Our Team | Explore Japan Program

Our Team

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Company Profile

American Learning was founded in 1992 by Steven Shapiro, soon after he visited some of his fellow Cornell classmates in Tokyo, as a Boston-based organization dedicated to bringing young people together from different countries and helping them learn about each other’s respective cultures in a fun and interesting environment. It grew to organize student exchange programs and summer activities on international culture throughout the northeastern USA.

Since 2014 Explore Japan has been coordinated by Adz Group, an international education company which serves over 400 students a year mainly around the Boston area.

Visiting students are placed with host families while taking English classes and participating in afternoon activities together with their host students. By spending a few weeks with a host family, visiting students gain significant confidence in their English skills and learn about the American lifestyle. In return, their host family learns a great deal about a foreign culture and the host student is able to attend a cultural summer program to learn even more.

Each program is designed to give both the visiting and host students maximum exposure to each other and to experience life in America together. Special emphasis is placed on helping the students use skills learned in the experience to communicate with each other on a daily basis. The afternoon activities consist of fun group events, games, and visiting cultural sites and museums.

Adz Group takes great pride in arranging programs where students get the maximum amount of learning in a safe, well-organized environment. Parents should feel confident that their children are receiving the best treatment during this unique opportunity.

Learn more about the Adz Group team here:

Founder & President

Alden Zecha is the Founder & President of Adz Group. He has more than 25 years of international experience having worked in more than 35 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America. In addition Alden has founded and run several travel companies including being a co-founder of PrivatSea an ultra-luxury travel club in London and has personally led tours of up to 150 travelers.

Alden received both his MSE and BSE with honors in chemical engineering from Princeton University where he was a United Technologies Scholar and Institute of Nuclear Power Operators Scholar. He also has a certificate in Finance from the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business Administration and currently holds positions at both Duke and Brandeis Universities.

Alden has served as the vice-chair for Boston of the Princeton Alumni Schools Committee which interviews applicants to Princeton, President of the Princeton Entrepreneurs' Network of Boston a business organization and Trustee and Treasurer of the Puppet Showplace Theatre a performing arts organization. Alden is an avid traveler having visited more than 65 countries and was a 4-time member of the US Rowing team including having won medals at both the Goodwill and Pan American Games

HR & Administration Manager

Jessica Bendell is the HR & Administration Manager for Adz Group. Jessica leads the development of program content and manages recruiting for the company. Previously, she worked for nine years at management consulting firm, Monitor Group - now a member of Deloitte Consulting. While at Monitor Group, Jessica was the operations manager for the executive education and organizational consulting practices. In this capacity she worked with practice leadership to implement and drive many processes such as recruiting, training, marketing, sales pipeline tracking & financial analysis. Prior to Monitor Group, Jessica spent five years at global public relations firm, Weber Shandwick, working on public relations campaigns for several high tech clients.

Jessica received her BS in Business Communications from Bentley University. Jessica originally hails from the mountains of New Hampshire but now lives on the South Shore of Massachusetts with her husband and two small children. When not busy with her kids, Jessica enjoys cooking and yoga.

Japanese Client Specialist

Kaori Ono-Lemire is the Japanese Client Specialist for Adz Group. Her role is to organize and ensure that all Adz programs go smoothly and assist the programs during their stay. Previously, Kaori worked as a hotel reservation agent at a Japanese travel agency in Boston. Kaori speaks Japanese, French, English and some Danish. She has also worked as a reservation and customer service agent at a Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) group in Paris and as ground staff for a Japanese airline company at Charles De Gaulle Airport in France.

Kaori received her BA in International Hotel Management from Ecole Maxim's Internationale de Paris. Kaori is a native Japanese, born and raised in Fujisawa, Kanagawa prefecture and lived in Paris for 7 years and in Copenhagen for 3 years before arriving in Boston. Kaori enjoys reading novels, yoga, cooking and outdoor sports.

Program Operations Manager

Derek Smallwood is the Program Operations Manager for Adz Group. In this position he plans and assists with the successful completion of Adz Group programs, both domestically and abroad. Previously, Derek worked at Global Immersions, a company that finds homes with American families for international students studying in Boston, as well as the Small Planet Institute, a non-profit think tank that creates media discussing food, hunger, poverty, and active democracy.

Derek received his BA with honors in Global Studies: Politics, Culture and Society from Lesley University in Cambridge. As part of his undergraduate degree, Derek studied Italian and International relations in Rome, Italy. More recently, he volunteered as an English teacher in Hebron, Palestine and was able to begin to learn Arabic and travel throughout the region.

Derek has always held a strong interest in culture and the global community, and has long been fascinated with languages, world history and international relations. Derek is originally from Burlington, Vermont and loves to ski, travel, read, and learn about new places and people.

Marketing & Development Manager

Caitlin Frost is the Marketing & Development Manager for Adz Group. Her role is to promote the company and assist in the organization and running of all programs in Boston and abroad. Previously, she worked as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) with the JET Program, Japan’s oldest cultural exchange program, to promote internationalization and teach English Conversation in 9 primary schools in Tenri City, Japan. She also spent a year mentoring visiting Japanese students at the Showa Boston Institute in Jamaica Plain.

Caitlin received her BA in Japanese Language and Literature from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and had the opportunity to spend one year studying abroad at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. In addition to her native English, Caitlin also speaks Japanese. She is originally from Acton, Massachusetts and enjoys playing guitar, traveling, learning about other cultures and meeting new people.

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