Final thoughts as AJET Chairman

On May 1, 2012
Chair SpeechIt’s hard to imagine it’s been a year since I became AJET Chair. The mix of emotions that comes with finishing my term are hard to describe. I’m so proud of my team and what we accomplished, but I wish we had a bit more time, so that we could to do more. It’s exciting that there’s new challenges to come in my own life, but sad that I have to end this chapter with AJET.

This year has brought things with it that I could never have imagined. Good and bad. I look back on the year and I’m so happy to have witnessed the unprecedented support we got from 1st year JETs signing up for the AJET e:Connect, but at the same time, who would have thought that we’d have typhoons destroying areas of Japan right after the Tohoku disasters and we would need support to JETs and to rebuild a second time in so many months?

During my time as chair, I wanted to engage all JETs, current and past, as well as the ministries and communities around us. I wanted to inspire everyone to greater success and triumphs that we could all enjoy.

I challenged you all, in my election campaign, to make this the year that “We can do more, we can help more, we can be more!”

Genba and MatthewThat call to action set the tone for a year that was a whirlwind of toil and work for us, balanced with marked achievement. There were times where our day jobs and our volunteer jobs, supporting JETs, added up to 80-90 hour work weeks. At times I questioned whether it was worth it.

But looking back, if you were to ask me, “Would you do it all over again?”, There’s no other answer than, “YES. In a heartbeat.

This year saw AJET re-branded to clearly show the world what AJET does: Connects people linked to the JET Programme; participants, ministries, alumni, our countries, and the world. That started a chain reaction of more close interaction from all of those parties.

This year, you saw the AJET website revamped and redesigned so that you could more easily navigate it. We saw facebook groups created for regions across Japan, to allow JETs to connect with other JETs locally and share what they found relevant to their experiences. We saw AJET make a presence in the twitter universe and speak to the public, as well as multiple instances of coverage in the media.
AJET got involved with JET Alumni and members of our council even attended the JETAA International Conference, to make sure current JETs were represented. AJET engaged Embassies and started close relationships with U.S. and Canadian governments, which we’re hoping will result in more and more opportunities for JETs.

Lastly, you saw the inception of AJET Connect magazine, which is connected to and downloaded thousands of times each month. Not to mention, perhaps the most monumental development: The iPhone, iPad, and iPod AJET “iConnect” app, which will undoubtedly be a game changer for new JETs and anyone visiting Japan.

So what was the most memorable of all these things, you ask? Well, as the Chair, I’ve met more JETs across the country and corresponded with more of you than I never would have had the chance to before.

The most amazing thing for me as the chair, has been seeing what regular JETs do everyday. A JET named Michael Maher-King started a project that has hundreds of JETs across the country participating in orphanage visits called “Smile Kids Japan”. Paul Yoo jumped to action in Akita after the disasters, getting tonnes of fresh fruit to survivors with his “Fruit Tree Project” that turned into “Volunteer Akita”, still at work and most recently sending an orphan from Tohoku to college, who would never have had the chance otherwise. Tokushima JETs put on a musical, in Japanese and English, for their community year after year. Shimane AJET put on a charity hike that raised ¥1.71 Million yen for Tohoku.

That’s the final message I want to share with you here today. It may seem that AJET, and others working on major projects, are doing something that you can’t. But that’s just not true. We’re JETs. Just. Like. You.

So, this is my challenge to you all in the next year:

Make something amazing. Do something inspiring. Touch the lives of the people around you.

You have one of the most unique platforms in the world to do it, as a foreigner, in a government backed exchange program, whose goal is to draw attention to itself and the ideals of internationalization. Each day you spend on this programme, and in life, is what you make of it. Your time as a JET is shorter than you may think, take it from me after 5 years. Don’t waste a moment.

I’m happy to say that during the past JET year, we did what we set out to do:

We Did More. We Helped More. We Were More.

I hope that you’ll all join me, in the years to come, and let’s use these experiences as a springboard to Change the World.

Until we connect again,

Your friend,
Matthew Cook
2011-2012 AJET Chairman