Ever since participating in her first trip to New York City at the age of six, Leah Burkett has nurtured a passion to travel. Her grandparents have taken her and her sister to all 50 of the United States. As she’s gotten older, though, the interest in trekking the globe has not only intensified but has expanded to more distant locales.
Presently she’s about as far from her Tampa, Florida, home as she can get.
Her college language courses at Florida State University triggered an interest in travel to East Asia said the Gamma Eta Chapter Alumna. She also found herself drawn toward the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme -- an organization based in Tokyo that connects young college graduates, from around the world, to foreign language education programs in Japan.
First, she said, “I was offered the opportunity to study abroad (in London, England) my first semester of college, and, from there, I knew that, one day, I wanted to live and work in another country."
That country ended up being Japan. Her ability to communicate gave her an “in,” as she calls it in one of her YouTube videos she's created to document her experiences.
When Burkett graduated in spring 2018 with dual bachelor’s degrees in international affairs and political science, dual minors in economics and Japanese language and a concentration in emergency management she moved to the other side of the planet, to work for JET as an International Ambassador of America and junior high English teacher. She plans to remain there for at least two years, teaching more than 500 students while also participating in cultural exchange.
The exchange program, in particular, she said, offers the opportunity to greatly improve her growing knowledge of the Japanese language. The increase in her fluency will increase her chances at being accepted into Japanese master’s degree programs in international affairs/emergency management, she said. Burkett prefers to complete her graduate degree on the island country of Japan.
Her path toward this endeavor started early in her college career, Burkett noted.
“During my junior year, I worked for (Florida State University) as an international student mentor. Most of my mentees were from Asian countries.” Through this process, she said she found herself bonding most closely with those from Japan. “My Japanese mentees not only inspired me to learn the Japanese language but also made me fall in love with the Japanese culture.”
Burkett soon realized her end goal was continuing her education in Japan and, she said, she “was going to do anything to make that dream a reality.” Shortly after, Burkett found out about the JET Programme, and the rest, as they say, is history. She was just one of 5,000 people chosen, globally, and 1,000 picked from the United States.
Burkett now lives in Mikuni, a town in Fukui, the Japanese prefecture famous for its dinosaur museum, and just five minutes from Awara, famed for its onsens or natural hot springs.
The journey to her present home was possible not only through her connection to the Japanese language and the student mentees who inspired her to follow her educational path, but also through confidence gained through her Phi Sigma Pi experiences, Burkett said.
“While I was doing research and beginning the application/interview process for the JET Programme (the application/interview process takes about a full year) I reached out to several Phi Sigma Pi Alumni who had either done the JET Programme or were currently participating.”
Her Phi Sigma Pi experiences taught her how to properly manage her time, be innovative, efficient and effective and be comfortable working with a variety of people, she said. “During my time as a Brother, I held six different positions … I also was really invested in Leadership in Action (LiA)" -- she became LiA Certified and completed Facilitator Training. This focused participation in LiA Modules and eventually facilitating her own LiA Modules added to her confidence in the classroom.
“LiA got me comfortable with leading lessons … as well as initiating my creativity with constructing lessons to teach material in a more exciting way,” she said.
One experience led to another, which led to one more, she said. Just as a ripple on a lake expands, the impact of Phi Sigma Pi grows ... even across oceans.