Taylor Britt and Sarah Zacahariason: JET-ting off to teach in Japan

University of Maine alumni Taylor Britt and Sarah Zachariason were selected for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, a prestigious teaching exchange program managed by the government of Japan.

Since 1987, JET has welcomed to Japan more than 35,000 Americans and more than 70,000 participants from around the world. JET participants sign a one-year contract, with the option of renewing for up to five years. Benefits include paid airfare to and from Japan, enrollment in Japan’s national health insurance, a minimum of 10 days paid vacation and an annual starting salary of $30,000. 

Britt majored in international affairs with a concentration in culture conflict and globalization and a minor in education, and graduated in spring 2023. He spent a semester at Hirosaki University in Japan during his sophomore year — his yearlong program was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and learned Japanese during college with hopes of returning to the country.

Zachariason graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work in 2022. During her time at UMaine, she competed with the UMaine Women’s Swimming and Diving Team and worked as a social work intern in the critical care unit, intensive care unit and emergency department at Eastern Maine Medical Center, now known as Northern Light Health. 

In this Q&A, the two UMaine alumni explain what drew them to the JET program, the things they are most looking forward to about living in Japan and the mentors at UMaine that guided them along the way.

A photo of Taylor Britt
Taylor Britt

How did you find out about the JET program?
Taylor Britt: I found out about the JET program in middle school through watching YouTube videos. 

Sarah Zachariason: I tried to study abroad quite a few times during my time at school. COVID ended up canceling every program I got into. My study abroad adviser recommended looking into programs like JET, and since then I’ve been pretty stuck on doing JET!

Why were you drawn to the JET program, and why did you think it was a good fit for you?
TB: I always wanted to live in Japan. It’s a beautiful country full of amazing food, culture, sights to see, kind people and a rich history. The JET program is a good fit for me because I am a highly independent and responsible person with a strong understanding of the Japanese language and culture. I am also very confident about navigating both urban and rural Japan. I enjoy working with students and can be a strong cultural ambassador for both America and Japan. 

SZ: I love traveling, especially being able to immerse myself in a culture unfamiliar to what I know. It gives so much opportunity to learn about the world and grow as a person. JET is able to not only provide an opportunity to travel, but also allow me to try out a new field of work. I love the idea of teaching the younger generation and hope I can learn a lot from this experience. 

How did you feel about being accepted into the program?
TB: Being accepted into the program was a huge relief. The JET program is highly competitive to get into and is a sought after opportunity worldwide. I had been dreaming, and preparing for my acceptance since middle school. 

SZ: This is actually my second year applying to the program. It was a bit of a shock when I got the email that I was shortlisted. I was unbelievably excited for all the opportunities ahead of me.

Why Japan? What about living and working in that country appealed to you?
TB: Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. In addition to this, the Japanese people have one of the longest life expectancies in the world. This is because they value exercise and high quality food that tastes amazing. Japan has the most Michelin star restaurants in the world, and the food is highly affordable. Health care in Japan is practically free and there is a strong sense of community throughout the country with a strong emphasis on the family household.  

SZ: Japan has a beautiful culture filled with deep rooted values of respect and harmony. I am also interested in living in a society that functions more from a community-based culture. I think that perspective could help me in the future as a social worker. 

A photo of Sarah Zachariason
Sarah Zachariason

What are you most excited about for the next year teaching through the JET program? 
TB: I am most excited to start this new chapter in my life. Every aspect of my life for the next five years is currently a mystery: where will I be living? What school will I be teaching at? What car will I be driving? What bank will I open an account with? What grocery stores will I be shopping at? What is the commute like in my city? What people will I meet? All these factors are currently unknown and will not be discovered until I am in Japan with my suitcases ready to start a new life.

SZ: I am excited to explore the entire county and find some good hiking trails. I also cannot wait to enjoy all the different types of food!

Is there any particular UMaine mentor, initiative, program or set of resources that helped you succeed?
TB: John Mascetta, my academic adviser, was the greatest help during my time at the University of Maine. He was always available to take my calls, answer my questions and explain the inner workings of the university. John has vast knowledge of both the student and faculty requirements at UMaine and should be valued and appreciated at the university. We kept in touch all five years and I will continue to keep in touch while I’m in Japan. 

SZ: My field seminar professor, Kelly Jaksa, was an amazing role model for me. Working in a hospital was definitely a challenge at times. She was always there to help me work through the emotional difficulties that social work can bring. Being a part of the swim and dive team provided a built-in support system. I had a whole team of friends and coaches that always had my back to support me. 

What advice do you have for incoming students to help them get off to the best start academically?
TB: Professors will most likely only talk about assignments, tests and exams once. This means you need to stay on top of these assignments and know that all because the teacher isn’t reminding you of crucial due dates does not mean they are irrelevant. This goes for your fellow students, some students may give a false reassurance that there’s no homework, it’s important to be independent and on time. It’s also important to keep an open line of communication with your professors. 

SZ: My biggest advice for incoming students is to actively search out activities. These activities can include sports, jobs, clubs and volunteer programs. It’s important to find a community that works for who you are.

Describe UMaine in one word and explain.
TB: Outlet. As in, UMaine is an outlet for you to do or become whoever you want. Whether you want to use the school as an outlet to party or an outlet to better yourself and create the future you want. 

SZ: Home. UMaine became my home away from home. The community that I built for myself made my experience better than I could ever imagine. I am so thankful for all of the people I met while studying at UMaine. 

Students and alumni interested in applying for the JET Program can contact the Office of Major Scholarships at nives.dalbowheeler@maine.edu for application support. 

Contact: Sam Schipani, samantha.schipani@maine.edu