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Three Austin Peay graduates begin coveted Japanese exchange program

Alexandria Poppendorf, April Kirkman and Justin Randall
Here is the caption for the image.

(Updated Aug. 9, 2019)

Justin Randall was home alone when the email alert popped on his screen.

“I opened it up, and I just got really excited,” the recent Austin Peay history graduate said. “Actually, the neighbor called the cops because they thought I was getting murdered.”

A city police officer knocked on his door minutes later.

“Yeah, that was me, sorry,” Randall told the officer. “I just learned I got a big interview.”

Not only did Randall land an interview with the office of the Consulate-General of Japan, he also got the job – a highly coveted teaching assistantship in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). Of more than 5,000 U.S. applications, only about 1,000 are selected for the job.

Three Austin Peay graduates landed jobs this year. Three also were selected last year. A record 30 recent graduates and young professionals from Tennessee were chosen for the program, and they left from Nashville recently.


Alexandria Poppendorf and Randall headed to Japan earlier this month, and April Kirkman started in April. All three will be assistant language teachers, helping teach English in Japanese classrooms.

“A lot of larger schools treat the JET program applications the same as Fulbright applications,” Dr. David Rands, associate professor and director of Asian Studies at Austin Peay, said.

Austin Peay has a direct relationship with the Japanese consulate in Nashville. Rands – who participated in the JET program as an undergraduate in 1993 – has led the effort.

“We’re rapidly becoming the university in the area to work with Japan,” Rands said. “When Austin Peay JET candidates come across the table, they know they’re going to be good.”

Through the JET program, Randall, Poppendorf and Kirkman won yearly contracts with the ability to renew up to five years. They’ll receive around $31,000 the first year with subsidized housing and health insurance.


Alexandria Poppendorf
Alexandria Poppendorf

Poppendorf earned a bachelor’s in history in 2014 and followed up with a master’s in military history. She’s leaving her post as APSU history instructor to take the JET job.

“I love being an instructor here,” she said. “But I knew I wanted to go abroad if I could.”

With JET, she gets that opportunity, and in the part of the world at the core of her research interests – East Asia.

“I’m getting a chance to experience another culture by not only visiting but also integrating into it – literally living there,” Poppendorf said. “This is not just a vacation, not just studying abroad.”

Poppendorf – who’s leaning toward pursuing a Ph.D. in international or intercultural communication or international education – doesn’t know Japanese (Randall does).

“They want the native tongue experience to help children learn a more fluent version of English,” she said. “That’s part of the program, to open up Japan a little bit more to Western culture and bring it into the local and rural communities.”


April Kirkman
April Kirkman

Kirkman – who graduated from Austin Peay in 2015 with a bachelor’s in nursing – will work at Koriyama Xaverio Gakuen Catholic school in Kōriyama, Japan, about three hours north of Tokyo. Poppendorf and Randall will learn their assignments before they arrive.

“There are 22 teachers on the staff, and six teach English,” Kirkman said. “I’ll be team-teaching with them, going around in class, reinforcing the teaching.”

She has long been interested in Japanese culture, and “as a nurse, education is a huge part of my career.” Her desire to teach and learn Japanese culture led to JET.

“I looked up teaching English, and JET was something that always popped up, so I just delved into it,” Kirkman said. “It was a seven-month application and interview process, but I got it.

“I get to see the culture, to see nature, the religion, the language, I’m super-interested in learning all of that,” she added.


Justin Randall
Justin Randall

Although all three want to stay beyond their first year, Randall wants to stay as long as he can. He might even pursue his Ph.D. in Japan.

“I mean I’m in my 20s, I want to go travel and live in another country, why not?” the history graduate said. “One of the things I’ve always wanted to do is go to college, get a degree, be able to operate and work within a major.

“For me, JET is that awesome middle ground where I can experience things in academia and work and be a part of education,” he added.

“I told myself, ‘If I get this job, I’m going. There’s no holding me back.’”