Time Flies: A Former ALT Looks Back

This guest post is by Robb Hoiseth, who was an ALT on the JET Program in Kanazawa from 1990-1992.  Photos courtesy of Robb Hoiseth and Paul Fradale.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since I began my overseas career as a teacher in the JET program in Kanazawa.  It was 1990 and we had been married 2 months when Linda and I stepped off the plane in Japan.  Two naïve farm kids from central Minnesota, we had certainly never seen the bright lights of Tokyo.

A week later and it was off to Kanazawa.  I will never forget the second day in my wool Bill Blass suit meeting the mayor: I was wet from the humidity and the bus ride downtown.  My supervisor Mr. Kobayashi must have thought I was about to pass out as he rushed me onto an air-conditioned bench and gave me a glass of iced ocha!

Back in the second year of the JET program life was very different than it is for you today.  Of course we had no Internet or emails.  Letters and videotapes from home were like gold when they showed up in our mailbox.  The fight for the morning edition of The Japan Times was a daily event.  There were only about 50 foreigners in town, so we got free drinks at the clubs.  My voice was a constant companion on the radio as I did a lot of the commercials on Hello 105. Since we were the only married couple in Ishikawa, our apartment became the place for Noto JETS to crash and seek advice, and since we were less than a block away from the best pizza in town, many weekend nights were spent with new friends and bottles of Asahi Super-Dry, the new beer that came out in 1991.

In some ways I expect Japan probably hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years.  I hear our salary is the same; only the rate of exchange is different. In 1990, it was 138 yen to a dollar. (Currently, the exchange rate is about 90 yen to a dollar. -ed.)  I imagine all the frustrations are still there as well: the stares, the misunderstandings, boring hours spent at school.  I hope the sushi is as fresh, the yakatori just as delicious, the beer machines just as cold and available!

Life moved on for us. (As it will for  you!) We went back home to teach, only to get laid off, and, happily, moved back to international teaching.  After stints in Kuwait, Malaysia, Poland, and Peru, here we are in 2010, in Qatar.  We have two beautiful kids. We are planning a return trip, a 20 year reunion of sorts where it all started out: Kanazawa 2011–here we come!!  (Can a family of four crash in your apartment?)

Robb Hoiseth and his family today.

Robb Hoiseth currently works a social studies teacher at the American School of Doha in Qatar.  He has been married 20 years and has two children, a 14-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl.


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