Why did you decide to teach abroad in Japan with the JET Program?
Raygan: I first came to Japan when I was in high school, and at that time only spoke a little Japanese. I had a terrible time trying to communicate with my host family, but still felt it was a rewarding experience. I promised myself then, that post university, I would spend some time living in Japan, learning the language and trying to better understand the culture. In my final year of university, I started researching numerous programs and job opportunities. I only applied for JET, as it was the program with the best endorsement from both the Canadian and Japanese governments; had the highest levels of support available for participants; and paid a decent salary. JET was the only program that assisted in housing, offered training, and supplied plane tickets with group departure. I also knew JET alumni, who spoke highly of the experience. JET isn't just a job, it is an exchange program. The reason I chose to come back on JET (I am currently in my second term) is the same – this was a well supported opportunity to experience "real" Japan.
What made this teaching experience unique and special?
Raygan: It is difficult to give an answer that would encompass anyone’s experience on JET, as you don’t actually work for the JET Programme. Instead, JET is the support that assists you by finding you a job placement in Japan. You actually work for the contracting organization that hires you in Japan. I am not only a JET Programme participant; I am an employee of my town’s board of education. This gives participants a real immersion experience. However, unlike other private assistant language teacher’s (ALTs) in Japan, I always have someone to call if I am having trouble in my workplace, or need personal assistance. In Japan, we have CLAIR (the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations), Prefectural Advisors and AJET (the Association for JETs) all available to help out. So, although you are placed on your own in your contracting organization, you are never truly by yourself.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Raygan: Personally, this experience has helped me to become a lot more flexible, culturally aware and patient. Japan is an amazing country with a lot of quirks. I live in the country – REALLY in the country, and it can be a difficult experience sometimes. There are only 1300 people in my village, and the closest store of any kind is a 40 minute drive away. I am the only foreigner (obviously), and although I have been here 2.5 years, people still question my ability to use chopsticks and speak Japanese. This used to drive me crazy – now I see it as people with no idea of what to say trying to come up with a reason to talk to me. Professionally, well, that is where some people complain.
There aren’t always a lot of opportunities for professional development here, and no method of advancement at your job. However, you can find the opportunities and motivate yourself to use your down time to work on projects. For example, I have been involved with National AJET for the last 2 years, and it has helped me to grow professionally, and develop new skills. I have also taken on a role as a translator for my village, something that has greatly improved my Japanese skills. My first term on JET, I became very active in my local AJET chapter, and was a Regional Advisor; which gave me the opportunity to assist in a lot of seminars and conferences.
What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering teaching with the JET Program?
Raygan: Learn Japanese. The application for JET says you don’t have to have Japanese skills to apply, but you need to have an interest in learning Japanese. Yes, many JETs return to their home country without having learned much more than simple greetings, but if you are serious about living here, it will greatly enhance your quality of life, especially if you are placed in the country. Even if you just learn numbers, and the hiragana and katakana alphabets before you arrive, you will be in a way better position than many who arrive with no knowledge at all. Also, JET stands for the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme. If you are serious about applying, start looking at ways to get involved in your local Japanese community. Perhaps participate in a language exchange, or cultural events. This will show the interviewers that you are serious about creating cross cultural exchange.