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JET Impressions

How did you first hear about the JET Programme and what led you to apply?

Through my sister. She had a friend that was a participant on the Programme and was very much enjoying it. I went along to a presentation at my university, after which I knew for sure that I wanted to apply.

I didn't know much about Japan before I applied, but I knew that the JET Programme was right for me. I wanted to live abroad, I wanted to live somewhere interesting and I wanted to teach (I had a TEFL certificate). I also liked the ideal of the JET Programme and the idea of internationalisation. I'd lived in Uganda during a gap year and loved meeting and communicating with local people there. The grass roots inter-cultural exchange agenda of JET was therefore very important to me. The fact that it is a well respected graduate job was also significant - rather than just travelling, it felt as though I was doing something very worthwhile for my career, as well as myself.

How did you feel during the application process itself? Do you have any particular memories of this period?

I was extremely excited! I took a long while getting my application right and was very nervous about the interview. I spent some time learning as much as I could about Japan, although I can remember thinking that I didn't really know enough. Most of all, I remember thinking that JET was a tremendous opportunity to do exactly what I wanted to do after university and I didn't want to mess it up!

What were you emotions when you left the UK? Did you have any particular apprehensions going into the Programme?

Mostly excited, but of course also slightly daunted. I was a bit worried that I wouldn't get on with any other JETs or Japanese people and that I might be a bit lonely. The fear of the unknown was both exciting and somewhat scary. I worried about random things like presents for my supervisor/headmaster and speeches at school. Most of all however, I left with a very open mind, and wanted to make the most of the experience. I can remember that the main thing that I looked forward to was just getting to my flat, finding my feet and starting my life in Japan.

Was there any particularly useful piece of advice you received before departure to Japan?

One thing was to learn as much Japanese as you can early on - even if it's just a bit, it can really help to break the ice with people, and if you can find a joke in Japanese it can be especially useful. More generally you need to have a completely open mind and realise that every JETs situation is different and you need to make the most of whatever you have.

Could you describe briefly your work situation while in Japan?

First year:
Was living in Fukui City and driving out to three schools in the countryside. My base school was a Junior High School (Kawanishi JHS) and I spent 3 days a week here. I also visited two combined Elementary/Junior High Schools a week - Natsume and Takasu. Generally speaking, I taught 3 classes a day. Natsume had extremely small classes, which made the teaching extremely rewarding. My role in the classroom and my input into planning completely depended on the teachers I was working with. Some were encouraging of my ideas - others used me in a more rigid way. It was quite tiring to go to different schools all the time and I always had to be on top form - but it was also a lot of fun.

Second year:
I was working in one Senior High School and here had much more responsibility, for example with the English club. In fact many lessons were completely designed by me, and I was also responsible for writing the exams at the end of each term.

They were two very different years. In many ways Senior High School life was much more settled, but I think perhaps the first year was probably more fun.


What would you describe as the main challenges, and the main rewards of your job?

First year:
I had to be constantly enthusiastic. Also I had to work with one or two teachers who saw limited use for me (the flip side of this was working with some amazing teachers, who I had a great relationship with). Mostly the challenge was in the variability of my work with being in different schools all the time. Due to a staff shortage, at one time I was asked to teach a first year Junior High School class on my own which was a great challenge, but also extremely rewarding.

The job's main reward was the feeling you get when a lesson you plan goes well having a whole class laughing at a joke you made or if some part goes particularly well, it was a great buzz. Also there were rewards in developing relationships with teachers who originally see little scope for using you. Expanding the role I had in the classroom with them was tough, but when I look back, was also rewarding.

Second Year:
The main challenge I had when working at Senior High School was the planning of the lessons. I had much more responsibility, so I had to constantly come up with new ideas and plans. But I also had to be much more self-motivated. At the Junior High schools I had pretty much 3 lessons every day. At the Senior High School these were scheduled, but sometimes teachers would want to cancel (because of tests/examination preparations) therefore I had to be very motivated to ask them to re-schedule, rather than allowing things to drift.

The rewards were in being able to communicate well with the students, and in having a chance to develop relationships with the students who spoke good English. Also I was glad to have the chance to run the English club (which gave me scope to be original), and to have real responsibility (e.g. in designing my own tests). I also taught a communication class to low level third year students, which was the most memorable teaching I did in Japan as it gave me scope to try a wide variety of ideas such as making videos.

Would you say it is important that JET Programme participants have TEFL qualification and experience?

Absolutely not. But I guess it can only help, especially at the beginning and if you have a lot of responsibility. Working in a Japanese school is different from a straight-forward TEFL situation. The most important quality an ALT needs is a strong character I think. The JET Programme in general is about more than just teaching.

How would you characterise the 'team-teaching' you experienced on JET and what would you say were its particular challenges and rewards?

The situation completely depended on the teacher. There is challenge in building relationships with the Japanese Teachers of English. I had an ideal of what it should be like (equal responsibility, having a plan, but also bantering off one another/being flexible) and with some people it really clicked. But it's also about being sensitive to the needs of the English teachers - not trying to push your agenda on people, when they have their own ideas about the class. When I realised that my ideal of team teaching wasn't going to work with someone, I just tried to help them any way I could. You have to be flexible I think.

Outside of the classroom did you have any particularly opportunity to get involved in school life?

Running an English club, playing with sports teams, joining in at festivals (playing trumpet, singing in choirs!), running marathons, playing volleyball, helping students prepare for speech contests, parties with teachers, Ski-day! Chatting to kids in the corridors. Lots of things really. I found that if you want to and are open to it, the opportunities are there.

The term 'internationalisation' is often used in relation to the JET Programme. However, on a practical level, what did this concept mean to you?

I was always aware of it. It was one of the reasons I applied for the JET programme in the first place. In the end, I came to think that it isn't necessarily about teaching in class about British culture, it's about interaction, communication and gaining mutual understanding. I set up an ALT/JET football team and we played football against school teams at the weekend. It was here that I felt I made the most difference. Internationalisation is hard to define, but I felt it was mainly about building relationships and interacting.

On a more practical note, did you find it easy to adapt to life while in Japan? Also were there many JETs in your area, and was there a support network in place?

Yes and yes. I was worried about this before I went, but it was fine. If anything, it was too easy because there were so many lovely JETs living close by.

Returning to Japan at the time of the World Cup, what were your impressions of this time, and how did they add to / alter the perceptions of internationalisation in Japan you formed during your time as a JET Participant?

To be in Japan during the World Cup was amazing. To see 'real' foreigners interacting with the Japanese and getting on so well was an incredible experience. To me, the World Cup was a microcosm; a vision of the potential for internationalisation in Japan. The JET Programme sends foreigners to Japan, but whilst this is great these people are selected, they are chosen to create a good image. During the World Cup, this protective shield was removed; in a sense Japan was opening its doors to the real world. For people to be apprehensive about so many foreigners coming into the country, but then for it to be a huge success has to be extremely significant. I suppose the JET Programme works on a micro/local level - each participant plays a part. But the World Cup was macro. For me, the fact that there was no trouble and people have warm memories of the tournament has to be significant in opening up minds to foreigners.

Were there opportunities for you as a JET to get involved in media, and develop your interest in this field?

I was able to write for and edit the JET magazine and also had articles published in Japanese newspapers. Since coming back to Britain I have written articles about experiences I had in Japan in various magazines. I also had the chance to make a documentary about 'life as a foreigner in Japan' for a festival in my prefecture.

Could you identify any particular skills and experiences acquired on JET, which you feel have been useful in your current career?

Apart from the specific media experience I gained - skills in the area of thinking creatively and being able to get on with a wide variety of people are both completely crucial to working in television. The self-confidence and self-reliance you gain on JET is also key when working in a very competitive environment.

What advice would you give to someone contemplating taking part in the Programme?

If you feel that it's right for you DO IT! Aside from that, go with an open mind and make the most of the situation you are placed in. Be self-motivated. Be patient. Try and get a balance of JET and Japanese friends. Never forget that you are having a completely unique experience and enjoy it. Remember that it's not just about teaching - the internationalisation mandate stretches further.