For Krista Coy ’11 and Renee Estridge ’11, life took an exciting turn after graduation when they relocated to Kuji, Japan. The alumnae applied for jobs through Franklin College’s Kuji Assistant Language Teachers (ALT) Program. Graduates selected for the program make a two-year commitment to teach English to elementary and junior high school students and serve as cultural ambassadors for the Kuji Mayor’s Office.
Since 1960 Kuji and Franklin have been sister-cities, a gesture of intercultural goodwill established by the respective mayors and facilitated by Thomasine Allen 1911 (H.D. ’59). Allen traveled to Japan in 1915 as a Baptist missionary and spent most of her life involved in helping the local people recover from natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis.
Over her lifetime, she helped the city of Kuji establish a junior college, kindergarten facility, hospital and church. Prior to her death in 1976, the Kuji City Council named Allen an honorary citizen. Excerpts from interviews with Allen and some of her personal correspondence are featured in a new book, Build up, Build up, Prepare the Road!, by Yasuko Meguro, a former president of Allen’s namesake junior college. The book provides a glimpse of Allen’s leadership and humanitarian work, which serve as the model for today’s Kuji ALT Program. The program and its participants continue to strengthen the relationship between the sister-cities.
For Coy, the program has been life-altering. After she fulfilled her initial two-year commitment, she opted to extend her participation. She currently is completing her fourth year and anticipating a visit home in June after her contract ends. Coy indicated her stay in the United States will be temporary as she is hopeful to find other career opportunities abroad. Franklin College has selected Taylor Carlton ’16, a history major involved in College Mentors for Kids and Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, to assume Coy’s Kuji ALT Program duties.
With only a few months remaining in her contract, Coy is taking time to reflect on the last four years.
“I thought this opportunity would be an adventure, but I had no idea what type of amazing life-changing challenge I was facing. This Kuji experience has more than altered my career path; it has altered the way that I think about the world, and, to me, nothing is more valuable than expanding and building upon an ever-changing outlook on the world,” she said.
Coy’s initial transition to Japan was relatively smooth. She previously had experienced being without certain amenities and conveniences the United States offers. She had spent a semester studying abroad in Greece her junior year, later worked for one year on a remote ranch in Colorado and after that spent a month hiking the Appalachian Trail alone. She felt all the experiences were solid preparation for her move to Japan.
“I hiked the Appalachian trail for 36 days and carried everything I needed in one small backpack so adjusting to a new culture seemed exciting and somewhat menial in comparison to trying to sustain myself in the woods,” said Coy.
Coy managed to elude culture shock by focusing on what she could glean from the challenges each day brought.
“From the moment I arrived in Japan, everything was new for me. Simple daily tasks became much more complicated with the language barrier and with my lack of understanding about the cultural customs,” recalled Coy. Today, she confidently navigates those early challenges.
Coy said, “Like everywhere in the world, some days can be mundane, but I’ve never stopped learning.”
Like Coy, Estridge also has found living and working in Kuji fulfilling.
Estridge’s previous travel experience included a semester in Greece. With encouragement from her Pulliam School of Journalism professors, she pursued the Kuji opportunity but was concerned about the cultural divide.
To better prepare, she found a mentor, Franklin College Professor of Economics Hisaya Kitaoka, Ph.D. He volunteered to teach Estridge critical phrases in Japanese and gave her tips about honoring the culture. Even with the extra preparation, Estridge faced some obstacles.
“My first week looked like this: I arrived in Tokyo on a Saturday and was in Kuji the next day. On Monday, I met my coworkers at city hall, and on Tuesday, I was in the classroom. I had no idea what I was doing, and the school leaders don’t tend to give performance reviews or advice. I was overwhelmed,” said Estridge.
Over time, Estridge grew more confident, and the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills she developed in college became assets. Both Estridge and Coy were journalism majors and members of the college newspaper staff in addition to holding leadership roles with various campus organizations. Those experiences helped them figure out ways to find common ground with people in Kuji.
Estridge said, “I’ve been able to try a lot of new things here, including calligraphy and Japanese dance. I’m not good at all the things I’ve tried, especially the dancing, but it’s been fun to try and to get to know the people teaching the classes.”
Estridge recently committed to a fifth year in the Kuji program. Coy is still mapping out the next phase of her life’s journey and reflecting on her capacity to make a difference in the world.
Coy said, “This has become more than an experience; it has become my life. Everything I do from here on out will be impacted by my time in Kuji. Although I’ll be back stateside for a short time this summer, I hope to return to Japan or continue working abroad after my visit home.”
Estridge will miss having Coy in Kuji but looks forward to welcoming Carlton.
“Krista and I are neighbors in Kuji, and we share a car, so we see each other quite a lot. We also studied together in Greece, where we were also neighbors. Who knows, maybe we’ll be neighbors somewhere else later on!” said Estridge.
For more information about what a degree from Franklin College can do for you, contact the Office of Admissions at (800) 852-0232.