Jan. 18, 2017
Kaylah Jetton has been focused on going global since kindergarten and has no plans of stopping. From attending a language intensive grade school to majoring in global studies and studying abroad in Japan, the MSU senior has found her passion in helping others at home in Detroit and around the world.
Jetton comes from a background focused on cultural awareness and expansion. She attended the Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School in Detroit from kindergarten through eighth grade, where she was immersed in her chosen language — Japanese — for at least two hours a day, learning from instructors from all over the world.
From her language learning and cultural exposure as a child, Jetton was drawn to MSU for its expansive study abroad programs. After one semester, she decided to continue her Japanese studies through the College of Arts and Letters, and stumbled upon Global Studies in the Arts and Humanities.
“I met with my adviser Cindy Walter and she described the global studies program as something that would allow me to combine my need to help others with my desire to learn about other cultures,” Jetton says.
Jetton loved that the major had an international requirement. In June 2015, she traveled to Japan for a study abroad program to learn intermediate Japanese. She was immersed in the culture for three months, learning language and traditional cultural activities like flower arranging, sword dancing and the Japanese tea ceremony. She even had the opportunity to stay with a local family in the region.
“The homestay really allowed me to feel comfortable, and they treated me as their own," Jetton says. "It gave me the chance to improve on my speaking and they would help me with my homework. I also would help the kids with theirs.”
After returning from Japan, Jetton wanted to continue to learn about Japanese culture and how the United States can bridge gaps between the two nations, through mutual understanding and respect.
“My study abroad experience is what sparked my desire to go into the Foreign Service,” she says. “It made me want to work with others and tackle the challenge of bringing two cultures together.”
In East Lansing, Jetton works at St. Vincent Catholic Charities in their Refugee Service Department. She helps refugees resettle within the mid-Michigan area by first relating to them through culture and language, and then helping them enroll their children in school and finding them jobs and housing.
“The best experience while at the center is just meeting and learning about the people that we serve,” she says. “Not everybody comes in with the same experiences. A lot of the refugees we serve don’t have English language skills, so our job is really to help them understand life in America and help make their transition a little smoother.”
Her local work doesn’t stop in East Lansing. This past summer, Jetton interned at Kids Explore Japan, a new learning initiative for the Detroit area to get children from metro Detroit interested in Japanese and second language learning. Jetton instructed and facilitated tutoring classes for Detroit children, teaching lessons, playing games, and interacting almost exclusively in Japanese.
“It was fulfilling to give back and motivate kids like me from Detroit, who a lot of times don’t have the opportunities others have,” Jetton says. “I am very fortunate to be able to bring back what I’ve learned and inspire other people.”
Looking toward graduation in May, Jetton is determined to be a part of international relations and hopes to work as a Foreign Service officer or residential diplomat for the U.S. Department of State. Currently, she is a virtual student intern for the Department of State’s No Lost Generation initiative. The program aims to help reduce the negative effects on children involved in the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and refugees from all around the world.
“No Lost Generation is about educating the local community about the Syrian Refugee Crisis,” Jetton says. Her task is getting the MSU chapter up and running and to begin educating the Lansing community about their role in the crisis.
Jetton says she wouldn’t have the opportunities and experiences she has had without the backing of Michigan State University.
“More than anything, MSU has given me clarity and a sense of belonging,” she said. “Here, people support me and tell me my dream does matter and I should and can go into a career that I love.”
Reused with permission from the College of Arts and Letters
Story by Samatha Ward; video by Peter Johnston; photos courtesy of Kaylah Jetton