Alumni Spotlight: Nathalie Ng (Hamamatsu, Shizuoka)

Please introduce yourself and where you’re from!

I’m Nathalie Ng, and I’m from the tiny island of Singapore. 

Where and what did you study?

I graduated with a B.Eng (Electronics and Electrical) from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. 

Where were you placed on JET and for how long?

I was on JET as a Senior High School ALT for a very short year; from 2010 to 2011, placed in Sakuma, part of Hamamatsu City in Shizuoka. It’s located along the longest train line (Iida line) in Japan, and up near where Aichi, Shizuoka and Nagano touch. It was a quiet little inaka, where my school’s population was only about 150-ish students, and about 30 staff, packed into the building we share with the Junior High School. 

How did you come to work in your current job?

I now work for my family business as a sales engineer in the lighting industry. 

Before going on JET, I used to work for Hitachi in Singapore for their hard disk storage arm, as a returns materials coordinator for their Japanese customers. I decided that it was time to move on, and heard about the JET Programme, but at the same time, my father was also beginning to ask if I was thinking about coming to work in the company as well. 

No points for guessing which one I picked.

No points for guessing which one I picked after the first guess, too.

What did you learn on JET that helped you in your career today?

We all know about Japanese bureaucracy, and all the documents that have to be signed before something gets approved, right? 

In my current job, I am also the systems engineer, as well as the systems administrator. What this means is that I am responsible for overhauling the entire ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system that governs our finances, warehousing and inventory. Having spent time in Japan navigating all the documents has helped me understand the logic of check-points (and also, which check-points can be done away with) and this helped me to structure our ERP system in a way that was scalable and manageable. 

On the side, I volunteer for the JET Alumni Association in Singapore, working closely with J.CLAIR Singapore, as well as the Embassy of Japan in Singapore. Being on JET has also helped me to understand the reasons why certain things are requested by these entities, as that was how they operate in Japan.

Having spent only one year on JET, what made you go back and volunteer for 8 years and counting?

I think it’s precisely because I spent only one year on JET, and that is why I’ve been volunteering for 8 years now. 

JET was an amazing period for me – the sense of being in a foreign country, dealing with things I’ve never dealt with before (like how to use a stove, how to go to the doctor’s in Japanese, and how NOT to miss a train) made things exciting. The batchmates from Singapore also made the entire experience special – being from a small country, we typically send 20-30 JETs a year, which in turn, makes us rare for the general population of JETs. While we speak perfect English, we also speak a colloquial form of English called Singlish – it’s an amalgamation of English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil, mixed in with some dialects. It is also instantly identifiable.

It’s precisely because we don’t number very much, and coming from a different cultural background from almost every other JET, it’s important to me to help future JETs experience this to the best of my ability – helping them understand what is different from Singapore’s culture, and helping them to make friends for life – same way I made friends for life on JET.

As the newly elected JETAA Chair for 2020, what current and future projects would you like the JET community to know about? How could they reach you if they would like to volunteer, too?

There are a few current projects that I think would be extremely beneficial to the JET community (both current and alumni JETs). These projects tie together the entire ecosystem of JETs, and I think it’s worth putting our efforts behind. You can find a short description under each section, and more information at the link included at the end of this article.

  1. KenJETkai project
    • Aims to tie alumni JETs back to the prefectures in which they were based while on the Programme, and in doing so, also link the current JETs to these alumni JETs for the exchange of information and promotion of regional revitalisation through various areas like tourism, and business opportunities
  2. Post JET Opportunities
    • Aims to help outgoing JETs to further their careers, businesses and study opportunities by leveraging on what the alumni have done so far in their various fields
    • Currently we are working on scholarship opportunities and partnering with various colleges and universities, like the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California
    • We are also working with various alumni around the world to shore up interview skills via webinars featuring useful tips to help JETs find jobs upon their return
  3. Mental Health and Sexual Security
    • The wellbeing of JETs is very important to our community,
    • We are working with CLAIR and various stakeholders to strengthen the mental health support network in Japan, as well as to provide accurate and consistent information on what to do when situations arise

While we are slowly building up pages for these projects, you can find more information here:

https://www.jetaainternational.org/initiatives

Thanks for letting me have this chance to showcase JETAA International, and I hope that everyone is staying calm and sane in this period of madness. Stay home, wash your hands, and don’t touch your face.

PS: This photo is from a yukata workshop that I hold annually with the Embassy of Japan in Singapore. It’s taken by my friend, Derrick Ong, from Derrick Ong Photography