Kaylah Jetton began studying Japanese on her first day of kindergarten at Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School, an international K-8 school in Detroit, where students learn French, Spanish, Chinese, or Japanese from native speakers. There, she studied the Japanese language for two hours daily and performed traditional Japanese songs and dances at annual school cultural festivals after being immersed in a multicultural classroom.
Now a Michigan State University graduate with a B.A. in Global Studies and minors in Japanese and Asian Studies, Jetton currently works as an English Teaching Assistant in Laos through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and has her sights set on one day becoming a diplomat for the U.S. Foreign Service. It was at MSU that she first thought of working abroad. As an undergraduate, she struggled to select a major at first until her advisor mentioned that the Global Studies Program fit her passion for foreign languages and cultures.
“When my advisor told me about Global Studies, I didn’t even know it existed,” Jetton said. “She said the Global Studies major was for anyone who had a passion for learning languages and the culture behind the language, whether through service learning, history, or any other social sciences subject. It was like a light bulb went off in my head.”
MSU Education Provides Strong Foundation
Jetton says the opportunities MSU provided established a strong foundation for her to travel abroad and gave her the courage to apply to the Fulbright program.
“I had no idea that combining these passions — my love for language, culture, and service — was even possible until college,” she said, “but once I changed my major to Global Studies and learned about the U.S. Foreign Service through some career development seminars at MSU, I realized that diplomacy would be a viable career path for my life.”
“I had no idea that combining these passions — my love for language, culture, and service — was even possible until college.”
During her time at MSU, Jetton worked as an Intercultural Aide, which allowed her to develop organizational and leadership skills while mentoring international students, students from minority groups, and first-year students on the Pell Grant. She worked to support their transition to life on campus.
Jetton also studied abroad in Japan as a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship.
“That was the first time I traveled abroad alone,” she said. “Without that scholarship, I couldn’t have afforded it. That was my first time going to Japan, and they made that dream a reality.”
Jetton also had a virtual internship with the U.S. Department of State with their Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. She worked to develop No Lost Generation MSU, a student organization that aims to bring education and awareness to the greater Lansing community about the global refugee crisis. The organization supports displaced women and youth from Turkey, Syria, and Sudan and provides opportunities for students to help refugee families throughout Michigan.
After graduating from MSU in Spring 2017, Jetton taught English in Japan for two years as part of the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, which invites college graduates from predominantly English-speaking countries to be involved in foreign language education at local schools, government offices, and school boards and aims to promote grassroots internationalization at a local level. Through the program, Jetton taught English at five primary and secondary schools in Kochi Prefecture on Shikoku Island. This region is often called the “Forgotten Japan” due to the lack of modernization on the island since World War II.
English Teaching Assistant Fulbright Program
The U.S. Fulbright Program’s English Teaching Assistant Program for Laos places grant recipients in classrooms to aid local Lao teachers. Typically, the program’s duration is 11 months with Jetton’s Fulbright beginning in September 2022 and ending in July 2023.
Jetton applied for the English Teaching Assistantship in Laos due to her limited exposure to developing countries in Asia and the unique opportunity Fulbright gives finalists to facilitate English classes and cultural exchange events in partnership with the U.S. Embassy in the capital city of Vientiane.
“I chose Laos because I was quite unfamiliar with the country at the time,” she said. “Also, I love diving headfirst into learning about another language and culture. With Japan, I was so familiar with it — I was well-versed in the language and culture, and after accomplishing my goal of traveling to Japan, I wanted to achieve a new dream.”
“As an English instructor, I try my best to create an environment where students can value their ability to ask questions and think critically and creatively about the material I present.”
For the first half of her Fulbright grant period, Jetton taught English language and U.S. culture classes at the American Center in downtown Vientiane. She now teaches three courses in English pronunciation, oral communications, and Western Culture at Souphanouvong University Luang Prabang, Laos’ former capital. She was incredibly excited about this opportunity because teaching at the collegiate level allows her to converse more deeply with adult students about the social justice issues that currently impact native Laotian citizens, like human rights, climate change, and economic inequality.’
“As an English instructor, I try my best to create an environment where students can value their ability to ask questions and think critically and creatively about the material I present,” Jetton said. “I encourage them to demonstrate their knowledge completely. I think that part is almost, if not more, important than simply memorizing vocabulary or mastering content.”
Outside the classroom, Jetton’s Fulbright cohort takes time to learn about the history and culture of Laos through excursions to local temples, festivals, and markets.
“By participating in Fulbright, I have found a new dream in learning about other parts of Asia.”
“Even though I don’t know the language well, there is a lot to be learned by watching and actively participating in those sorts of things,” she said. “Our students have been very welcoming to our cohort. They have invited us to the local market or restaurants on the weekends and are open to learning from us, and we learn a lot from them, too.”
Jetton’s long-term goals are to attend graduate school to become a Foreign Service Officer. She also would like to return to Japan one day to study and continue exploring other areas of Asia.
“By participating in Fulbright, I have found a new dream in learning about other parts of Asia,” she said. “I believe that to know about a continent, you must visit all of it. And I would have been remiss if I had just informed my graduate studies with my sole experience in Japan or with Japanese culture. I wanted to immerse and challenge myself with this time I’m living here. So far, I’ve been having an amazing time.”