APPLYING TO THE JET PROGRAM: Tips and advice from a former JET

***I’ve decided to start a series of posts about applying to the JET Program. While there are dozens of other similar blogs out there, I hope to provide some helpful information for those looking to apply for the 2014 intake. My opinions are, of course, drawn from my own experiences so please don’t assume I’m an expert on anything. Enjoy!***




You’ve seen the pamphlets, you’ve talked to the really nice people at the career fair, you’ve checked out the website. And you have decided. You want to teach English as an ALT or work as a CIR on the JET Program. Great! The JET Program is a prestigious, internationally recognized program and as such, it’s understandably competitive. Applying takes almost a year and, to be frank, is a pain in the ass. However, being accepted to JET and travelling to Japan to teach English is an amazing experience. For me, it made all of the stress of applying worth it.

Since the application has not come out yet (and with the official release date always shrouded in vagueness), this is a good time to do some pondering. Take a step back and really think about the decision that you’re making. It’s a big one. Moving several thousand miles away to a country whose culture is vastly different is not an easy task.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself. What are your goals? What do you hope to accomplish by going to Japan? How can being a part of the JET Program help you after your time in Japan is over? And more importantly, what can YOU bring to the JET Program? Why do you want to go to Japan in the first place? If your reasoning falls along the lines of ‘I think Japan is hella cool, bro’ or ‘I love anime and manga’ or ‘I dunno, it seems fun’ then you should stop and come up with a better reason. You will invariably be asked ‘why Japan?’ and the above reasons are major weak sauce.

* Important Note: If your reasoning falls along the lines of ‘I think Asian chicks are hot and totally want a Japanese wife’, then do everyone a favor and punch yourself in the face as hard as you can. Seriously, do it now. And then do it a few more times for good measure. Now gtfo my blog.

Make sure you know what you’re getting in to. While being on JET is an incredible experience, it isn’t without its share of negatives. Know that there is a chance that you could get placed in a town of 3000 people in the middle of a mountain range twenty miles away from a supermarket. Know that in the winter, it’s not uncommon to be able to see your breath in your own apartment. Know that sometimes communicating with your coworkers and students does not happen the way you want or need it to. This can lead to immeasurable frustration. Know that culture shock is a very real thing that can make certain days (and even weeks) miserable.

Know that you may be thrust into situations that you’ve never experiened before. If you were offered raw fish could you eat it? What about if it were still moving on the plate? How about fish semen? Would you be comfortable sitting buckass naked in a natural hot spring with a dozen other people? How would you react if a student jammed their fingers up your butt?

Realize that it’s an experience that can be incredibly challenging at times: not understanding the language, being stared at because you look different, watching a teacher beat the living shit out of a student as a disciplinary action. Japan is a very different place and while these instances aren’t every day occurences, they do happen.

The JET Program is a great way to experience another culture firsthand, but it’s also not for everyone. Before you decide to apply, I think it’s a good idea to really consider what life in Japan would be like.

A good idea is to use the trusty internet and peruse blogs and memoirs of current and former JETs. Try to read more than just one or two. These offer great insight into the good and the bad of being a JET. Message boards that are frequented by ALTs and CIRs are also good resources, but beware of the cynicism and vitriol that is afforded to internet anonymity.

While the above are a great source of information, keep in mind the phrase ‘Every Situation is Different’ (or ESID.) This phrase is repeated ad nauseum by many when discussing JET – so much so that it’s become an unofficial slogan of sorts. And even though CLAIR discourages the use of it, it really is true.

While Tammie B up in Hokkaido could be having the time of her life and making a huge impact on her local community, Daryl O down in BFE, Shikoku could be having a less-than-stellar time being used as a human tape recorder and disrespected by his students or teachers. Sometimes that’s just how it works.

I think that doing research about JET and reading up on both the good and the bad is extremely important before you decide to apply. It can help put things into perspective about what being on the program is really like. It also helps to know that you are, essentially, taking a gamble about what your situation will be like if accepted.

If you are an adaptable person who isn’t afraid to try new things and experiences, JET is for you! If you’re upbeat, motivated and are not afraid to step out of your comfort zone, then you will most likely do fine. Even if you’re not that kind of person and you still want to apply, that’s fine. I’ve known plenty of introverted JETs who aren’t as outgoing or ‘genki’. The great thing about JET is that it takes a wide spectrum of people from all over the world.

The most important thing before you apply, however, is to research! Consider what being accepted would mean to you and how you would make the most of it. Brainstorm certain difficulties and obstacles that you can foresee yourself having and then think of how you would deal with them. Doing this can help you craft a better application and makes you sound a bit more like a serious applicant.

Next time, I’ll talk about the application itself! It’s a doozy.


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