For Jeremy Rappleye, life and work have been a combination of luck and hard work, held together with a good sense of humor and curiosity. After attending both Yale and Oxford universities, he was hired as an associate professor of educational philosophy at Kyoto University in Japan.
“GHS gave me so much. I had wonderful teachers who encouraged me to ‘think big,’” Rappleye said. “Teachers like Mrs. Prichard, Mrs. Brown and Mr. Millet. They inspired me to think outside the box and have courage to take risks. Those qualities are central to who I have become.”
While in high school, Rappleye was involved with student government and played football and baseball. He graduated as valedictorian in 1996 with his eye on a career in politics.
“Through college, I worked at the Governor’s Office, the U.S. Senate and the White House. But one summer I travelled and taught in a remote village in the Caribbean, and it completely changed my values about what was important in life,” he said. “I realized that politics can’t change anything; all lasting change begins with ways of seeing the world – that is, it begins with education. After that, I went full on into education and never looked back.”
After high school, he was accepted to study at Yale University – perhaps his first stroke of luck, though graduating at the top of his class at GHS didn’t hurt either – and graduated in 2000.
“I picked it because, of course, it is one of the top schools in the USA. I thought I could learn a lot and see a new world,” he said. “And, indeed, it has proven to be the passport that has opened up so many doors in my life. I feel very lucky that I got in there, to be honest. I was way under qualified. But I worked hard and eventually did pretty well.”
For the next few years, Rappleye split his time between China and Japan before relocating to Oxford, England to earn his master’s in 2006. He quickly followed that with a Ph.D., also from Oxford University.
“My research was about the way that different cultures think about education. Education is so central to creating human beings, and there are different ways to do it,” he said, “each with positive and negative sides … The differences arise out of different philosophical outlooks on the purpose of life and ways of being happy. I find that so fascinating.”
Rappleye now lives in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, where he is an associate professor at Kyoto University. Japan is notorious for being less than welcoming to foreigners looking to relocate and work in the country. So how did Rappleye snag such a coveted position?
“I got lucky!” he claims, though doubtless his humility, a trait likely picked up during his decade living in Japan, isn’t telling the whole story.
“The biggest difference between Japan and the USA is the level of respect and humility in Japan. The Japanese language has so many different levels of respect built into it. and one needs to be very humble when speaking and interacting,” he commented. “It is really a culture that puts a higher premium on listening, rather than talking. My point is that this was very hard for me, as I was raised in California where the focus is to ‘be yourself,’ ‘be real’ and ‘express yourself.’ For the Japanese, these terms don’t really mean anything, except that you are not listening or respecting those around you.”
In this way and others, Japan has proven to be the perfect place from which to approach his research, and he hopes it will give people a different way to think about their existence and education. Currently, Rappleye splits his time between teaching both graduate and undergraduate courses, and his own research.
“I teach them about the philosophical underpinnings of education and, more generally, life. A bit like the kind of stuff you talk about when you are high with friends, but only we are not high,” he joked. “As for research, I do a lot of collaboration with scholars around the world. I just did joint research with a major professor at Stanford who has shown that the way you think about yourself has major impacts on your levels of happiness. It is really deep stuff – and even deeper when you mix in Japanese perspectives.”
Rappleye is also the author of numerous papers and two academic books related to the topics explored during his Ph.D., Exploring Cross-national Attraction in Education: some historical comparisons of American and Chinese attraction to Japanese education and Educational Policy Transfer in an Era of Globalization: Theory – History – Comparison.
And his research interacts with modern day situations in an important way. As the pace of modern life and global interconnectedness continue to increase, questions of evolving educational approaches – or the lack thereof – and cultural exchange are changing job markets around the world.
“Can we really educate people in the same way we did in the past and expect them to adapt to all this? My life has been about educating myself for this brave new world. I hope I can share some of this experience through my research,” Rappleye said. “Mostly I just want to inspire others to get out and see a wider world, not only because they should, but because it is so beautiful.”