Alumni Spotlight: Amy O’Reilly


Why did you decide to teach abroad with JET in Japan?

I have always been interested in living and working abroad, and Japan was a country that I knew I wanted to see and experience firsthand. However, Japan is a far way away from my American home, and Japanese was not my focus in university. However, I loved English. When I was a student, I volunteered to do some conversational English tutoring with exchange students and ended up being matched with some Japanese students. One of my students introduced me to this program. I liked the fact that it is a government-backed program with a long history of success. Most important to me, though, was the fact that the program has a built-in community and support system. Through the application process, I was able to be in contact with JET alumni, current JETs, and other aspiring applicants. Moving halfway around the world is much less intimidating when you know that there is a tight-knit community waiting for you.

On a more practical level, the pay is pretty generous and living situations are (often) subsidized. The position is unique, and the program’s longevity has resulted in a nice set-up for newcomers – a contract that many schools and boards of education have used for multiple years, medical coverage, and a healthy amount of paid vacation days.

All in all, my personal interest made me choose Japan, and the JET Program’s positive history made me confident I would be entering a job with a flexible contract and a built-in network of support.

What made this teaching abroad experience so unique and special?

The most unique aspect of the JET Program is often based on where you are placed. The overwhelming majority of applicants will be placed in “rural” areas, and I was one of them. I had requested this on my application and was placed in what I would consider a rural city. In my case, the most unique part of my situation is that I became a part of my workplace and community very quickly.

JET is based on the idea of “grassroots international exchange,” which means you are an international representative not only at school, but in the community as well. I found myself approached not only while in class at my two high schools, but in the staff room, while shopping, or even when traveling around. As the next closest JET is a 30-minute drive away, if anyone has a question about English or American culture in my immediate area, I’m pretty much the only option. This has led to some wonderful and surprising conversations, and makes every day interesting.

Also, as JETs, we are encouraged to interact with our students beyond the classroom. This means being able to join an art class, an after-school club, or even sit in or assist other English classes. Beyond my assigned schools, I’m also involved in an adult English class and take part in local activities. There’s never a dull moment!

How has this experience impacted your future?

Personally, this is my first time living on my own. Though I did study abroad as a university student, I never lived in a country where I had no firm grasp of the national language or cultural practices. Japan has given me a lot of firsts, and I feel I have grown very quickly as an independent person. Even though Japanese skill is still weak, I manage to do things on my own that I would not have been able to do before coming here. Not to mention, the hands-on experience of living in a different culture has made me more observant of new things – and more aware of my own culture, too.

Professionally, this is my first fully salaried job. I graduated university and did some temporary work before coming to Japan, but I would consider this my first professional position. I’m not a teacher by trade, but being placed at senior high school in Japan has prepared me for any professional position I may find back home – not to mention time management, communication, and flexibility in the workplace. Teaching in a foreign country has taught me much more than I expected. I’m sure having this on my resume will be beneficial, and a great experience to talk about in interviews.

Academically, I’m immersed in a foreign language every day and have started to study on my own. I’ve also tried a few new hobbies in my time here that I hope to continue even after leaving Japan.

What is one piece of advice you would give someone considering this program?

Above all, the most important thing you can bring to this program is flexibility and adaptability.

No matter what you hear about the general experience of a JET, or even from anyone’s personal experiences, every situation is different. That’s one of the best parts – your experience will be unique, and you can make almost anything of it! Be excited! But also try to be realistic.

The keyword in the ALT position is in the first letter – Assistant. A lot of people that come over here with JET expect to be a full-fledged teacher, but that’s not the job. You are an assistant to a Japanese teacher. This can mean anything from standing in a corner and saying a word when a teacher asks for it, or completely planning and running a full 50-minute class. I was lucky enough to be placed with the latter option. Many people I know were not.

If you come with an open mind and a willingness to contribute in whatever way you can, however, I believe you will enjoy the work you are given.