Why did you decide to teach abroad with the JET Program in Japan?
Jennifer: I had studied Japanese language as an undergraduate in college, and I was very interested in getting some real-world experience in Japan before deciding on a career direction, and I really enjoy working with kids and community organizations so I thought this seemed like a great possibility. I tried to get in as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) working in a municipal government office, but during the interview it became clear that my Japanese wasn’t good enough for doing work involving a lot of translation, and so I was offered a position as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) instead. I was incredibly happy with this change – it turned out that the CIRs I worked with had what I thought was a pretty boring job, but being an ALT gave me a lot of freedom to be creative, interact with kids inside and outside the classroom, and there was a lot of downtime to pursue my own interests and hobbies.
What made this teach abroad experience unique and special?
Jennifer: I ended up with a fantastic placement location in Wakayama prefecture (near Osaka), right on the beach and near the gorgeous Kumano Kodo ancient pilgrimage trail system that goes through the mountains in this region, so not only did I have a lot of fun teaching and biking all over my city (10 schools with over 3,500 students), I was able to hike in some beautiful areas with a group of locals and foreign residents, enjoy living by the ocean for the first time in my life, and travel throughout the Kansai region of Japan. My husband, who came with me, was also able to find a job through a local private school and so we traveled together with a lot of friends working in the region. The students were so enthusiastic, especially at the elementary school level, and my Japanese ability skyrocketed since I was able to use the language so much at work and at home.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Jennifer: I learned on the JET Program, as a new college graduate, that I was drawn to work with students and to help others learn about other cultures and languages. When I returned to the U.S., I used my JET background to find a job at a university working as a community outreach and student activity coordinator for Asia-related programs, and now I spend my days helping undergraduates who want to work and travel in Asia to develop language and career skills and work with international students in the U.S. who want to learn more about our local communities. Academically, I have continued with coursework about Asian languages and politics, and it’s been so much fun to use my on-the-ground experience from JET to connect with people at my university and everywhere I go.
Personally, I’ve found that JET alumni are often incredibly active in their home communities and love to continue to promote Japan in a variety of ways, and our local JET Alumni Association hosts a lot of parties and events, and our members run community language classes and cultural programs about Japan and Asia, and many work in the non-profit world which makes a great network to tap into when you’re new to a city after coming back from Japan. Also, the mix of nationalities that work on JET means you can make friends from all over the U.S. and the world, and many of my friends who are JET alumni still travel and vacation with friends even after we’ve left Japan.
What is one piece of advice you would give someone considering teaching with the JET Program?
Jennifer: The most important qualities for a good JET (and to enjoy the experience) are FLEXIBILITY and ENTHUSIASM. Don’t worry so much about your teaching ability (although any background can certainly help), but being willing to accept change and not feel bitter if others have a completely different JET situation will make you much happier with the program, and being enthusiastic even if the professional teachers you’re working with aren’t so great or if you don’t feel your talents are being used well makes a huge difference. You’re working for a local government most of the time, which is exactly as exciting as it sounds, but Japan is a great country to travel in and meet people, so make a lot of memories and new friends!