Gabbie Kelsey crop

Gabbie Kelsey

The coronavirus pandemic has postponed a Sumner County woman’s job in Japan, but it’s not deflected her ambition or worldview.


Everybody’s affected by COVID-19 in one way or another. Gabbie Kelsey started working at a retail store instead of teaching English as an employee of Japan’s Education Ministry.


The 2016 Gallatin High School alum graduated from Maryville College last May. Kelsey, 22, was accepted by the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. Her Japan trip next September is a year later than planned. Before joining JET, she considered the Peace Corps. Like JET, the Corps took steps to protect its staff from COVID-19.


The pandemic postponed the Olympics in Japan. The island nation has been refusing entry to non-Japanese people who’ve been to any of more than 150 countries within the past 14 days, including the United States


Kelsey’s thought about working for a Japanese company in America. Her college economics classes included lessons on Japan-U.S. relations. DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee, a Japanese manufacturer of automotive components, has a facility in Maryville. And, of course, Nissan and Sony are in Tennessee.


Being fluent, or highly proficient in Japanese is one of Kelsey’s goals. She already knows some Japanese. It helped her on a previous trip to Japan.


“A lot of the people on the islands are used to seeing their own people,” she said. “So, when they see people who don’t look like them, it can be a bit of a shocker, especially if you speak a little Japanese or you understand their culture.


“I did receive a lot of stares and things like that. I understood to a degree what they were experiencing.”


She says she will show, “that Americans look different and are different. We’re not just a monolith and think the same. Yes, we have some personality and similarities and values that we hold, and morals, but at the same time we are different people who have different stories who have a lot to bring to the table,” Kelsey said. “I believe that to be a part of the JET program gives me a chance to communicate all of that and so much more.”


While in college, she spent a lot of time in the International House and met students from other countries. They discussed similarities and differences, and shared jokes.


“Everyone should experience that - travel out of the U.S. isn’t necessary. However, traveling outside of your comfort zone will open your worldview greatly. It’s definitely done that for me and my family,” she said.


Her parents are Dionicia and Elsoner Kelsey Jr. He works for a household products company in Hermitage. She’s a banker, managing mortgages and other loans. She is the oldest of three sisters. The family attends Emmanuel Temple in Old Hickory.


She’s worked with children — tutoring throughout college — and wants to work in a teaching position. The JET Program offers that. JET participants have year-to-year contracts. Some have had six contracts before branching out. Some JET alumni have been employed by the Japanese consulate and therefore work with various businesses. As a result, Kelsey sees JET as helping her decide on a career path.


Since 1987, JET has sent nearly 70,000 participants from around the world (including some 35,800 Americans) to work in Japanese schools, boards of education, and government offices. JET is the only teaching exchange program managed by the government of Japan. More than 55 countries participate.


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