Jack Wilbur is a Ponte Vedra native, Episcopal School of Jacksonville graduate and recent college graduate who is currently teaching English in Japan. The Recorder caught up with him while he was home for a recent visit.
What’s your background?
I was born here in Jacksonville and have lived in Ponte Vedra my entire life. I grew up here at the beach with my parents and one younger brother. I attended both Beaches Episcopal and then Episcopal High School. After graduating, I decided to move up to Virginia to pursue a geology and history dual degree with a minor in East Asian studies at Washington and Lee University.
Can you please tell us about your current job in Japan?
Currently I am working in Kobe, Japan, teaching English to elementary school students and junior high school students. I teach about 160 seventh and ninth grade students. At junior high school, I primarily work with the kids on English pronunciation and conversation. At elementary school, I teach first through sixth grade and focus more on making English fun and basic sentences. Most of my students love English and take any chance to ask me what America is like and why I decided to come to Japan.
I would imagine Kobe, Japan is pretty different compared to Ponte Vedra, right? How would you describe it?
Pretty different is underselling it. Kobe is much bigger than Ponte Vedra. Right now, I think the city has about 1.5 million people, and it seems that all of them take my morning train to work. From my apartment, I can look out and see the Japanese coastline on one side and Mount Rokko on the other. Kobe is like a Japanese downtown Chicago with bustling stores, nightlife, and ever-present winds that howl between the buildings. It also has numerous beaches and friendly people.
What inspired you to teach English abroad?
When I was graduating university, I wasn’t sure which career I wanted to pursue. I applied to several geology grad schools and interviewed for a few jobs but did not feel any particular calling. Then out of the blue, my former Japanese Sensei wanted to meet with me and asked if I had applied to the JET program, the Japanese government’s program for foreign teachers. She convinced me that I should give it a shot. After a rigorous interview at the Japanese embassy in Washington D.C., the next thing I knew I was packing my bags and moving to Japan.
Working in Japan isn’t the first adventure you’ve experienced. Can you please tell us about hiking Mount Kilimanjaro and studying in Greece? Are there any other adventures we should know about?
No it isn’t! I will never forget hiking Mount Kilimanjaro. We started off in Tanzania and spent about a week climbing the mountain. Coming down, we went at breakneck speed and finished in less than two days. After reaching the summit, I remember falling dead asleep against a boulder with my entire pack on. Studying in Greece was amazing. I won’t bore everyone with the geological analysis, but it is a fascinating area to study. As you go toward mainland Greece you can peel back time and imagine what the area was like millions of years ago. While on the trip, we stopped and did some sightseeing at a number of ancient ruins including the Parthenon. As for other adventures, I lived in Australia for a summer in middle school, and have spent time in Central America.
What’s next for you? Hiking Everest?
I wish! Sadly, I don’t think I will be able to with my shoulder injury from my college rugby days. Right now, I am deciding how long I want to stay in Japan. Between the food and the friends I have made, it is a tough place to leave! I might transition to another field if my Japanese continues to improve. Recently, I have been considering taking the LSAT and applying to law school. Eventually, I would want to practice international law and continue to use my Japanese in a professional setting. I am also considering getting my masters in hydrology or coastal geology and working as an environmental consultant.
What about growing up on the First Coast has helped you to take on all of these adventures?
I grew up with a great family that was always encouraging me to play outside and go on adventures. This included not only physical adventures but also reading and writing. As I grew up, this love of exploration caused me to seek out and join as many experiences as I could. Growing up on the First Coast makes it easier to travel abroad as I always know I have such a great hometown to return to.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love to fish. Every chance I get, I will be out on the water deep sea or in shore trying to land something in the boat. One of the first things I did when I came back for a visit was head out to the beach with a pole in each hand. Besides fishing, I like to read sci-fi and fantasy novels and go hiking, hunting and watching movies. Of course, whenever I visit my brother, we have to play a one-on-one basketball game to decide the house champion.