A young Dawson couple has found their life's work overseas in Japan, where for nearly a year they have lived, worked and helped to spread the word of God as kindergarten English teachers.
Josh Rowan, 24, and his wife Madalyn, 23, have lived in Japan for the past eight months. The two discovered they had a mutual love of the country during Madalyn's years of college at the University of Georgia.
During Madalyn's sophomore year, she visited her friends' homes in China and Japan and met their families.
"It was an amazing, life-changing experience, and through it I realized that I would love to live in Japan," Madalyn said. "The amazing thing is that God was giving Josh the same desire!"
The two, who dated for five years after meeting in a high school Spanish class, got married in May of 2015 and took a honeymoon trip to Tokyo, Japan.
During the trip, the two met with a Japanese pastor of a church in Tokyo, who is now the pastor of the church they are a part of in Japan. Madalyn said that God confirmed to them during that trip that they could live in Japan.
Toward the end of Madalyn's senior year, her Japanese friend's mom, who the couple stayed with on their honeymoon and who Madalyn stayed with in Japan the first time she visited, called the Rowans and offered them jobs teaching English at the school where she was principal.
Both lifelong Christians, the two decided to devote themselves and their marriage to serving God, and moved overseas to spread the word about His love.
"Josh and I were very excited about this opportunity because this school was also close to the Japanese church we visited on our honeymoon. Within three months, after applying for a visa, selling our belongings, and saying our goodbyes, we moved to Tokyo to work at this kindergarten and join our church," Madalyn said.
The Dawson County High School graduates currently attend a church in the city of Tachikawa, Tokyo and teach English at an international kindergarten school, where children from all over the world come to learn.
They co-teach a classroom of 19 children.
"We teach English, math, social science, and arts and crafts," Madalyn said. "We are responsible for deciding curriculum, taking care of the children and teaching them daily. We really love our students. They are very sweet!"
As much as they enjoy their job, the transition to international life wasn't easy, according to the Rowans.
"Everything about Japan is completely different from America, especially Dawsonville," Madalyn said. "We had a difficult time with culture shock for the first couple months for sure. When you move to an unfamiliar culture, it's like you become a baby again. You need help with almost everything."
The two said that if it wasn't for their church in Tokyo, they don't know how they could have survived.
"They were there for us from the moment we arrived at the airport, and they have continued to walk with us every step of the way," Madalyn said.
The language barrier was a huge part of the transition. Madalyn graduated from UGA with a degree in social work and a minor in teaching English to speakers of other languages, so she entered Japan with a solid foundation.
"Being in Japan has really pushed me to learn faster, and my Japanese has improved since moving here. However, I still have a lot to learn," Madalyn said. "I can keep daily conversations, and I can write using two of the Japanese alphabets."
Josh had no prior study, and is taking a class a few days a week to learn the language.
With the help of his teacher, Josh said he has learned a lot of phrases and vocabulary words, and his understanding improves daily.
The two originally planned to stay in Japan long-term, but the low pay from their teaching jobs has made that dream difficult. The couple's church in Tokyo has helped come up with a plan to allow them to stay there for the long run, and is trying to start an English school that will offer courses to the community.
The Rowans have already put in their notices at their current jobs, and will return to America for about one year in June with the hopes to raise enough financial support to start the English school once they return to Japan.
"Our goal with this school is not to make lots of money or to become successful in the world's eyes," Madalyn said. "Our goal is to love and serve the people of Japan by meeting their needs. Our hope is that as we return to Dawsonville, residents might consider partnering with us in this vision."