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.

Brushing up that Statement of Purpose

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I didn’t make it past the application round the first time I applied to JET. When it came time to apply again, I was faced with having to gather transcripts, letters of recommendation, and of course, the Statement of Purpose. After spending so much time on my first SoP, I decided it would be a shame to simply scrap it. So I didn’t. In fact far from it, I kept my intro and conclusion (and probably 2/3rd of the body) virtually unchanged and adjusted three things. Yep, three things.

The best advice I got was from a friend who got into JET the same year I was rejected; make it about the kids. It’s a bit misleading since the essay criteria says “you” or “your” 10 times, so naturally you think they want to hear about you! No, they don’t, they want to hear about them.

Here are the changes I made to my SoP.

Revision 1:

Before:
It will be a challenge to live in a different country, but I feel my education and my willingness to learn will help me to adjust to the Japanese lifestyle.

After:
I feel my education and my willingness to learn will help me to adjust to the Japanese lifestyle.

It’s a much more definitive statement without the “it’s a challenge” line, which I now feel probably set off the “this girl’s gonna freak out and quit” alarms in the reviewer’s head.

Revision 2

Before:

The Japanese Language program at my university provides students with great learning tools by bringing volunteer teachers from Japan to aid in our language studies. These teachers assist my classes in listening and speaking activities, as well as providing knowledge about the Japanese language and culture that we cannot learn from a book. In applying for the ALT position, I would appreciate having the opportunity to return the favor by helping Japanese students with their English studies, as well as teaching them about the culture of my country. As educators themselves, my mother and grandparents have passed on to me a love of learning and taught me to have a patient and positive attitude in working with people of all ages.

After:
The Japanese Language program at my university provided students with a great learning tool by hosting volunteer teachers from Japan who aided in our language studies. These teachers assisted with listening and speaking activities, and provided knowledge about the Japanese language and culture that cannot be learned from a book. I have had the opportunity to return the favor in tutoring Japanese exchange students and volunteering as a conversation partner at the university’s Intensive English Program. In applying for the ALT position, I aspire to further this intercultural exchange by helping Japanese students with their English studies, as well as sharing the culture of my country.

Eliminating this collective “we” business gave the sentence about the volunteer teachers a little more punch. “Tutoring” simply sounds more official than “helping”. As for the Intensive English Program, I only did the conversation partner thing for one month, but it gave me something concrete to list as “teaching experience”. If you can do anything like this before mid-November, do!

In retrospect, the whole “comes from a line of educators” thing only drew more attention to the fact that I had no real teaching experience, so I dropped it.

Revision 3:

Before:
Living in Japan would provide me with an opportunity to experience the language and art of the Japanese people first hand. As an artist, I would gain a new perspective that I am certain would be a positive influence on my future design work.

After:
Living in Japan will deepen my international perspective, and working with Japanese students will deepen their international perspective.

The before was me thinking that they when they asked what I wanted to “gain professionally” from JET, they actually wanted me to address what I can gain that would be directly related to my major in graphic design. Second time around, I determined they really don’t care, so I went with the much more vague “international perspective” then emphazied I will be working with students and deepening their international perspective. It’s all about the kids!

So that’s it, eliminated a few “me”, added a a few “Japanese students” and “Internationalizations” and I was gold. Good luck to you all, especially those of you trying for a second time!

A word to those reJEcTed

Apparently the US interview notification came out yesterday, and I thought I’d give those of you who didn’t make it past the interview stage this year some words of wisdom or encouragement or at least condolences.

I minored in Japanese and first learned about the JET Program in my sophomore year. I was an art major with no cash and a very strict curriculum, so JET seemed like a great alternative to taking out loans for study abroad and pushing my graduation back at least a semester. Also my Japanese professor expected all of us Japanese minors to apply. Okay, “expected” is a strong word, more like strongly encouraged us to apply, and would purse her lips in slight disappointment if you talked about going to grad school, or even worse, just going straight into a non-Japanese related career.

At the end of November, I sent in my application for the JET Program along with several of my classmates. As I stated in my first post, I thought I was a shoe-in. Well, at least everyone else talked to me like I was a shoe-in. I’m far too critical of myself to assume I’m a shoe-in for anything, which might have been the problem. Anyway, I was reasonably confident that I would easily make it to the interview stage. December and the holidays came and went, and finally it was late January. Several of my classmates received their notifications that they would be interviewed, but my email inbox was empty despite me refreshing the page every 2 minutes.

A couple days later I was sitting at work when an email from JET arrived. Finally, I thought to myself as I clicked to open it. But instead of a “congratulations” I read this sentence:

Unfortunately, we cannot offer you an interview for this year’s program.

Rejection in general sucks, but there was something especially stinging about being rejected for the interview. On the one hand, JET’s just another job, but on the other hand the application is so lengthy and the wait to hear on an interview is so long it’s hard not to get invested emotionally. Plus the fact that I knew several other applicants and that most of them were granted interviews made me feel even more dejected. And what’s perhaps the worst thing of all is JET doesn’t tell the rejected applicants what exactly they did wrong, so I was left wonder what exactly it was that earned me a “no interview” stamp.

So to those of you rejected for an interview: I was there, and I know it sucks. I was bummed out for a while and nothing made me feel better about it. Since I can’t magically change your results, I probably can’t make you feel better, but here are a few of the “upsides” of being rejected for an interview. Continue reading

The JET Journey

There are any number of people on the JET Programme who apply during their senior year of college, are granted interviews with no problem, and receive the good news in April that they will be heading to the Land of the Rising Sun 3 months after their graduation.

This was sadly not my story.

I was in my final year as a Fine Arts Major/Japanese minor. I, along with several of my Japanese classmates, sent in my application for the JET Programme at the end of November. Frankly, I assumed I was a shoe-in; good grades, reasonably involved in school, very involved in the Japanese Program, they had to want me, right?

Wrong, in January I received a brief email informing me that I was not granted an interview. My journey to be part of that year’s JET Program was done. It was frustrating as hell to watch several of my classmates go on to the interviews, to tell them I was happy for them when really I was angry that it wasn’t me. More than a few tears were shed. The dreaded “What are your plans after college” question was answered with an “I don’t know.” My final semester flew by, my graduation came and went, and in July I bid farewell to a few of my good friends as I watched them go off to Japan without me.

In August, school started up and for the first time since I was 4 years old I wasn’t a “student”. A bit of a quarter-life-crisis set in as I applied for a few jobs, but I didn’t really pursue anything seriously. I helped my dad move to Canada, tried to help out my mother and grandfather, mostly I ended up hanging out with college buddies playing video games and watching movies. After I didn’t get an interview, I didn’t want anything to do with the JET Programme, but I had relaxed my stance over the months and determined that if application time rolled around and I wasn’t gainfully employed, I would apply once again.

Before I knew it, it was late October, and the only bright spot in my employment search was one call back from Barnes and Noble. That pesky JET Programme application came online, promising to whisk me away to Japan, make me a multi-millionaire (in yen, that is), and give me an experience few people have the chance to have. All I had to do was subject myself to the complicated, time-consuming, at-least-6-month-long application process once again.

It was a bit of deja-vu to apply again. I asked for letters of recommendation from the same two people who wrote them for me the previous year. Other than a few tweaked sentances, I sent in the same Statement of Purpose essay. I even mailed my application from the same Kinkos-FedEx location. To be honest, I was almost testing JET, to see if practically the same app. that didn’t get me an interview last year would get me in this year, so I could prove how random the whole process is!

In January, the interview announcements were out. Apparently adding the word “internationalization” to my SoP and listing my recent trip to Toronto, Canada as “inter-cultural experience” worked because I landed an interview. A few weeks later, I went before a panel at the Denver Japanese Consulate and had what I’d call an okay interview. I was nervous beyond belief (even though a lot of people told me I was pretty calm) and I completely bombed one question, but I wasn’t crying or anything.

Another six weeks passed (Everything JET does is roughly measured in 6 weeks increments) and I received my email from the Consulate in early April. With my mom holding my hand, I opened it up to read this:

It is our great pleasure to inform you that you have successfully passed the 2nd stage of the screening process for the JET Program and have been selected as an alternate Assistant Language Teacher.

What?! Alternate? What.the.eff? Even more egregious was the email saying that I could be upgraded as late as October. Much like the previous year, everyone I knew that applied was shortlisted (i.e. they were in) and I was put in a position that was in some ways worst than simply being rejected. I tried to remain positive, a good percentage of JET alternates are eventually upgraded, but whenever I thought of JET, it depressed me. What did I do this time, why am I not freakin’ good enough for this program? My former classmates made their preparations as April ended, and then May. No word from JET.

In mid-June, my mom and I were driving to Estas Park when I started to cry, talking about how depressed the JET situation was making me. She told me she didn’t want me to go, and I said that that was it, I wasn’t going to wait around for the JET program anymore. So that was that, no more JET.

That same day we went to this Native American shop where this woman a few years older than me was working. We got to talking and it turned out she had been working and living in Japan for the last 5 years, married a Japanese man and had a super adorable son (who just happened to have the same name as this guy from my Japanese class that I had had a terrible crush on). I didn’t want to think too much of it, but it sure felt like one of those classic “signs”.

That happened on a Friday, the following Tuesday, I was mowing the lawn when my mom came out to tell me a Denver number was calling my cell. A moment later the home phone rang; it was the JET coordinator calling to ask if I was still interesting in being on the JET program. “I think so,” was all I could manage.

And that was it, 20 months after my first application to JET, I was finally heading to Japan. Now the fun would truly begin.