Actually, it was one night in Kumamoto when I was studying at university there. I got talking to a local ALT and I loved the idea of the programme. Through her I met the local CIR and found out about his job, and decided that it was definitely the natural step forward after university.
Yes and no. I had already lived in Japan before, so moving there wasn't a worry. I was a little concerned about the job but my predecessor sent me loads and loads of information about the tasks I would be involved in, what my colleagues were like, and also told me that there was room to make my own 'niche' in the office if I saw something that I could do that no one else was doing. It was nice to know it was a flexible office.
I worked in the International Policy Section of the International Affairs Department of the Hyogo Prefectural Government, located in Kobe. The International Policy Section consisted of myself and three other Japanese staff. I was able to build a great friendship with these guys over the course of my three years. Also, in the same office, there were four other CIRs from different countries, which made for a good international feel in the office.
My working hours were from 9am until 6pm, officially, with a 45 minute lunch, and 15 minute break in the afternoon.
As a foreigner I was not expected to work until late in the evening as my co-workers were. However, certainly at the beginning, I tried to stay until later to show that I was one of them and to try to bond with them a little more, and I always made myself available to work until late if there was a lot to be done.
Yes, I spent a lot of time with the same guys, and still keep in touch now. Also, they were very friendly towards me, and were used to having foreigners in the office as they had had CIRs in the office for many years before I arrived. I think this helped a lot.
Yes indeed. My main task in the office was to look after the Junior High School ALTs in Hyogo Prefecture. I also assisted the Board of Education in looking after the Senior High School ALTs well. Together that made over 250 ALTs that were able to count on me to help them when they had any kind of difficulties, from contractual issues with their school, to language problems, to health problems.
This I would say took up most of my time, but it was also the most enjoyable part of my job. I was also responsible for organising the week-long orientation for newly arrived Junior High School ALTs, which was quite daunting, as well as picking the new ALTs up in Tokyo and bringing them back to Hyogo. Finally, on the ALT side of things, I was also the Prefectural Advisor, and undertook training sessions in Counselling Techniques so that I could provide assistance to ALTs.
The other big project that I worked on while I was a CIR was the InterAction Council meeting. This was a three day conference for ex-Prime Ministers and Presidents from around the world. It was my section of the office that was responsible for this event, and it was great to be able to say that I helped organise such a high profile event, as well as meet a lot of very powerful world figures.
Other than this, other work I did included three high-profile memorial services for the victims of the Kobe Earthquake, to which we had members of the Japanese Royal Family, as well as other leading Japanese figures attend. I also assisted with interpreting at Protocol meetings with the Governor of Hyogo Prefecture when he was meeting with foreign guests.
Within the office I also translated many documents from Japanese into English.
Another one of my tasks was to travel around the prefecture giving talks to various social groups. The topics for these talks ranged from talking about English wedding ceremonies, to what it is like for a foreigner living in Japan, to teaching Japanese school children what it means to be Japanese.
Finally, another one of my tasks was to hold a one hour English Conversation "lunch" every Thursday for my colleagues in the office. This, was a great way to get to know my colleagues in the office.
I think that this is a very difficult question to answer, as each CIR has a different role in their respective workplaces. I think the most important thing for any CIR is to realise that when you fly out to Japan to take up your position, you should be open to anything. Flexibility is really important. And above all in Japan, patience is most definitely a virtue. In most workplaces, if you see something that you could do, even if your colleagues think it is a great idea, it may still take days weeks or months for someone to actually say " YES, do it."
In my CIR workplace, I was lucky as I knew what I was supposed to be doing, and the job had been carved out well for me beforehand by my predecessors. My advice to anyone going into a brand new position is to be patient, find out what is expected, and then slowly try to see what else there is you could do that people would appreciate.
Finally, like any new employee in any workplace, making yourself available to everyone to help out with photocopying, filing, making coffees etc is a sure-fire way to get everyone to like you ;-)
I have a degree in Japanese. My spoken Japanese was much better than my written. I think my office were disappointed in this at first, but realised they could still use me well. To work effectively CIRs need to have Japanese ability at least in the region of Level 2 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.
I hope so, as I tried to promote it at the orientations. I think Hyogo Prefecture JETs were special during my three years. There were many people that really made an effort to get people together all the time, be it ski trips, pub quizzes, monthly newsletters, talent shows, house parties, excursions, football games etc etc. There was a real sense of "we are in this together so let's have a lot of fun" and that made for a great time.
I am proud to say that I was one of the founding members of Inter Hyogo, a JET football team that played against junior and senior high school football teams, as a means of internationalisation. The Japanese kids loved to beat a team of foreigners. The idea of ALT football teams is one that really took off throughout the country, and we were there for the first (and second) ever national JET football team tournament, held in Nagano. I heard that recently the yearly tournament has been divided between North and South Japan competitions, such is the interest. I am really proud to have been involved in Inter Hyogo.
Other than that, I travelled extensively when I could around Japan, soaking up the culture. I also travelled around Hyogo a lot with my job, and was lucky enough to be able to go and meet up with other JETs in the far north of the prefecture many times.
Finally, as I was living close to the heart of the big city, many of the JETs that lived in the countryside would come and visit me for the weekend. It was rare that I ever had a weekend to myself, and I loved it.
After I left JET, I started working for the FIFA Accommodation Office, specifically on a one year contract up until the end of the FIFA World Cup 2002 in Japan/Korea. After that event I was invited to stay on with the company full time, and I moved back to their headquarters in Manchester, UK. I now live in Frankfurt, Germany, preparing for the FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany.
In this job, again my work is very varied. I have travelled around the world to different sporting events, liaising between the hotels, and FIFA, the teams, the referees, the media, the sponsors, as well as the general public, making sure that everyone is happy. My experiences of organising events whilst on JET, was certainly beneficial, though the similarities between the two jobs end there really. However, I did become involved with this company through a colleague that I met whilst on JET.
At the end of the day, the CIR position did help me improve my communication, and speaking skills, which certainly are a great benefit to me now.
I have kept many friends from Japan, both JET, and Japanese. I still keep in touch with several of my co-workers, and have met up with many ex-JETs in the 3 years since I left Kobe. I would love to go back to Japan one day, I just have to hope that FIFA decides to hold an event there again.
It was a great experience for me and all of my friends that also took part in the Programme. The best advice I can give to anyone going to Japan on JET is to go out with a positive, flexible attitude, be patient, and above all, enjoy.