessions opened with remarks from JETAAMN president Liz Brailsford (Niigata-ken, 2004-07). Chicago Consul General Masaharu Yoshida, Minneapolis Honorary Consul General Mirja Hanson, Noriko Watanabe from the Embassy of Japan, and Atsushi Inumaru from CLAIR. They praised the success of the U.S.-Japan relationships in Minnesota, the contributions of JETAA in building these relationships across the country, and more recently, the assistance of JETAA chapters with visits of Japanese governors to the U.S.

The Country Representatives gave updates on the JETAA national initiatives, including the efforts of the United States-Japan Bridging Foundation and the JETAA USA Working Group to strengthen JETAA USA and its chapters. This project is funded by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership and led by USJBF members (and JET alumni) Paige Cottingham-Streater (Mie-ken, 1988-89) and Laurel Lukaszewski (Kagoshima-ken, 1990-92). The JETAA USA Working Group, also composed of JET alums, serves as an advisory board. Its members talked about the impetus behind strengthening JETAA USA, while Paige and Laurel outlined the development of the project and future plans.

“I thought [the National Conference] was an extremely well-run event, organized and efficient,” said Cheryl Hou (Toyama-ken, 2005-08), president of Pacific Northwest JETAA (PNWJETAA).  “Laurel and Paige’s presentation gave the chapters a focused time to ask questions and receive answers for any concerns we had.”

Cheryl’s fellow chapter treasurer Patrick Reymann (Shiga-ken, 2008-12) introduced the Laurasian Institution’s Kakehashi Project, which sends Japanese students on a two-week exchange program to the United States and vice versa for American students. Bernard van Lierop of the Japan America Society of Minnesota offered advice about fundraising within the business community. Regge Life, director of last year’s documentary Live Your Dream: The Taylor Anderson Story, talked about his experience in filming the stories of the late JET participants Taylor Anderson (Miyagi-ken, 2008-11) and Monty Dickson (Iwate-ken, 2009-11). The day concluded with the MOFA reception held at Rock Bottom Brewery.

Saturday, Sept. 28

Saturday started out with a follow-up to the JETAA USA Working Group presentation. Discussions focused on how to best set up a national organization and utilize it. Delegates also worked on identifying common issues facing JETAA chapters, with an angle on how these issues can be alleviated by a strong national organization.

Wesley Julian (Miyagi-ken, 2008-10) of JETAA Chicago presented his personal film project Tohoku Tomo, concerning the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Further workshops focused on the topic of connecting JETAA chapters with their local communities.

“I really loved hearing about all of the things that are still being done to support the Tohoku region in Japan,” said Bahia Simons-Lane (Gunma-ken, 2005-07), president of Florida JETAA (JETAAFL). “I think most Americans have forgotten about the incident, but JET alumni remember. From meeting Regge and hearing about Wesley’s documentary project, I felt really happy that we are still thinking about the impact of the earthquake and tsunami and what we can do to help.”

Continuing the sister city national initiative, there was a panel on the St. Paul-Nagasaki and Minneapolis-Ibaraki sister city relationships. Of note is that St. Paul-Nagasaki is the oldest U.S.-Japan sister city relationship, and that the Minneapolis-St. Paul sister city relationship owes itself to Mister Donuts.

Minneapolis Honorary Consul General Mirja Hanson followed up with a presentation on pooling and leveraging Japanese resources within a community. Breakout sessions covered membership management and treasury and finances, concluding with a session on ways to increase JET as a relevant network and resource for all JET members.

Following the CLAIR reception at Hell’s Kitchen, the delegates ended the evening with a bus tour of the sights of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Sunday, Sept. 29

On the last day of the conference, the Pacific Northwest JETAA chapter announced their intent to host the 2014 National Conference to great applause; furthermore, the New England JETAA (NEJETAA) chapter gave notice of a regional conference to be held in February that will focus on several of the issues discussed at the national conference. Bahia Simons-Lane gave a presentation on creating a successful board and fostering its continuation.

The conference concluded with a slideshow encapsulation of the notable events that each chapter held in the past year. Newly inspired and motivated, each JETAA delegate returned home to share the fruits of the conference with their chapters.

“As a first-time participant in the JETAA National Conference, I arrived at the event rather unsure [of] what exactly to expect,” said Gregory Gaylor (Okayama-ken, 1996-99), vice president of JETAASE. “I was extremely impressed on all fronts during the three-day affair and am very much looking forward to next year’s national conference in Seattle.”

“The greatest thing about national conferences in general is that we get to come together with other chapters and learn about what works or doesn’t work for them,” said Simons-Lane. “This helps us get ideas about how to strengthen our own chapters and approach challenges.”

She added: “I felt really energized about where things are going on a national level after the conference.”

For JQ magazine’s recap of the 2012 JETAA National Conference in San Francisco, click here.