Life As a JET: Thoughts From a First Year – Part One

Jeremy Tan joined JET in 2013, becoming a CIR in Kochi-shi, Kochi-ken. Now 9 months on, he gives his thoughts on what it’s like being a JET, especially the wait, the preparations for departure and how Every Situation Is Different. This is a special two-parter to help those with short attention spans. Part Two can be read here.

It has been almost 9 months since I departed from Sydney, Australia. Many memories and the like have been made since then. Please read these paragraphs, if you have time. I hope they can help you.

I remember the months leading up to the departure as a whirlwind of meeting people, preparing for departure and being really excited that I was about to start a new Journey in Japan. I have been to Japan before on exchange during my university years however this time, it’s for work. And it was very different from what you would have experienced before. Receiving the placement letter, was a long wait. The system does provide for some contracting organizations to send their letters to JET applicants at an earlier time, however the smaller/local contracting organizations tend to take their time in sending their documents. At first I thought it was just a matter of problem in the communication line, the slowness of the mail system etc. Or perhaps the fact that they have at least 10,000 people applying each year for the program. It’s actually Japanese people being polite and making sure everyone knows who you are before you come.

Having to submit my letter of resignation to my current workplace, and listening to many regrets from colleagues and friends alike was heart-wrenching. However they cheered me on, for something that I had a dream for; Japan. The whirlwind definitely can be extremely stressful or adrenaline pumping. I think I experienced the latter. So much adrenaline, but yet all you need is yourself. They picked you, they believe in you.

Meeting new JET applicants. Packing my suitcases, bags and boxes. Having to submit my end of lease papers. Closing my bills. (Even now I have to deal with outstanding bills that don’t want to let go of me). Organizing bank accounts, important documents and overseas credit cards. These all came in quite a wave, especially since I have been living as an independent, without my family overseas since I was 17. I felt like I had to pack almost 10 years of my life into a few boxes and send it over to Japan. Now I live each day as if it was my only life. Your life will be what you make it each day.

I think around this time, April, is when most of us JETs were finally hearing about our placements and trying to find out about our contracting organizations. So, perhaps our year really actually started around this time. Having to write down so many experiences into a single article can seem quite daunting. Believe me it has been an undertaking with many memories. And that is the most important thing – making memories.

Australia, my country, Sydney, my city. Discussions on Facebook, forums and many other social networks, all JETs trying to keep networking and keep in contact. It’s surprising how, when we arrived, the journey together in orientation is a short one. We make friends from our original application embassies. Then we make friends in our local area, city, town and prefecture. The program is amazing in how it develops you, to further strengthen your identity. You meet so many people, especially the Japanese that you work with. They all have special peculiarities, personalities. Their personalities, and most importantly, what makes them Japanese. Another important thing, the people. They’re important.

As young JETs we generally romanticize the features of Japan. Without a doubt, the MOFA sells Japan as a whole. It’s their job. However this program is not exactly that. It’s about the people and kids you live with. The program wants to change lives. They first changed your life. They gave you the opportunity to come on the program. So now, all you have to do is make a difference to the lives of those you will meet. Don’t worry if you’re no super-worker, ace-teacher or not perfect in any way. They just want you to be the perfect friend to Japan. When you make a difference to one child or one colleague or one person’s life in Japan, pat yourself on the back and grab a beer. Especially if you are in Kochi.

I have fears of what I can say in this article, but some things should be said. If I had been asked for just a few words could I tell the JET applicants what they should be prepared for? I’ll try. Don’t come here for the English. Unless you have power that can change the world, you will hurt yourself. The resilience needed to change an estimated 123,000,000 people’s worth of education, is more than Mount Fuji (it’s been made a UNESCO heritage site, as of 2013, more things to look forward to). They ask of you, yourself, and your identity, to assume a persona from another country for the children and people of Japan. Rural Japan, where you will be most likely be sent does not really have much exposure to the outside world. They have, over years, tried to improve their English ability. It’s hard for them, just like how the Japanese language is equally difficult to learn. So don’t expect them to change quickly or easily. They will need pushing and pulling as long as their history, which is vast and long. You’re a part of that big process.

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