Elena Kalmus, Class of 2006
When she was a 6th grader at Stevens Cooperative School, Elena Kalmus ’06 took a Japanese after-school enrichment class with visiting teacher-intern Junko Ishii. A decade later, Elena graduated from Colgate University with a degree in Japanese
language and was accepted into the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program, an initiative sponsored by the Japanese government that brings college-educated individuals to work in communities throughout Japan.
For the past two years, Elena has been living and working in Imabetsu, a community of nearly 2,800 located in Japan’s Aomori Prefecture. She helps to plan conferences, orientations and other regional events for expats working in the JET program. She also translates documents for the board of education and Imabetsu, but Elena’s main occupation is teaching English to students in 1st through 9th grade. She also teaches English conversation classes in the evenings to adults.
"Teaching is something I’ve been interested in since high school,” said Elena. The desire to work with children and interest in helping others led this Stevens alumna to combine education with her deep knowledge of Japanese language and culture. Elena was able to visit Japan on three occasions, including study abroad as a Colgate undergraduate, before joining the JET program.
“My time at Stevens and the multitude of great experiences I had fostered a mindset for thinking about the world.”
Elena says that her time at Stevens instilled a sense of responsibility and prepared her to adopt a posture of global citizenship that she carries with her to this day. “We had quite a bit of cultural exposure at Stevens,” she said. Whether it was the 5th grade trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view the Egyptian exhibit, the 8th grade cultural exchange trip to Mexico City or the 7th grade farm trip to experience life outside the city, “I was inspired by those experiences and my teachers to cultivate a lot of different interests that helped to widen my view of the world around me.”
Beyond teaching and leading, Elena also accompanies her students to events at the town’s cultural center, helps with publicity to promote developments like the new bullet train station and arranges regional social events. “Learning about different cultures and traveling abroad allowed me to look beyond my own situation and consider other perspectives as well,” she said. “My time at Stevens and the multitude of great experiences I had fostered a mindset for thinking about the world.”
This article was originally published in the 2015 Winter issue of SCOOP Magazine.