May 2021: Lauren Gassman

Lauren and her seniors on graduation day

Welcome to May’s edition of Alumni Spotlight, where we are taking some time to meet Lauren Gassman. Lauren has been stateside for almost ten years now and has been enjoying her time as a Japanese teacher, making visits back to Japan and furthering her studies of Japanese language education. Join me (and be jealous) in hearing about Lauren’s cooking track students and their annual cooking showcase!

Where are you from in Michigan or Ohio?

I am Farmington Hills, Michigan, about 30 minutes outside of downtown Detroit.

Where was your placement and how long were you there?

I was in Takaoka, Toyama from 2011 to 2012.

What was your school setting like?

I was teaching at Takaoka Ryukoku High School, which was a Buddhist high school in the area. There were three tracks that students could choose, the most interesting of which was the cooking track. Third-year students would put on displays of everything that they learned over the years, and it was very impressive how they were able to display all the skills that they have learned. They took it very seriously.

Ryukoku High School students in the cooking track showcasing their skills

What is a memory you have in Japan that sticks out to you?

I was not used to the amount of snow in Takaoka. Being from Michigan I thought I would be able to handle the snow and ice. I was not! One memory that sticks out is that I was walking to school one day when the snow had frozen over the road. At the entrance gate, I saw a teacher that I was crushing on at the time, and in my eagerness to smile and wave back at him, my foot slipped! I thought to myself, “I will immediately leave Japan right this instant and never return if I slip on this ice.” Luckily, I caught myself, and with crimson-red cheeks, I walked up to him and he said, “Are you okay?” And I had to kind of smile and say yes because I was so embarrassed I didn’t know what else to say. It was, however, a pretty funny memory that I like to tell people.

What are you doing now that you have returned?

I am currently teaching Japanese at a high school in Detroit. I am also the president of the Japanese Teachers Association of Michigan. 

Do you have any future plans you’re working towards?

I was just accepted to the Middlebury Language School for their new Master’s program for Japanese. I am very excited to increase my Japanese competency and use it to be a better teacher of Japanese!

What is something Japan-related you wish you could get involved with here in MI/OH?

I would love to get into some of the Japanese traditional arts (kendo, tea ceremony, yosakoi, taiko) or at least be able to enjoy these arts in a way that helps me teach students about them.

What advice or help would you like to give to other GLJETAA Alumni?

I regretted leaving JET after 1 year because I felt like I could have done so much more with it. But recently, I’ve looked upon my one year fondly as a way to grow as a person and to use my experiences to make sure that future experiences in Japan are fulfilling. One piece of advice I have is to reflect on your time and use that experience to enhance what you are doing now. I am able to look upon my time in Japan as a great experience now because I feel that I did all I could. I have grown to love Japan in a different, more nuanced way than I did before because of that experience. If you’re unsure of where your future lies, think about the fun times you had in Japan and think of what way you can contribute to your future by doing something you love from that experience.

Take time to enjoy fond memories, like trying on
furisode kimono in Asakusa

What konbini food do you miss the most?

Due to my job, I go to Japan a lot, so honestly, I don’t “miss” konbini food. HOWEVER, I’m always jonesing for Coco Ichi curry no matter how long it’s been since I last had it. I could eat it every day, and it’s usually the first and last thing I try to eat when I’m in Japan. 

Where can we reach you for networking?

I can be reached at my email for networking.


A big thank you to Lauren for joining us for the May edition of Alumni Spotlight. We’ve got our June guest already lined up, so be sure to check back in to see who we’re chatting with next month. Now that spring is making its way here, enjoy some time outdoors, and don’t forget to reach out to Lauren to talk about your experiences in Japan or even about Japanese language education. Until then, mata ne!

Alumni Spotlights is an outreach activity through the Great Lakes JET Alumni Association seeking to build stronger connections between alumni and to provide bridges for networking. If you or an alumnus you know would like to be featured in an installment of Alumni Spotlights, please email Andrew Esterline at ec@greatlakesjetaa.org.