Don’t worry, I’m still around.

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Hello and thanks for visiting my site!

This blog is devoted solely to my experience with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program and living in Japan. I have been back in the States for a while and, although I love Japan and hope to visit many more times, returning to work and live there is not something I see myself doing any time soon (but never say never!). So, the information on this blog will start to get dated (if it isn’t already) and there probably won’t be many more new posts.

Despite that, I do welcome any questions and comments you might have and I generally respond quickly, so please don’t hesitate to ask anything. I am still involved in the JET community and I gladly take advantage of any chance I get to talk to new people about Japan and JET (as friends and family are generally tired of it). Thanks and I hope you find something interesting/useful on this blog!

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Tips for the JET application: Part 3

As I lurk the message boards and see everyone frantically trying to get their materials together and asking questions about every little thing about the JET Program application, I am trying to think of more tips, and really only one come to mind.

Tip 6, Take all advice with a grain of salt: Okay, maybe not all, but at least 90% of the advice you’ll find online should be taken with a grain of salt. You see, since JET’s application process is so long and involved, it has this way of making everyone who has made it onto the program (and even people who didn’t) instantly think they’re experts on all JET matters. It also has a way of giving these new “experts” an undeniable urge to go online and dispense advice to JET hopefuls. All these people have may have good intentions, but that doesn’t mean their advice is sound. JET message boards and blogs are often a hodgepodge of conflicting information, half-truths, and downright falsehoods with the occasional facts and good advice sprinkled in.

So how do you separate the good advice from the bad? I say the best think you can do is consider who you’re hearing the information from.

JET Program Coordinators
Should you take their advice? Yes (most of the time)
In the last couple years, I’ve noticed an increased presence of program coordinators on message boards which I think is a great thing for JET hopefuls as they can clarify a lot of the misconceptions of JET and the application process. However it does make it clear that even within JET, some parts of the program are still a bit of a mystery and still vary greatly from country to country and even among consulates in the same country. I’ve also seen some of the coordinators dispense advices that’s based on their own personal preferences or pet-peeves about JET applicants and not based on anything official.

Current and Former JET Participants
Should you take their advice? Sometimes
Trust me, becoming a JET Participant doesn’t mean you get a book with JET’s selection secrets. You’re not told why your application or interview was better than others, or why you are placed where you’re placed. Just when you’re ready to say “I think this factor and that factor are very important to JET,” you’ll meet a JET who doesn’t fit the profile AT ALL. All a current/former JET can do is say “This was MY experience, and you may have a similar one or you may have something the opposite.”

Aspiring JET Participants
Should you take their advice? Um . . . probably not.
Seriously, every year I see a few know-it-alls dispensing advice on Statement of Purpose or how to chose their placement preferences and then I see they’re applying for JET as well! Aside from basic grammatical advice or general application advice, an aspiring JET who’s pretending they know anything about the JET selection process, well-intentioned as they may be, is usually doing more harm than good.

So you’re applying to JET again

or “Tips for the 2nd time JET Program applicant”

*note* This post is for people who are applying to JET again after an unsuccessful attempt. If you have done JET and wish to do it again, check out the comment section.

It’s about that time again; the JET application is out soon and people are getting ready to subject themselves to the tortuously long process of applying to the JET Program on the promise of being to whisked away to the exotic land that is Japan. Many JET applicants will be bright-eyed first-time applicants, likely in the final year of their bachelor’s degree, having no reason to believe they won’t get the good news in April that a few short months after their graduation, they will be heading to Japan!

Then there are the 2nd time applicants, you know who you are. You sent in your carefully reviewed application last fall, were reasonably confident you would be selected over the multitude of ya-hoos that apply to the program, and then failed to get an interview. Maybe you still lurk around the message boards, filled with rage and/or sadness as you wondered how on earth all these people got in ahead of you. Maybe you flirted with going to Japan with Interac, or one of the eikaiwas. Never the less, here you are, planning to apply again.

The good news is you’ve already been through the whole application process, which does give you a leg up in some regards. But there’s probably plenty of room for improvement, here are a few tips. Continue reading

Things to know about JET and Japan

Once you’re accepted onto JET, you will get endless amounts of literature both before you leave and during the orientation in Tokyo. You will also hear from your predecessor and your contracting organization. No doubt the awkwardly large CLAIR handbook you have to lug with you to Tokyo, as well as the correspondence with your pred and CO will teach you plenty of things, but there are a few aspects of JET that are, shall we say, omitted from this and other fliers.

Ahead: what is ESID, how well will your JTE speak English, can you ever move within JET, and other miscellaneous things. Continue reading

Welcome to Limbo: Being an Alternate for JET

Here you are, you started your JET Program journey half a year ago, you sent off your application last fall, waited six weeks, made it through the first round of cuts, another month went by, had your interview, and have now waited patiently 2+ months for results.

You finally get the email, it starts off “You have successfully passed the 2nd stage of the screening process”. You want to run around the room and shout “I’m going to Japan!” until you read the next sentence. “You have been selected as an alternate.”

I got this email, and I knew I was supposed to be grateful that I was an alternate. It meant I wasn’t rejected outright, and there was still a real chance of going to Japan. But in some ways it was worse than just being rejected. Being rejected would have meant that it’s over and done with, and it’s time to move on. As an alternate, all that laid ahead was weeks – possibly months – of uncertainty. When will I get the call? How much time will I have to prepare for Japan? What I can’t go? What if I’m never upgraded at all?!

Being an alternate kinda blows. It’s the ultimate limbo, you’re not in JET, but you’re not out. You’re sort of treated like a short-lister (you get some of the same paperwork, get invited to a few events), but at the same time you’re very much not a short-lister. You get asked if you’re going to Japan, and all you can say is “I don’t really know yet.” While short-listers get all sorts of checklists and guides to pre-departure, there is no “Official JET Alternate Guide”.

So here is the Unofficial JET Program Alternate Guide from someone who went through it.

Continue reading

Getting Ready to Leave the JET Program

So here you are, you’ve spent somewhere between 1 to nearly 5 years in Japan, you’ve laughed, you’ve cried, you’ve been complimented on your chopstick skills hundreds of times, but all good things must come to an end and it’s time to leave JET. Maybe you’re heading to another gig in Japan, maybe you’re off to backpack South East Asia (probably not a good idea in August), or maybe you know in four months time you’ll be on your mom’s couch. Either way it’s time to pack it in and leave the apartment, schools and town you’ve come to know over the last few years.

Leaving JET is as much of an adjustment as coming on JET, and something that can easily sneak up on you. The key is to prepare well and to prepare early. A fellow JET said to me, “Never underestimate the amount of time you need.” Good advice, and I tried to follow it, but that didn’t stop me from rushing around the morning I left. Continue reading

The Tohoku Earthquake and JET

All of us with a tie to Japan have been watching the coverage of the March 11th Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunamis with a heavy heart, and of course we are thinking of those who lost their homes and loved ones.

I’m sure many of you aspiring JETs can’t help but wonder how this will affect the 2011 JET Program. I saw a thread pop up asking about it on a JET forum, and the general response was “How can you be asking that at a time like this?!” However, all shaming aside, I do think it’s a legitimate question, and this disaster will have an impact on the JET Program.

First off, you should probably just avoid asking this question on forums because you’ll just get a lot of heat. Also, no one on those forums is likely to have that information, and if they do, they probably aren’t in a position to make an unofficial announcement on a forum. Any announcement will probably come from the official JET Website or from your local consulate, and it’s best to just wait for this announcement rather than call up your JET coordinator (trust me, they’re busy right now).

At this point in the JET “cycle”, the interviews of prospective JETs are done, and contracting organizations have already sent in their requests for new JETs, so now it’s about tallying how many positions are open and compiling interview results. The notification of acceptance (“short-listed”) is normally sent to interviewees early to mid April, and then placements are decided mid to late May.

Someone on the thread I saw said that since the funding of JET has been called into question in the last year, they wouldn’t be surprise if the JET program is significantly scaled down or even canceled so funds are spent on disaster relief and rebuilding. Now I would say in the most affected prefectures (Iwate, Fukushima, Ibaraki) JET will be scaled down, to what degree is unknown. As for saying the program will be cut nationwide to use the funds, that’s a bit extreme. I feel like that’s saying if there’s a hurricane in Florida, the state of Illinois is expected to lay-off x-number of teachers and send the money directly to rebuilding efforts, I don’t think it works quite like that. The Japan government does subsidize each JET participant to a degree, but most of their salary, as well as their flights to Japan and hotel stay at the Tokyo Orientation, is paid by the local contracting organization.

Also, just to compare, the Kobe Earthquake of 1995 caused about $100 billion US in damage. That year, JET had about 4,600 participants, 500 more than the previous year, plus that was a time when new JETs were still being flown over in business class.

It’s my best guess that the short-list announcement might be delayed, the affected prefectures may take on few, if any, new JETs, but elsewhere I don’t see any reason JET placements won’t go forward as planned.

*Edit*: 3/21 From the JET Program Website Earthquake Page

5. Specifics regarding the future employment and related conditions for JET participants in areas directly affected by the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis will be dealt with on a case by case basis depending on circumstances in respective contracting organisations and the wishes of respective JET participants. JET participants in areas other than those seriously affected will be treated as usual.

A glimpse into your ALT life

So last post, I said I would do a post a week here. But I’ve decided I want to keep this blog kind of focused on JET/Japan/Teaching English (also I’m far too much of a procrastinator to write a post a week).

Anyways, a friend just introduced me to an awesome JET-related comic called “Life After the BOE“. It covers some of the more, well, irritating aspects of being an JET in Japan, as well as the things they don’t manage to tell you during the 3-day Tokyo Orientations. For example:

It’s a fun, well drawn comic that definitely speaks the truth. I encourage all current, future, and former ALTs to check it out.

Tips for the JET application: Part 2

A continuation of my tips to JET applicants.

Tip 3, You have more international experience than you think: On the application, there’s several sections were you fill in your teaching, international/inter-cultural, and Japanese experience. Do you best to write down something, anything in these sections. You might have a lot of experience in one area, but writing down 10 things in the international experience section isn’t going to make up for writing nothing in teaching or Japanese experience sections.

The first time I applied, I had nothing in the “Teaching” section, but the second time I put down that I volunteered with ESL students (I only did it for a month) and was a lab monitor for three semesters (I determined that talking people through computer and printer trouble every time I monitored qualified as “tutoring”). It might have just been the thing that got me an interview that second time.

For those worried about lack of international experience, you can list pretty much any time you’ve stepped foot outside your country as international experience. If you’ve barely left your home town, try to think of anything cultural you’ve done. Did you host an exchange student? Take part in an international fair at your university or in your town? Attend French club regularly, or even semi-regularly? Write it all down.

Don’t worry if your “international experience” isn’t related to Japan at all. As I wrote in the JET FAQs, international experience is going to show you’re adaptable to different cultures, which is arguably the thing JET wants the most from a participant.

By the way, if you have some related event planned and it’s happening after the app due date but before the interview dates (like an int’l fair in December, or a trip abroad over the holidays) I’d go ahead and write it down since it will be applicable come interview time.

Tip 4, Statement of Purpose; Ask not what JET can do for you: All you really need to do in this 2-page double-spaced essay is talk about your experience and why you’ll make a good JET. Sounds easy in theory, but in practice this is probably the most stressful part of the application. And I did it twice. Here are some quick tips:

– Don’t talk about your love of Japanese pop culture: If you have some nice story about how you meet a Japanese exchange student who liked the same anime as you and that lead to a lasting friendship, put it in. Otherwise it’s best to just avoid mentioning Anime, Manga, Visual Kei, whatever. Some might say that if an anime is what got you genuinely interested in Japan, you can mention it, but the JET app reviewers already know Anime/Manga is most people’s first encounter with Japanese culture.

– Ditch the flowery language: This isn’t an Ivy League Dissertation, it’s an essay for a job where you’ll stand front of 14-year-olds and try to get them to pronounce “month” so it doesn’t sound like “mouse”. Your SoP should show you can communicate well, so keep your writing clear and concise.

– It’s about them, not you: Of course you should talk about your qualifications and what you hope to gain from being on JET, but don’t forget to talk about what you can do for them. When you’re done with your first draft, go through and see if you can’t eliminate a few I/Me/My’s. Also check the “what I’ll gain” verse “What JET will gain” balance. Do you have a whole paragraph about what you want to gain from JET but only one or two sentences about what you’ll do for JET? Try to even that out

Get someone to proof-read it: This should go without saying (you should get someone to proof-read your whole application, actually). Get a couple opinions; I recommend you ask someone who doesn’t have anything to do with JET or Japan just so you can get an outside perspective. If you get two or more opinions, you’ll probably get conflicting advice, so that’s where your good judgement has to come in.

(2nd time applicants) Don’t completely scrap last year’s SoP: If this is your 2nd or even 3rd time applying, you’ve already put a lot of work into an SoP, so why start from scratch? Dig out that old SoP and read through it. Cross out the weak parts and circle any passage, sentence or even just phrases you feel are still strong. See if you can’t incorporate that into your new essay. Of course re-reading your old SoP might just reaffirm you want to write a completely new essay, and that’s fine too.

Tip 5, Chillax: Hey, I was there (twice): reading and re-reading my application, revising my essay, triple checking that I had everything in the right order. Really what I needed to do was relax, take a break for a day or two from the app and do other things. You don’t get bonus points for sending in your application early, so take your time. Print out the check list and maybe have a friend go through the papers with you, making sure everything is there.

Once you send it in, it’s out of your hands. Don’t re-read your SoP because you’re likely to find a typo which will just cause you stress. Don’t second-guess your placement requests or the way you worded your international experience. Really, just try to forget about the whole thing until January.

And so ends my tips (for now). As I said before, I don’t mind answering any questions, so please comment.

Tips for the JET application: Part 1

It’s October, which means the application for the 2011 JET Program will appear, and hundreds will start crawling the internet looking for tips and tricks to making their application stand out. As someone who went through the application twice, I thought I’d offer some word of wisdom.

Please keep in mind that I’m not any kind of JET insider and don’t have any secret info about the application process. I can only base this on my personal experience and stories I’ve heard from fellow JETs.

Tip 1, Get your sh!t together: The JET website already has a list of documents they want you to send with the application. Get going on this now, especially transcripts from study abroad (if you did). If you haven’t graduated yet, you’ll need some sort of “intent to graduate” form. My university told me to print out some BS thing online, and though I have no idea if that cost me an interview my first time applying, it probably didn’t help. Tell them you need a letter on university letterhead with a seal or signature from the registrar.

Tip 2, Your placement requests don’t matter (until they do): I’ve met plenty of people whose requests were Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto and still managed to make it on JET, so no, requesting big cities won’t earn your app an automatic trip to the round file. However if you get an interview, it’s very likely you’ll be asked why you picked a particular city or prefecture, so have a good reason for picking that place (or come up with one by interview time). Good reasons are: Did homestay there, hosted a Japanese person from there, your home town has a sister city/state relationship with that city/prefecture, your Japanese significant other is from there (by that I mean spouse, being engaged sometimes doesn’t cut it).

While I don’t think requesting a big city is gonna count against you, you can look at the data yourself (in the JET pamphlet) and see how likely it is you’ll be placed there. There’s 9 JETs in Tokyo (they ain’t in Shinjuku either, most of those JETs are on a tiny islands hundred of kilometers from Tokyo Bay), there’s also only 9 in Kanagawa-ken. Many major cities use private ALTs exclusively, so if you really have your heart set on Yokohama, JETs probably not for you. You might think you’re more likely to get your first choice if you choose a less “popular” prefecture, since not so many will request it. Not necessarily; I had a friend who requested Fukui, then ended up on Shikoku.

It’s just not worth stressing over placements since the Contracting Organization’s preferences (they can request that their JET be a certain gender and nationality) will take precedence over your requests anyway. Some towns always request a JET from a certain place because of sister city relationships, some placements are meant for couples, or for JETs bringing children.

So, pick wherever you want, try to have a good reason for that request, but be open-minded because they’re gonna place you where they place you. Or you can just not write down a placement request at all.

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So there are your first couple tips. Come back soon for advice on what to write for international experience, and the dreaded Statement of Purpose, spooky!

I’m more than happy to answer questions, so please leave a comment if you have any!