Why did you decide to teach abroad with JET Programme in Japan?
Sue: I would love to say that I'd always had a passion for Japanese culture or a strong desire to travel, but I can't claim any such noble motivation. We decided to teach overseas because of circumstances in our home country. I had completed three university degrees, including my Bachelor of Education and my Masters in English literature, but there were no jobs in Ontario, Canada where I live. My husband was hating his job and up for some adventure, so he suggested we teach overseas. He did some research and gathered the information about the JET Programme. We knew that this was our best time to travel and experience another culture - before we had permanent jobs in Canada and before we had kids. We both applied to the JET Programme, but we knew I would have a better chance at being accepted because of my ESL teaching background and my Bachelor of Education degree. I was accepted and my husband came along for the ride. And what an exciting and amazing ride it was!
What made this teaching experience so unique and special?
Sue: I very much appreciated the structured process of the JET Programme. I appreciated the sessions available in Toronto ahead of time to help prepare us for the experience, as well as the training we received once we were in Japan. I requested a small city away from the metropolitan areas of Tokyo etc. I LOVED the small city where we ended up living. Mitsuke is in a rural area of Niigata-ken which gave us the amazing experience of living near mountains, rice fields, and small villages, but because the Japan Rail system is so good, we were still close to lots of amenities.
We made many close friends while we lived in Mitsuke. In fact, a neighbor ended up coming to live in Canada for a year with her sons, living near my parents and teaching in an elementary school there! We also brought 3 female students over one summer for an unforgettable 3 week visit! These bonds are remembered so fondly by both my husband and myself. We still miss Mitsuke almost 15 years later!
We tried cultural experiences, attended every festival, got involved in our community, and made Mitsuke our home while we lived there. We loved it so much that we stayed for 3 years. I grew to love chigire (torn paper art) and my husband joined a local basketball league. It was very hard to leave Japan when our time was done!
How has this experience impacted your future?
Sue: I was already on the path to becoming a teacher in Canada and have taught since returning home from Japan in 1998. Probably one of the most lasting effects has been my involvement with Japanese exchange groups in my school. We have a group of Junior High School students who come over at least once a year to stay with host families and buddy up with our students and experience Canadian school culture. I really enjoy working with these groups and even get to impress them with my (now very rusty) Japanese! They still laugh at my lame jokes!
What is one piece of advice you would give someone considering teaching abroad in Japan?
Sue: My best piece of advice would be to open your mind and your heart to Japan. Don't just hang out with other JET participants (although that is fun too!)-- make friends with people in your town/city. Try cultural acitivities. Get involved in your community.
Don't be afraid to choose a rural area. I personally feel that Japan is way more interesting if you get out of the big cities. My husband explored the countryside by bicycle and misses those long rides.
Also, expect culture shock! Be prepared and work through it! The end result is a year (or more) of awesome experiences and a lifetime of amazing memories!