RaeLee Hightower '18

Learning and living

RaeLee Hightower

RaeLee Hightower ’18
Major: English

RaeLee Hightower knew she wanted to teach after graduating college, but a desire to travel the country of Japan also called to her. Now more than 6,000 miles from her hometown of Tulsa, Okla., Hightower has spent the last few years living and working in Japan.

“I enjoy teaching others, but I had also always been interested in Japanese culture, so I figured applying for the JET Program would be a great opportunity to experience the country and culture firsthand. I was right!” said Hightower.

Initially coming to Japan through the JET Program (Japan Exchange and Teaching Program), Hightower has been able to combine her passion of teaching and culture through her interactions with students and colleagues, as well as her travels while abroad. This program offers students with strong English language skills the opportunity to assist language teachers in the Japanese education system.

The classroom and beyond

As an assistant language teacher (ALT) in English in public elementary schools, Hightower works alongside the head teacher to provide learning opportunities that help students build English fluency. Lessons usually consist of listening and speaking activities and can include fun presentations and games.

Hightower notes that some of the most fun moments come outside of the classroom where students enjoy extracurricular and cultural activities.

“One of my favorite parts about being an ALT is seeing my students participate in things like Sports Day, where each class competes against one another, track meet style,” she said. “Another favorite is the School Cultural Festival, where each class sets up different activities and performances for friends and family to come and enjoy.”

Building relationships

At Bluffton, students build strong bonds with faculty and staff during their time on campus. It’s these connections that Hightower note are important in building strong relationships no matter where we are in the world.

“Comparing my college years to now living in a different country really made me realize how important it is to form social connections wherever possible,” said Hightower. “Each of my instructors over my years as a college student have helped shape the individual I am today, especially those I worked closely with in the English department.”

Taking inspiration from Kate Spike, assistant professor of English at Bluffton, Hightower uses the tools she learned to help shape her own students, while also allowing the students to bring new understandings to her own way of thinking. “Kate taught me that teaching someone English doesn’t need to be rocket science, it just needs you to be open minded, patient, and, in turn, willing to learn from your pupils.”

Hightower is happy as an assistant English teacher, but optimistic about what cultural adventures the future might hold.

“I get to have fun with the kids every day and live in the Japanese countryside to boot! However, my dream is to someday live in the mountains of northern Japan and have my own little homestead. Maybe I can even open a small bed and breakfast or start a YouTube channel, who knows?”