John Tomecsek III ’01 with his class in Nara, Japan.

Wescoe School alumnus John Tomecsek III ’01 always loved to travel and explore different countries and cultures. He first became interested in languages when he was in middle school and that interest continued to grow in high school. “I began to realize that with enough work, I might be able to communicate with different people in their native languages,” he said. “I found that concept intriguing and exciting.”

Tomecsek went on to major in business at the Wescoe School, but he never abandoned his love of language and travel. Undeterred by not knowing the language, he enrolled in a cultural exchange program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, an international forum including students from America, Japan, Germany, and China who exchanged ideas about international education and efforts to promote international exchange programs in their home countries. He also spent some time traveling to Thailand.

Once back in the Lehigh Valley, Tomecsek began planning his next trip—this time to Spain with his economics class, taught by Dr. Donna Kish-Goodling, associate professor of economics and Dr. Joan Marx, professor of Spanish. While preparing for this adventure, he heard of another opportunity that piqued his interest—teaching English in Japan. Tomecsek interviewed with the Japanese Embassy and was accepted into their program.

Though he had never taught a class and spoke no Japanese, Tomecsek jumped at the challenge. “To me, it sounded like much more than a job; it would be a life-enriching experience,” he said. “After my time in Hong Kong, I knew that I wanted to explore more Asian cultures. This was the perfect opportunity to do so.”

When asked where in Japan he would like to teach, Tomecsek responded with, “Surprise me!” He admits that this was partly because he didn’t know much about the country’s geography at all, but also because he wanted to be placed where he would be needed the most.

A week and a half after returning from his studies in Spain, Tomecsek headed off for Soni Village in the mountains of Japan, where he taught English to 80 elementary school-aged children and 80 junior high school students.

“It was a really exciting experience for me, as well as for the children I worked with. In Japan, the cities are pretty culturally diverse, but that’s not the case with the smaller, more rural areas,” he said. “To most of these children, I was the first foreigner they had ever seen. We really learned a lot from each other.”

He taught in Nara, Japan for three years, fulfilling his contract, but Tomecsek wasn’t quite ready for his time in Japan to come to a close. Fortunately for him, the Embassy agreed and recontracted him for two more years.

Currently, Tomecsek lives and works near Osaka in Tenri, a city similar in size to his hometown, Allentown, Pa. He is working on a pilot language program for children in elementary schools. “Starting lessons earlier makes sense. It’s easier to pick up languages when you’re young,” he said. “We’re also working hard to make learning English less intimidating. We want to present communicating in English as fun and do-able, building the students’ desire and confidence in their own abilities.”

Tomecsek has picked up some new skills on his journey, as well. He is proud of his ability to communicate in Japanese and spends much of his free time studying karate (he will test for his black belt this year) and sisi mae, a traditional Japanese dance where performers operate the head and body of a large dragon.

“I love living abroad! It has been a roller coaster and every day presents new challenges,” said Tomecsek. “Living in a foreign country makes you realize that, though there are many cultural differences between people, we all share the same basic human similarities.”

Tomecsek imagines that he’ll remain in Japan for another few years and envisions himself spending some more time in Southeast Asia and Spain, but doesn’t have any definite destination. Eventually though, he has no doubt that he will return home to the United States to stay. “As silly as it may sound, that old adage is true,” he said. “There is no place like home.”

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