Konnichiwa, oshashiburi desu! Hello everyone, it’s been a while since I last checked in. By now I’ve been in Japan for over a week, and already I’ve had several requests to bring back the blog, so here we are again!
As I mentioned all the way back in May, I finished up my year in Vietnam, took off for a month of travel in South East Asia and Australia, stopped by St. Louis for a few weeks, visited some friends in the northwest, and then, finally, flew to Japan to join the Japanese Exchange Teaching Programme (JET). It’s been a long journey, especially if you consider that I applied for this thing back in October, but if the first week is any indication, this is going to be another great year.
So let’s start at the beginning, and let me explain a few things about JET. After submitting my application back in October I tried very hard to forget about the whole thing while I waited to find out if I would make it to the interview stage. This worked pretty well until about December, and I spent most of my winter vacation wondering when I would hear back. As soon as I left Hawaii I had my answer, and shortly thereafter booked my ticket to Guam, where I would have the interview. Now, if you think Guam seems like a strange place to interview for a teaching job in Japan then you’re not alone. The rules for applying to JET (which employs teachers and coordinators from over 40 countries) state that you must attend an interview in your home country, regardless of where you are living at the time of application. Which is really fun if you’re living closer to Japan than the US, but hey, it meant I got to go to Guam.
After 12 hours of travel I had a 20 minute interview, 12 more hours of travel back to Vietnam, and then three more months of waiting for results. Now, JET’s hiring process is notoriously confusing. The only real requirements for the job of assistant language teacher (ALT) are 1) you must be interested in Japan (duh), 2) you must speak fluent English, and 3) you must be a college graduate. Japanese language ability is not required, and in some cases is actually discouraged. Add to this that the applicant pool is HUGE, and you end up with no way to know if you have a real chance at the job or not, even with a solid interview and relevant background. In fact, I had pretty much given up on getting in and was applying to other jobs when I heard back from JET in April that I had been shortlisted for placement.
Being on the shortlist means you will probably, 98% surely be placed at a school in Japan. I’ve actually never heard of someone being shortlisted and then not getting a placement, but it’s this really scary thing that hangs over your head for quite a while. I found out in mid-May that I had been hired by the Miyazaki Board of Education (Miyazaki is a prefecture in Japan), and that was when I finally started sharing the good news. I didn’t know what city I’d be in, the age of my students, or the name of my school until almost June, and I know of several people who waited much longer than me. Moral of the story – getting JET is not impossible, but it is a LONG process, there are many hoops to jump through, and how it all happens remains a great mystery.
So, having found all of this out I returned to the US and prepared as best I could for the coming year. I saw my family and friends, did a bit of shopping, worried about things I had no control over, then decided not to think about it and enjoy the summer. It was nice to be home, and I loved seeing everyone (and eating cheese!) but I was ready to get back to a job and a routine. I made my goodbyes and flew to Seattle, where I saw friends, went hiking, and ate some really great ice cream.
After a few days Luisa and I took the train down to Portland, which is where I would have pre-departure orientation and finally leave for Japan. We had a good time hanging out and driving around Portland, and on the day before the orientation I realized I pretty much had not thought about my upcoming trip all week. It was a really weird state of mind, enjoying seeing my friends and being in a familiar place, but also getting ready to jump into something completely different. I think I went into orientation with a bit of a blase attitude, thinking I knew what was coming because I’d lived in Asia before, I’d taught before. The JET facebook page was constantly buzzing in the background with people excitedly looking for friends, freaking out about details like getting a phone or how much cash to bring, and I really wasn’t interested in that. It kind of felt like high school graduates getting excited to go to college, but I was more like a transfer student.
The actual orientation pretty much confirmed this feeling. Roughly 600 people from several different countries all flew into Tokyo for two days of lectures and workshops on living and teaching in Japan. Being somewhat of an introvert, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of people, and while I met several really cool people at meals and in workshops, I wasn’t super concerned with making lasting bonds. Much like college orientation, it’s pretty much assured I will never see most of these people ever again, which made it hard for me to muster up the energy to make strong connections. This isn’t to say I was antisocial – I wasn’t. I sat with new people for every meal, struck up conversations in the halls and at workshops, and tagged along with people for small evening outings. It was all just a bit much for me, especially when dealing with jet lag.
But all of us somehow made it through. Many people went all-out and did karaoke and bar hopping every night, but I’ve discovered that alcohol and sleep deprivation are not the best way to recover from jet lag, so I made up my mind to return to Tokyo and explore more once I’d settled in. Japan has tons of public holidays, which are great for long weekend trips. Some of the people I met will be living in Tokyo or nearby areas, so I’ll definitely go back soon. I did go out and eat some tasty food every night, and even made it to a cool observation deck to get an idea of exactly how big Tokyo is. It’s really really big.
After orientation was all done we all packed our bags and flew 1.5 hours to Miyazaki City. But this post has already gotten too long, so I will write about my new home next time 🙂
Oh, but one quick note first. This post kind of reads as a bit of a downer, but please know that I’m actually super happy to be here. Just like when I went to Vietnam, adjusting to a new place and dealing with jet lag, culture shock, etc takes time. For me the first few days of a major trip are often overwhelming, so it shows in my writing. All of this is to say, don’t worry, family, I’m perfectly fine, and in fact am very happy. I’ll tell you more about that (and with more pictures) soon.