A trip to England with her grandparents when she was a young girl first whet Joanna Inwards’ appetite for international travel. Add to that a youth spent constantly being around international students – her father, Bruce Inwards is the director of International Student Services at Avila University – and Inwards knew she one day wanted to live in a foreign land.
She developed a love of Japanese culture in high school, and her sister’s trip to that country only spurred that interest further.
This summer, Inwards’ passions for Japan and international travel are coming together and culminating in what promises to be the greatest adventure of her young life. As part of the JET Program – Japan Exchange and Teaching Program - Inwards, who graduated from Avila in May with a bachelor’s in social work, will spend the next year teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren.
“It’s been my dream since high school to go to Japan,” said Inwards, a Kansas City, Mo. native. “When I went with my grandparents to England to visit relatives as a 10-year-old, it was a great experience. When my father told me about JET, it seemed like a great opportunity.
“I knew that, instead of just visiting, I wanted to live there.”
To get the position, Inwards had to go through a rigorous interview process. She first had to fill out a 20-odd-page application back in November, 2012. Out of thousands of applications, she was selected to interview in person in front of a panel in Chicago in February.
“It was very intimidating,” she said. “It was kind of like American Idol. There was a panel of interviewers, and two out of the three were from Japan. Because the Japanese often don’t outwardly show emotion, I had no idea how I’d done.”
At the beginning of April, Inwards received an email letting her know that she was on a short list of candidates to make the trip. She said she knew then she’d made it. First, however, there was another application to fill out and FBI background checks to endure.
“I was also in the middle of a lot of school projects and getting ready to graduate, so I was just glad I was able to get through it all,” Inwards said.
Francis Origanti, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of Avila’s Department of Social Work, said he has no doubt Inwards will excel wherever she finds herself in the next year and beyond.
“Joanna is exceptionally diligent and hardworking and very good at working with others,” he said. “She is also president of the Student Organization of Social Work among other things. She has made the social work department proud of all her accomplishments.”
“I felt social work was a much broader field where I could work with more diverse groups and incorporate teaching as just one aspect of my career,” she said. “And, I just felt God was leading me to social work.”
She said she originally wanted to work with children, but gained experience at the other end of the life spectrum by completing an internship at a hospice, which mainly serves the elderly. She said she might mix both by one day working in pediatric hospice care.
But, before that, Japan awaits. Inwards said she finds out where she’ll live at the end of May – she hopes Yokohama – and she’s set to leave for her new home July 27.
“I’m pretty excited,” she said. “It’s been my dream for several years. It’s hard to believe it’s really happening. To me, it’s all an adventure.” AU
Media Contact: Bob Luder, 816.501.2434