Sterling resident ready to JET to Japan, teach English

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published July 19, 2019

 Sarah Howell, of Sterling Heights, visits Japan during a previous stay. She plans to teach English in Japan through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program.

Sarah Howell, of Sterling Heights, visits Japan during a previous stay. She plans to teach English in Japan through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program.

Photo provided by Sarah Howell


STERLING HEIGHTS — From a young age, Sarah Howell knew she was adept at languages, such as the time she picked up German from her mom’s friend. So when Howell attended Stevenson High School and saw her friends attending Japanese class, she decided to do it too, as a challenge.

But besides the grammar and vocabulary lessons, she also absorbed the personal stories of her teacher, Eric Cooper, and his experiences living in Japan.

“He would talk about Japan as if it was a real place, with cultural anecdotes,” she said. “He would show us movies and documentaries. It made it feel real. ... I kind of just fell in love with it.”

This August, Howell, 22, from Sterling Heights, will be moving to Kyoto in order to teach English to Japanese students, thanks to the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program.

The JET Program requires a bachelor’s degree, and participants either teach English in Japan or engage in international relations work. The program initially lasts one year, but participants may get the chance to extend their time to as long as five years.

Howell, an Oakland University graduate who majored in Japanese, said she applied for the JET Program at the suggestion of her former Japanese professor. She said she applied close to the submission process’ November deadline, hurrying to send in transcripts and doctor clearances.

While knowing Japanese was helpful, she said her experience in babysitting children was a strong factor in her favor.

“I had also tutored Japanese students in English in college,” she added. “Putting both of that on my resume really gave me a push, a boost.”

Howell said she is certainly excited to go to Japan, and particularly excited to live in Kyoto due to its rich cultural history and its famous temples.

“It used to be the capital of Japan,” she said. “It’s considered the most beautiful city in Japan. I had no choice over it. I didn’t ask for it, but I got lucky and got in anyway.”

Once she arrives, Howell will teach English to elementary and junior high school students throughout Kyoto. She said she plans to try to make English fun by playing games like Simon Says with the elementary students. She hopes to teach older kids how to play Apples to Apples.

Howell said she looks forward to meeting coworkers who are Japanese and teach English. She also said she likes the experience of being a cultural ambassador, adding that she previously studied abroad in Japan for five months and got the chance to meet people from around the world, including Britain and China.

“I gained a lot of bravery and courage,” she said.

JET Program coordinator Rhea Young, who works at the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit, said her consulate has a total of 60 people joining the program this year — 53 will be teaching English, and seven will do international relations work.

“One nice thing about it is you get to connect with people in your Japanese hometown and learn about the culture there,” Young said. “The JET participants kind of serve as cultural ambassadors. … Some are sent to smaller rural areas. Some are sent to small cities.”

Howell said she wants to be part of the JET Program for three to five years and also take the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test, a prerequisite to qualifying for many jobs in Japan, as well as translation positions elsewhere. She hopes the experience will open future doors.

“Hopefully my experience speaking Japanese with my students will get me a job translating for some company,” she said. “I’m still planning on going back into business or government in a translation or interpretation sort of role.”

Find out more about the JET Program by visiting