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JETAA Chicago officer elections are coming up on March 1st! In light of this, we wanted to take the time to shine a spotlight on our current officers (election term from November 2019 - March 2021) in order to get to know the people behind the headshots, and to learn more about what they do in their roles as officers. This will be an 8 part "Get to Know Our Officers" series in which we will highlight each officer leading up to the elections and come to know their motivations, values and legacy.

Last week we introduced our Secretary, Jocelyn Russell. Last but certainly not least, we would like to introduce our Vice President, Lara (Zara) Espinoza (she/they), who was an ALT in Shiga Prefecture from 2010-2011!

Tell us more about your JET experience.

My JET experience is a big chapter in my Wonder Woman origin story, and it made me the human-centric leader I am today. Being a multiracial, multiethnic, queer, femme non-binary, internationally adopted person of color (cultural heritages: Mexican-Asian), living and working in the Kansai region of Japan of Shiga Prefecture on JET was a mix of ups, downs and in-betweens that made everyday an adventure. From teaching a variety of students (mainly junior high school and elementary) and coaching my colleagues by day, to training and performing in Japan’s professional hip-hop and street dance scene at night - I overcame a lot of challenges, built relationships despite the language barrier (I had minimal Japanese language ability) and found some of my forever family/second home country that will always be a part of me.

When did you join/how long have you been on the JETAA Board? What positions have you held?

I have served as a JETAA Chicago officer for the past EIGHT years...since 2013: Vice President 2018-Present, Outreach Coordinator 2013-2018

What inspired you to step up as a leader and join the JETAA Chicago Board?

Upon returning from Japan I wanted to be in community with fellow JETs to expand my professional/personal networks and of course to have natsukashii moments with all our Japan/JET-isms #ESID. I also wanted to coach and train future JETs for success to be more prepared and connected than I was before living/working in Japan. So when I moved to Chicago in 2013, I immediately stepped forward and reshaped a new officer position that I could flex my talent acquisition/development skills in, the Outreach Coordinator. In this role, I co-founded our chapter's largest initiative and mentorship program, the Survival Series for onboarding Outgoing JETs, and led it for five years. As VP I've been proud to pass the torch to two of my JET kouhais/mentees who’ve taken up the Outreach Coordinator mantle and made it their own, including leading the first remote/virtual Survival Series for its 7th year in 2020!

Describe your officer duties and what you have enjoyed about said duties.

During my time as VP - I’ve had a central role in keeping the chapter focused on JETAA Chicago’s mission, set expectations and goals of increased transparency when sharing information, fostered deeper connections with our subchapters & greater JET community, all while embedding a culture of belonging and equity to support our alumni community. It’s been exciting to help guide the revamp, reboot and redesign of the chapter’s leadership, culture and operations that grew the Nov. 2019-March 2021 board from three to eight officers who are all aligned in our values and commitment to leading in and alongside our alumni community to better our organization. I’ve partnered closely with all board members, especially the President and Treasurer to engage, onboard, mentor and support all initiatives, new leaders, and fellow JET alumni. My skills and experiences working as a Human Resources/Talent Management Professional in the tech industry has definitely been impacted and influenced by my career as a JETAA officer.

What could be a healthy and/or needed culture add to JETAA Chicago?

I’m looking forward to the JETAA Chicago Leadership continuing to build on our hard work and momentum towards and for a more open and inclusive chapter culture. I think continuing to improve on our internal framework and cadence will better help sustain and grow the chapter with a better impact on leaders and members. Of course, this has to be in balance with the external output to promote balance with other professional/personal things. I’d also love to have more alumni from our region, including the Illinois Suburbs/Indiana & Wisconsin Subchapters to partner with officers and be involved a step above general membership level and action; such as helping to host virtual/in-person (when safe) meetings, contributing and/or growing their professional skills by getting involved with chapter operations even if with little (and still important!) things like writing a website blog article, small projects and committees, etc.

What is one highlight, accomplishment, and/or something you're proud to have been a part of during your time serving as an officer?

Over the past 8 years as an officer, there have been so many! It’s been a privilege and honor to be able to accomplish so many things with so many people, especially the first 5 years of the Survival Series for Outgoing JETs and then presenting about it to leaders across the US, Canada and Japan at the 2017 National Conference/JET 30 Reunion in Washington DC as a JETAA Chicago delegate. Definitely a highlight as I’ve also helped coach many other alumni leaders to create their own iteration of the onboarding initiatives. It was exhilarating to return as a presenter at the 2020 National Conference, this time to coach on how we can foster more equity and belonging in our alumni community beyond the JET experience. This past year, in addition to organizing our Community Code (of Conduct) & Agreements and our #BlackLivesMatter Kansai webinar, I’ve been most proud of my team of fellow officers who have, since November 2019 to March 2021, dedicated their time, energy and efforts to truly change JETAA Chicago’s culture for the better - all while supporting our regional, national and sometimes global alumni communities during a global pandemic. You all amaze and inspire me to be better leader and person as we #JETogether.

For you, what sparks joy?

• Wonder Women

• Pilates & Dance (I have trained and/or used to compete in break dancing [bgirling], Modern, Ballet, Afro-Caribbean, Tap, ballroom (rumba, swing/jive, salsa, samba, waltz, hustle are some of my faves), and various other hip-hop and urban dance styles including whacking, locking, and vogue)

• Movies (pre-pandemic I would go to watch a movie in theaters monthly)

• Food & Travel adventures with chosen family & friends

• Pop Culture: Comics, video games, and board games

What is your favorite Japanese "thing" near where you live now (and/or in the Midwest)?

In Chicago's Lakeview/North Halsted (formerly known as Boystown) area I enjoy supporting the local sushi restaurant, Matsuya. It originated in the postwar resettlement of Japanese Americans in the 1960s. I also enjoy the communities the Japanese American Service Committee & Japanese Culture Center bring together in Chicago. In the suburbs, besides Mitsuwa Marketplace and Tensuke Market, I enjoy going to relax and recharge at King Spa & Sauna. Although it is a Korean-style spa, it is the closest thing I've been able to find in the USA similar to the sentos and onsens in Japan that I loved frequenting during my time on JET.

Connect with Lara (Zara) via LinkedIn!

(If you connect with Lara (Zara) on LinkedIn, please include a message that indicates how you know or why you are reaching out to her/them)

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It is election time! Have your voice heard in the 2021 JETAA Chicago officer elections and join us tonight for our March Open Board Meeting!

The platforms submitted by the 2021 candidates can be reviewed here!

Sign up to receive your ballot here!

For those interested in participating in the election, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You must be a member of JETAA Chicago and its subchapters, claiming residency in Illinois, Indiana or Wisconsin, to vote. You will be asked to confirm your status when completing your ballot.

  • All votes will be cast online using an electronic ballot. Sign up here to receive your ballot.

  • Our elections are being monitored by an impartial third party from outside our chapter.

  • You do not need to attend the OBM to vote.

  • Voting will be open from 12:00PM CST until 7:30PM CST tonight. The incoming/continuing officers will be announced at the OBM after this time.

For details on each officer position, please see the descriptions at the end of this post.

If you have any questions about the process, contact us at info@jetaachicago.com. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Position Descriptions


The President is responsible for the day to day leadership of the organization as a whole and making sure the board is working to fulfill the mission of JETAA Chicago. This includes ensuring transparency in operations, making sure paperwork is in order and filed on time, actively supporting all officers and facilitating the events of JETAA. It also includes personally liaising with members of the alumni community, Japan community in Chicago, MOFA, CLAIR, USJETAA, and JETAAUSA.

Vice President

The Vice President supports their fellow officers and the membership-at-large in fulfilling the mission of JETAA Chicago. This includes collaborating with the President to guide the board, leading meetings, attending events, and monitoring activities to ensure a smooth process for the organization as a whole. The Vice President is also required to ensure that the duties of the President, Treasurer and Secretary are fulfilled should there be a time when they are unable to do so; this includes, but is not limited to, all of the responsibilities outlined in the respective position descriptions.


The Treasurer is responsible for keeping the chapter within the budget, tracking donations, receipts, event expenses and event attendance throughout the year. The Treasurer is also responsible for ensuring that the entire board has a strong understanding of the yearly budget process and timeline. In February the treasurer turns in proof of expenses and activities held the previous year that use GiA funds and in June they are responsible for proposing the chapter’s expenses for the upcoming year. Making sure both reports are done accurately and in a timely manner ensures that the chapter stays active and in turn can offer support to outgoing JETs and alumni.

Junior Treasurer

The Junior Treasurer is a one year position that eventually leads to the two-year treasurer position. The Junior Treasurer will shadow the treasurer and learn the role. They will also help with paperwork and any other tasks delineated by the treasurer.


The Secretary is the administrator and information manager for the organization. They manage and track files and data, and maintain historical records to ensure organizational sustainability.

The Secretary is also responsible for ensuring transparency in information sharing to maintain trust in the organization. This includes the monthly responsibility for taking minutes during meetings, making edits to them, and sending the finalized document to the board for approval before they make their way to the JET Program Coordinators at the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago for record keeping.

Activities Coordinator

The Activities Coordinator is responsible for overseeing the ongoing events and alumni engagement efforts of JETAA Chicago. This includes creating documentation for events, supporting and directly organizing events for JETAA Chicago, including social gatherings, clubs, quarterly dinners and more. The Activities Coordinator works to develop a wide range of activities through assisting fellow officers and other alumni with planning and partnerships with external organizations.

Marketing Coordinator

The Marketing Coordinator handles JETAA Chicago’s brand presence on and offline and focuses on organizational promotion. This includes digital promotional materials, social media posts, the monthly newsletter, website content and event collateral. Helping promote Japan-related content to the community and returning the favor for other organizations is key to maintaining visibility and strong communal ties.

Networking Coordinator

The Networking Coordinator works to connect JET alumni from all backgrounds with career and professional networking opportunities in the local, regional and national community. They are responsible for developing connections through partnerships with local businesses and Japan related organizations and coordinating events, such as the annual career development workshop, career counseling sessions and recent returnee oriented programming.

Outreach Coordinator

The Outreach Coordinator works to actively engage every level of the alumni community of JETAA Chicago. They help support the community marketing and operations strategies with programs for a diverse alumni base, encourage and empower active/inactive alumni to get involved and serve as a connector to help build relationships that cultivate organizational growth and longevity. The Outreach Coordinator is also responsible for coordinating the Survival Series, the chapter’s initiative for engaging and training outgoing JETs, which usually consists of three to five events.

Philanthropy Coordinator

The Philanthropy Coordinator is responsible for fundraising efforts for JETAA Chicago and creating opportunities for the chapter to give back in meaningful ways to the Japan-America community. The Philanthropy Coordinator may solicit donations, apply for grants, research opportunities for supporting local partners, plan fundraisers and other philanthropic events, and ensure that all appropriate follow-up is completed.

*To run for President, you must have spent at least one year on the board.

**The Treasurer position is a two-year term.

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**Due to space limitations, this event is for JET alumni (those who have completed at least one year and/or are current living/working in Japan as official participants of the JET Program)**

Are you currently searching for a job, interested in making a career change, or trying to navigate pandemic hiring practices? Then this is the event for you! Attend JETAA Chicago’s 2021 JET Career Development Workshop on Sunday, February 28th at 2 pm CST to get guidance on building a path to career success.

Our keynote speaker for the 2021 Career Development Workshop will be Emily Frank, a fellow JET with over 10 years of experience in Career Counseling. Emily will be leading this workshop intended to give both advice and guidance on professional development to prepare for the post-pandemic world. The workshop will consist of multiple sessions based on a variety of topics over the course of two hours.

RSVP required via Guestlist: Sign up here!

Follow our social media channels - Facebook & Instagram @jetaachicago - and check back in to the Guestlist for updates.

The topics that will be discussed are as follows:

  • Using social media for job searching/applying during a pandemic

  • Advice/next steps if you were fired/let go from your previous job

  • What should I be doing to prepare myself for jobs I want and what is the best use of my time job searching?

Following the topic-based sessions, we will also have breakout rooms towards the end, facilitated by JETAA Chicago, to encourage networking and to allow discussion regarding the presentation by Emily Frank. This will allow participants the ability to gain the most out of this event as possible.

Please join us for this free virtual workshop providing invaluable advice to help advance your career after JET!

*This event is for JET alumni only.

Questions? Contact us at info@jetaachicago.com

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Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Alumni Association of Chicago
Connecting JET alumni in the Midwest - Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana