Photo of a river and cherry blossoms in Japan

Voices From Our Students, Graduates And Jets

Over the years many of our Japanese language students have participated in Montclair State University’s JET program. Their lively correspondence with Professor Yahui Olenik (shared below) gives us a wonderful window into their exciting experiences teaching and living in Japan.

Voices From Our JETS

Tatiana Figarola, Class of 2022

Tatiana Figarola
Major; Linguistics
Minor: Japanese
JET ALT: Aomori Prefecture, Japan
Future Employer: Kinder Kids International Preschool, Osaka, Japan

Emails to Prof. Yahui Olenik

In July of 2023, I made my way to rural Japan to become an Assistant Language Teacher through the JET Program. It was my first time outside of the U.S. and has been an experience I’ll always be grateful for. At my job, I work with a main English teacher to create activities and help run classes for students in kindergarten through 9th grade. It’s been so rewarding being able to work with my students over a year and see their commitment and excitement towards learning English.

In and outside of the classroom I’ve gotten to experience Japan and immerse myself in the culture in so many ways. Through the JET Program, I’ve been able to meet so many different people from around the world and experience new opportunities in Japan. Next, I’ll be moving to Osaka City to begin working as a kindergarten teacher at an international school. I’m really looking forward to the new experience and will always remember the JET Program as my start to experiencing Japan.
– Tatiana Figarola

Cara Rosner, Class of 2021

Cara Rosner
Major: Linguistics
Minors: Japanese/Asian Studies/Global Security and Diplomacy/International Studies
JET ALT in Gunma Prefecture, 2021 – Present

Emails to Prof. Yahui Olenik

September 20, 2021
It has been 10 days since we started our quarantine, and the days are starting to merge in a blur. We have until 9/27 before we are finally free. We are allowed to go to Lawson’s downstairs, or in the garden for a bit, but recently our group has gotten in trouble for congregating too much.

I’m so happy and excited the JLC is back!! I hope everyone else is too!

The biggest events for me these past 10 days was the 14 hour flight, the 3 hour adventure of getting our covid tests done and receiving our 在留カード at the airport, and getting meals every breakfast, lunch and dinner from the hotel staff, which is now repeating so it’s pretty predictable what the food is going to be… for me, I’ve been spending the days watching the orientation JET videos and practicing/studying Japanese.

Let me know if you would like any more details!
It’s really good to hear from you, thank you for your kind email.
– Cara Rosner

February 17, 2022
Hello Sensei!!
First off, I want to apologize for not reaching out sooner. I had planned to send many new year’s post cards out but never got the chance to find ones I wanted to send… Still, that’s not an excuse to not write to you. This is very late, but I hope you had a good start to your new year!

In all honestly, I can’t believe time is moving so fast! It feels like just last week I was still new here, but it’s been almost a full 5 months. I forget how long it’s been and that those back home need to hear from me more often. I don’t realize how long it’s been, especially since my usual day to day is pretty consistent.

My 6th graders are graduating next month, and I’ll miss them. They’ve been so good to me, and I’m so impressed by their urge to learn English and to talk to me. Also, being around them and hearing their fast Japanese has help improved my listening comprehension immensely. As for my Japanese itself, I’ve been studying everyday (I still use the many materials you made throughout the different classes I had with you on Canvas!) and I’m planning on taking the JLPT N3 sometime this year. I have decided to re-contract, so hopefully Japan will be able to open up their boarders in the summertime so I can visit before I stay another year.
– Cara Rosner

To the Japanese Language Circle, February 17, 2022
I’ve been working as an ALT (assistant language teacher) on the JET program at an elementary school in Gunma, Japan for about 5 months now. Living alone in a foreign country has its ups and downs, but it has been an absolutely amazing experience so far. It has helped me improve my language skills and has given me time to understand myself and how I work living alone.  As an ALT, I help the main English teacher, as well as the homeroom teachers, conduct English classes. We follow teaching plans provided by our cities board of education. Sometimes, we like to throw in different ideas to keep the learning experience more fun for the kids, like adding a round of vocab karuta or having a gesture game.

The kids at my school make my day and I enjoy talking with them outside of class. My favorite time is when I get to play soccer or dodgeball with them. The teachers have also been so amazing, and I’ve made many wonderful relationships in which I can ask for help whenever I need it and not feel shy or embarrassed. COVID has made traveling (and sometimes teaching) a lot harder in Japan, but I have managed to rent a car once in a while to drive around Gunma. Gunma is a prefecture all about mountains and onsen, and I love finding new places to site see.

I’m excited to continue my new life here, developing more relationships with kind people and discovering off-the-beaten-path roads. I hope if you have a similar dream, that all your work pays off one day and you can have your own adventure too.
– Cara Rosner

January 1, 2023
Happy New Year Sensei!
While the beginning of this month was hard with Covid and missing the JLPT, I passed my driver’s test a few days ago! I finished off the year right and am looking forward to the opportunities this year. Thank you for being a person that has helped motivate me to strive for my best.

I hope you, your family and your Japanese students have a great year full of health and
happiness! Here’s to 2023!
– Cara Rosner

Alexandra Mitchell, Class of 2018

Alexandra Mitchell
JET ALT 2018-2021
Resides in Japan

Emails to Prof. Yahui Olenik

January 4th, 2019
This has been by far the busiest 6 months of my life haha. I live in Iwanai; the countryside of Hokkaido. It’s really beautiful and I like that it’s not too rural. I teach at two middle schools. I want to give the kids the experience of commonly celebrated holidays in America, so I did Halloween parties and Christmas parties at the schools.
– Alexandra Mitchell

January 9th, 2023
At the moment I live in Osaka and I am attending a technical school for manga. I work three part time jobs in addition to being a full-time student. I work every day of the week in order to pay my tuition. Looking back the JET program was a great experience and I wish your students all the best in getting in. Have a happy New Year!
– Alexandra Mitchell

Lynka Tanaka, Class of 2016

Lynka Tanaka
JET ALT, 2016-17

Emails to Prof. Yahui Olenik

After graduating from MSU, I was given the opportunity to teach English as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan on the JET Program. Living in another country for an extended amount of time and communicating with the people on a daily basis gives you a new perspective on the country and its culture.  I am only halfway through the program, but can already say that I’ve learned so much, not only about the culture, but about myself as well. I’s heartwarming to see my students eagerly listen about the different countries and cultures around the world as well as talk proudly about their own country. It has truly been a wonderful experience.

A special thank you to all the faculty and staff at MSU who have helped me along the way.
– Lynka Tanaka

Jena Greco, Class of 2015

Jena Greco
Major: Animation & Illustration
JET ALT, Okinawa, 2016-19

Emails to Prof. Yahui Olenik

January 17, 2018. Okinawa, Japan
I live in Japan on a small island in Okinawa Prefecture, teaching English to grades K-9. Nearly every day feels like I’m in some sort of movie, with how different life is here compared to how it was in America. Being in a small village, things are incredibly laid back, to the point where I recently learned that most people leave their doors unlocked and it’s not weird for the mailman to bring your mail into your home on a rainy day and place it on your table. I was shocked to hear this at first, but knowing how friendly everyone is here, I realized how much it made sense. There are always social events, from cooking together, to ground golf competitions (similar to mini golf), to various parties at the local restaurants. Being on a small island, there aren’t huge things like malls or movie theaters to keep people busy, so it’s easy to make friends here by going to the many events they plan. I’ve been here for about a year and a half, and I’m still shocked by how kind they can be. While I’m not much of a morning person, I still love going into my job every day regardless.

Having been here for so long, the students all know me well, but they also still get very excited when I come into the classroom. I feel very comfortable teaching them and it’s easy to joke around with them. Recently, while teaching about American New Year, a fourth-grade student didn’t know the English word “shrine”, so instead he improvised and said, “God house”. The homeroom teacher and I couldn’t stop laughing, but we were still so happy he used the English he knew to explain what he meant rather than relying on the homeroom teacher to help. There are moments like that nearly every day, so I always have something interesting happening to me.

Finally, being here has been extremely helpful with my Japanese. Being surrounded by it helps not only in learning new things, but strengthening the things I already know so that I can pick up on them faster. When I first came here, I had some trouble with the native speed that a lot of people, especially my students, used. But I’ve gotten used to it and can understand so much more than I could at first. Not only that but having Kanji around me to read all the time has helped with my reading, as well. It feels nice knowing I’m progressing every day. I could not have asked for a better experience here.
– Jena Greco

June 1, 2023. Ibaraki, Japan
Dear Olenik-sensei,
Hello! It has been a while! I moved back to Japan last year in March, so I’ve been here for over a year now. I live in northern Ibaraki (in Daigo) and I’m teaching again right now! I’ve been having a great time here. I love living in Japan so much.
– Jena Greco

Christopher Mack, Class of 2005

Christopher Mack
Major: Fine Arts, Graphic Design
JET ALT 2005, MSU Japanese Program’s first JET
Hirakata Board of Education, Osaka, Japan. 2011 ~ present

Emails to Prof. Olenik & to the Japanese class students

August 29, 2005. Yamaguchi Prefecture
Ladies and gentlemen,

A long and very late hello from the other side of the world.  I am very sorry to be emailing all of you after I have been here for a month. However, I have just recently gotten the internet at my apartment.  So now I am free to share stories and pictures with you all.

A lot of stuff has happened in the past month so I shall try to catch u all up.  My apartment is very large even for one person.  The town and area where I live is very rural.  Think Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs. Among the usual flora and fauna, I get to live with dragonflies, cicadas, grasshoppers, centipedes that can kill small children, beetles the size of your fists, frogs that come out when it rains, stick bugs, giant herons, two feet long snakes, wild boar, and yes even monkeys.  I was graced with having the wild boar and the monkey having a territory battle over the mountain that my apartment is near the first week I was here.  Oh, good time. 

I am leasing a car so I am mobile and can go shopping and sightseeing.  It is really great because it is so small that it fits in my pocket.  I save a lot on parking because I carry it with me wherever I go.  To keep myself busy I have joined the taiko club (the large drums) and when school starts, I plan on joining the kyudo club (the 5 to 6 feet tall bow and arrows). There has been talk of a painting class, but I have to get specifics on that.  I also think that the teachers are planning on me doing something with the baseball team because I told them that I used to play.  Other than that, I have been keeping myself busy with sightseeing, meeting other JETs, and going to the beach.  I am sorry to say but the beaches over here make the Jersey shore look like crap.  People are impressed that I can cook but, in my situation, I have to because there are no places to eat over here.  But anyway, school starts this week so I will be very busy and try to send you guys weekly email.  So, if anyone has any questions please email and I will try to send you all pictures also once I play with the pics.
Ok talk to ya’ll later.
– Chris Mack

December 1st, 2005.  Yamaguchi Prefecture
Hello sensei,
I am sending this to you on Friday over here so hopefully you will get it before the bonenkai. Ok here it goes.  Please have D (Deirdre Maino) read this to the (MSU) kids hopefully it will inspire them to come to Japan.

Hello everyone.  my name is Chris Mack I am a JET living in Yamaguchi Prefecture.  It is the western most ken (prefecture) on the big island of Honshu.  We are a ferries ride away from Korea and few hours away from Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Osaka.  I would like to say that if you continue to study Japanese the possibilities are endless.  Not only will you learn about a truly fascinating culture and society through its language, but you will also be able to speak a language that at time is very difficult.  But then again what language isn`t?  I never thought that studying Japanese was ever a possibility in my life.  Then again, I never thought I would get the opportunity to go to Japan. But once I got the chance to go to Kansai Gaidai, I fell in love.  I fell in love with a country that is so rich in culture, language, world affairs, and just in general great people I could not imagine anything better.  Japan is a country that has melded culture, history, technology, and sense of style that I think has not been matched anywhere else in the world.

I live in the inaka (the countryside) and I can`t think of living anywhere else in Japan. True the cities are quite a place and sight to see.  When we were in Tokyo for orientation, I was speechless as we were driven through the streets to get to the airport.  Tokyo definitely blows New York away in the sense that it is a megacity.  However, if you want to get a sense of the real Japan, the place where you are family and you become a part of the community then you have to be a part of the inaka.  I recently had a Thanksgiving dinner in which I invited a whole Japanese family because I teach all the children, along with some other JET`s (who were actually English and had never been to a Thanksgiving feast before) and it felt like it was at home.  We all felt like one big family.  And that’s the type of Japan you all should experience. Don’t come to Japan on vacation.  Don`t be a tourist. Study abroad, apply to JET, hell even find another job where you are able to work in Japan.  Just before you die find a way to make it out to Japan and live here. I mean live here.  Don’t just come for a visit.  Live here and you will have a life experience that not only will change your life in a profound way, but you will be a better person because of it.  Well, I hope that has helped you in your ideas about Japan and everything that goes along with it.  I really have to go now my lunch of tonkatsu is getting cold.  (For those of you who know what tonkatsu is oishii)  I am very sorry that I could not be there to share this with you in person.  So happy New Year, have a beer for me, and get off your ass and come to Japan. It’s great. – Chris Mack

Ok some of that may not sound right but then again, it’s weird to explain it if you have not been here before. Ok really got to go.  Talk to you later sensei.  And happy New Year.
– Chris Mack (in mitou)

July 21, 2009. Yamaguchi Prefecture

Hello sensei,
ohisashiburi!!!  So how are things?  It’s summer vacation (finally) over here.  I will also be starting my fifth and final year here on the program.  

So, after next year I have no idea what I will be doing and where I will be.  Oh, the joy. But other than that, things are good over here.  ok got to go so.
– Chris Mack

March 18, 2022, Osaka, Japan

Hello Prof. Olenik,
I am extremely sorry for the late reply. But since my son has been born, I have been trying to manage raising him and trying to keep my career going. I am currently trying to obtain a master’s degree in TESOL. Hopefully, I can do it. Other than that, I really don’t think there is much going on here.

Congratulations on the Japanese minor.  That is great news.
Hope all is well.
– Chris Mack

Voices From Our Students And Graduates

Katherine Martinez, Class of 2025 (expected)

Katherine Martinez
Class of 2025 (Expected)
Asian Language and Culture Major with a concentration in Japanese
J-Circle Student Administrator, Fall 2023

CHSS – Montclair State University – Japanese Program Experience

After my transformative trip to Japan in 2015, I decided to return to school and pursue a major in Asian Studies with a concentration in Japanese language. Immersing myself in a new culture during that trip was a profound experience that ignited my passion for understanding and embracing different cultural perspectives.

Choosing this major has been a truly enriching journey, expanding my knowledge of history, traditions, and global cultures. Through my courses, I have deepened my appreciation for the rich tapestry of our world. I have come to realize that no matter the circumstances, cultural differences can be bridged through exposure and understanding.

Moreover, my studies have provided me with invaluable opportunities to engage with individuals from diverse backgrounds, further enhancing my cultural competence. Looking ahead, I envision myself working as an event coordinator, building strong relations between Japan and the United States within a corporate setting. The ability to relate to and comprehend both cultures is essential in this role, considering their significant differences.

I am confident that my education at Montclair State University will equip me with the necessary knowledge and skills to achieve my future goals. I am excited to continue learning, growing, and contributing to the bridge between cultures in our increasingly interconnected world.
– Katherine Martinez

Skell Longfield, Class of 2024 (expected)

Skell Longfield
Expected graduation date Fall 2024
Illustration Major, Japanese Minor
Winner of 2023 J-Circle Kotowaza illustration & Calligraphy Contest

CHSS – Montclair State University – Japanese Program Experience

I began studying at Montclair in Fall of 2022 and have felt incredibly welcomed in the Japanese program since the beginning. I had spent about a year self-studying the language before enrolling but wanted to come out of my shell and learn among others. My previous efforts have not only been recognized by my instructors, but actively fostered. They are always encouraging and reassuring, reminding me of how far I’ve come and to keep challenging myself. My peers in class and in J-Circle are also always fun and welcoming, and we strive to help each other learn and grow. Under my instructors’ guidance, and alongside the student community in the program, I always feel right at home.
– Skell Longfield

Jacob Morenos, Class of 2024 (expected)

Jacob Morenos
Class of 2024 (expected)
Political Science major, Double minor in Global Security & Asian Languages
Recipient of 2023 NJATJ (New Jersey Association of Teachers of Japanese)
Japanese Language and Culture Study Award

CHSS – Montclair State University – Japanese Program Experience

As a political science student at MSU I have had an amazing experience taking part in Montclair State’s Japanese language program. I have always had an interest in foreign cultures, especially of those of East Asia and the Japanese language program allowed me to continue my interest in that. The two professors that I learned under, Olenik Sensei and Narasaki Sensei, are highly knowledgeable, hard workers, and genuinely care about the material. Such dedication to the languages, culture, and the students was quite inspiring to see as it motivated me to work and study harder.

One of my favorite projects we had to do was make a presentation on a piece of Japanese culture. I chose to do a presentation on the Meiji Restoration as it played an important part in the modernization of Japan. Another great part about the Japanese language program was the J-Circle. Here me and many other students learning Japanese get together to study, learn, and do activities together such as origami or calligraphy. We even get to eat Japanese foods and snacks there which was a major bonus! Such experiences I had will never leave me and I will continue to cherish such experiences and I hope to continue making such memories in the coming years. I would like to thank my professors, friends, classmates, and the Japanese program itself for making Japanese such a wonderful experience and allowing me to explore my interests in East Asian culture.
– Jacob Morenos

Larissa Moras, Class of 2020

Larissa Moras
Class of 2020
Animation & Illustration Major, Japanese Minor
Comic Bookstore clerk

CHSS – Montclair State University – Japanese Program Experience

As a freshman at a new point in my life, I was intimidated with all the choices ahead of me. But one thing I knew for certain, I wanted to take Japanese classes. Being able to learn a complex language I only dreamed of understanding was such a fulfilling experience. My teachers made the time I spent learning feel like I was at home relaxing. It was just fun. I not only learned how to write and speak the language, but I also learned about the culture and the calligraphy techniques in the writing. I learned how the characters came to be written the way they were through stories and images which made learning them easier. I also was able to channel all the basic training into the Reading class which gave us so much freedom to expand our knowledge of the language and culture of the Japanese. And as if the classes and teachers weren’t amazing enough, we also had the Japanese Language Circle. That Circle was such a blessing. It brought together people of every level together and formed such a wonderful community. It was a place to get tutoring if you were behind or a place to tutor if you wanted to help. The events that we held also brought in people outside of the school to learn more about the Japanese culture but also about Montclair State. Being a part of the classes and the Circle made Montclair State a second home to me. I will always cherish it fondly!
– Larissa Moras

Alf Fenton, Class of 2019

Alf Fenton
Class of 2019
Computer Science Major, Japanese Minor – Software Engineer – Founder & Tech Team Lead

CHSS – Montclair State University – Japanese Program Experience

As an alumnus of Montclair State University, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from Professor Olenik, a knowledgeable and passionate instructor of the Japanese language and culture. Her teachings and discipline have been a constant source of guidance and support in my career, and I know they will continue to be a valuable asset to me in the future. Professor Olenik’s love for Japan was contagious and it inspired me to continue exploring and learning more about the country even after I graduated. The professional wisdom and foundation provided by Professor Olenik and the Japanese language program gave me a distinct advantage in pursuing a successful career in computer science and entrepreneurship. I have even had the opportunity to visit Japan and use my language skills in a professional setting.

I am deeply grateful for the impact Professor Olenik and the Japanese language
program have had on my life and the perspective they have allowed me to gain.
Thank you, Professor Olenik, for everything.
– Alf Fenton

Michelle Dester, Class of 2019

Michelle Dester
Class of 2019
English major & double minor in Japanese and Asian Studies
International Mahavira Jain Mission – Engagement/Office Manager

CHSS – Montclair State University – Japanese Program Experience

The Japanese Program at MSU granted me wonderful memories and friendships that will always be a part of my life. I was interested in studying Japanese at a young age because I grew up with a lot of Japanese media and entertainment and I wanted to better understand the language and culture. I remember the camaraderie between all my classmates as we studied together and prepared for fun festivals and holidays at Japanese Language Circle. All of my Japanese  kind, and made Japanese easier to understand. One professor, Olenik sensei, I will always hold dear because of her dedication and generous heart. I also met a very dear friend, Larissa in one of these classes and we created Japanese Jeopardy games together for Japanese Circle. I also tutored a MSU business professor in Japanese and I developed a wonderful friendship with her that even led me to my current job as an office manager at the temple she is a part of. Japanese is a beautiful language that I am still practicing to this day, and it has granted me the opportunity to meet more people with similar interests and even further my own career. It has taught me that the future is limitless, and opportunities present themselves in mysterious ways you never could’ve imagined. What was the motivation to study for my hobby turned into a journey of self-discovery and lasting friendships I never would’ve had otherwise.
– Michelle Dester

Britten Gensel, Class of 2017

Britten Gensel
Class of 2017
Panasonic Connect of North America – Product Specialist

CHSS – Montclair State University – Japanese Program Experience

Life never turns out quite the way you expect it to. In my years at MSU, I could not have guessed the hardships, fears, and great accomplishments which would come to pass. I came to college with only one thing in mind; I wanted to learn Japanese! My broad vision of the desire to learn Japanese took me and my future career to great places. I decided to major in Linguistics and joined the Japanese Language Circle at MSU, which lead me to meet some amazing people. This enabled me getting a chance to intern in Japan helping the elderly with the assistance of my Japanese Professor, Olenik Sensei!

Shortly after graduating, I took my degree and accepted a sales position at a Japanese company who was impressed with my language skills. (So much for teaching!) During that time, I even presented job opportunities with the company to the Japanese Language Circle and donated some products to MSU. After some time, I moved on to my current sales role at Panasonic, which lead me to buying a house, and even meeting my fiancé. With my desire to learn Japanese, everyone I met gave me back so much in return. I cannot be more grateful for my time at MSU or for the people I met along the way. So yes, life never turns out quite the way you expect it to; Sometimes it takes you places better than you could have imagined!
– Britten Gensel