Larisa McBean - Tourism Professional and Communitarian


Larisa McBean, presenting at a TPDCo function

1) When, how long and where were you in Japan?

  • I went to Japan on the JET Programme in 2012 and spent the full 5 years allowable on JET. I was placed in Okayama Prefecture in West Japan and lived in Takahashi City. I taught at 5 high schools in Takahashi City and Niimi City.

2) How was your time in Japan? What were some highlights/things you wish had done differently?

  • My time in Japan was great! There were ups and downs, as with anything in life.

Some of the highlights of my time in Japan: the people in the communities where I lived and worked (Takahashi and Niimi) all helped to make my experience memorable. I learned to plant rice, taught a cooking class, danced in the Obon festival and travelled to several prefectures to experience their food and culture. My contribution to the JET community as a Prefectural Advisor for 2 years, and Block Leader for 4 years was also memorable as it afforded me the opportunity to share my knowledge and teaching skills with ALTs and Japanese teachers alike. I was recognised for volunteerism related to these involvements at the 30th Anniversary of the JET Programme in Tokyo in 2016, where I got to meet the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan (now Emperor and Empress).

3) What was it like for you when you first returned to Jamaica?

  • I was happy returning to Jamaica in 2017: seeing my family, eating East Indian mangoes, and going to the beach. However, I experienced what we call “reverse culture shock”, mainly because of the customer service I had gotten accustomed to in Japan. On entering a bank or store in Japan, you are usually served promptly. I also missed shopping online and having my goods delivered to my home. Let’s just say that I have now re-adjusted to Jamaican life.

4) Tell us a bit about your current job/projects.

  • I have been working at the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), which is an agency of the Ministry of Tourism, Jamaica, for the past 2 years. I am the Community Tourism Manager and my job is to facilitate the development of community tourism across Jamaica through the strengthening of existing Community Tourism Enterprises (CTEs), and the development of new CTEs. This has been exciting and fulfilling work for me, as it involves supporting the livelihoods of underserved communities, especially rural ones.

  • My projects include the TPDCo Tourism Cluster Development Initiative, which is driving the development of community tourism across Jamaica through technical assistance, such as marketing and business development assistance and grant writing support; and capacity development and training, such as tourism training programmes. Clusters provide an avenue for boosting sales and market share for businesses through collaboration with other businesses. This project began in June 2019, and since then, three (3) new tourism clusters have been established spanning 5 parishes.

  • Another major project that I’ve worked on is a knowledge-sharing project between Jamaica and Grenada to boost community tourism development in Grenada. This project involved visiting Grenada in 2019 as part of a scoping and assessment team and making recommendations to Grenada on the findings. The next step of this project will involve a team from Grenada visiting Jamaica to learn from our best practices concerning community tourism in Jamaica.

  • I also collaborated to conduct a research project on tourism investment in Jamaica, which sought to shed light on the level of alignment between tourism investment in Jamaica and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This paper was published in May 2020 in Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes (Emerald Journal).

5) How has the experience in Japan influenced what you are currently doing?

  • In Takahashi, I always noticed many Japanese tourists visiting the historical sites in the town. I also observed this everywhere I visited in Japan. Japan does a great job of selling its rich history and numerous heritage and other attractions to local and international tourists alike. This has impacted how I view community tourism both in terms of the sharing of local or indigenous culture, and supporting the local economy of a community, and helps me in navigating my current job.

6) What advice would you give to someone who is interested in going to Japan on the JET programme?

  • My first bit of advice would be to be open to both learning and sharing—be willing to learn about a new culture and to share your own culture with those you meet. Go with a plan—how long you want to stay, what you plan to learn, do and achieve over that time—and finally, make the best of your time there in terms of how it can help you to achieve your short- and long-term goals.

7) What advice would you give to someone who is about to return or who has recently returned to Jamaica from Japan?

  • Network, network, network. If you are planning to return to Jamaica, know what you want to do before you return and seek out individuals who may be able to assist you to achieve your goals. Save as much as you can because it may take a while before you actually land the perfect job for you. You may also want to improve your skills through a degree or certificate programme to boost your employability in the job market; there are numerous accredited programmes from well-recognised universities that you can pursue online.

  • If you’ve already returned to Jamaica, attend networking events, conferences, lectures, and other events. This is important so that you can get out there and sell your skills. You can find a number of events on Facebook under the “Events” tab.

8) Would you return to live in Japan? Why or why not?

  • I currently don’t have any plans to return to live in Japan, but who knows what the future holds? I definitely plan to visit Japan in the future. In fact, I had planned to visit for the Tokyo Olympics, but COVID-19 has put a damper on that. Hopefully, I will get to visit next year and get to enjoy some Sanuki udon, sushi and tantanmen ramen.


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