Jayden Thomas is an alumnus of the 2021 CLS Japanese Program hosted virtually by Okayama University in Okayama, Japan and the 2019 CLS Japanese Program hosted in-person at Okayama University. Jayden received his Bachelors of Art in International Affairs and Political Science from Western Kentucky University in 2021. He currently works as a Program Assistant for the Future Leaders Exchange Program (FLEX) at the American Councils for International Education. In the future, Jayden hopes to use his Japanese language skills and regional expertise to contribute to policy on nuclear non-proliferation.
Getting to Know Jayden
I was born and raised in South Central Kentucky, but recently moved to Washington D.C. I am a first-generation college student from a single parent household and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. I am a huge nerd at heart and enjoy playing games with friends—tabletop, video games, or card games. I’m also a huge fan of arcades and Dance Dance Revolution. No matter where I move, I tend to amass a collection of stuffed animals. I prioritize staying active and healthy and enjoy hiking, going to the gym, and rock climbing on occasion.
My interest in Japanese can be attributed to a piece of Japanese culture that fundamentally influenced my childhood; Dance Dance Revolution. It was through DDR that my original interest in Japan developed as a 10-year-old, and when I got to college, I began a serious commitment to study Japanese. From there, the rest is history! Japanese is very challenging. Not only do you have to learn new grammar and words, you need to learn three new alphabets! Kanji is a beast on its own, but after learning Japanese I feel I can take on any challenge. While kanji is difficult, sometimes you see fun ones that just make sense. One of my personal favorites is 虫歯(mushiba) which means cavity, but literally translates to “bug teeth.”
Learning Japanese Insect Names
There was one moment during my 2019 program that stuck out for me particularly. While in class we were learning about words for various bugs and insects. Curious, I asked what the word for “wasper” was in Japanese. In my 20-years of being alive, I had never had another American look at me with such puzzlement and confusion when I said that word. After some research, it turns out that “wasper” is a common Kentucky dialect for wasp not used in many other places in the U.S. I was learning about my own culture despite being thousands of miles away from home.
Bringing Cultural Insights Back Home
After my program ended, I continued to serve as a citizen diplomat by becoming a student representative for my university’s study abroad office. In this role, I take what I learned abroad and share it with my community in hopes they will also look for opportunities to serve as citizen diplomats. I even hosted a Hanami or Japanese Cherry Blossom viewing event on campus and shared the significance of this cultural event in Japan.
Ultimately, I would like to have a career with the federal government where I can use my language skills to address policy issues in the area. Specifically, my interest lies with nuclear non-proliferation and Japan is a vital actor in this puzzle.
Words of Advice
Go for it! While the application process may seem daunting, you have plenty of resources available. Plan ahead and reach out for support when needed. Have advisors, peers and CLS alumni look over your application for pointers. Even if you don’t earn a scholarship, there is something to be said about what you gain from the application process itself. I was fortunate enough to experience both an in-person and virtual program. While we would ideally all like to be in-country, my language gains, cultural immersion, and CLS experience overall was not lessened from a virtual program. I also recently completed CLS Refresh and highly recommend it to CLS Alumni who are looking to sharpen their language skills.
July 08, 2022