#FACEVALUE

I think it’s really easy to trawl through social media and get jealous of how many of you friends seem to have great, amazing, fun lives. But you shouldn’t.

After all, that’s the point of social media, isn’t it? It’s a platform for self-promotion that gives you tools to make your life look amazing. You can crop things out of pictures, filter away blemishes, soften your edges and highlight what you want to show the world. I’m sure there’s even a damn lens flare option in there somewhere.

My point is, the myriad of images you see on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter or Instagram are usually meticulously polished products designed to show the optimal amount of ‘FUN’.

Take, for example, seeing a selfie of two friends on the beach. ‘Gosh,’ I think to myself ‘They look like they’re having so much fun! I wish my life was as cool as theirs.’

What helps me is to think of what happens during and after the picture is taken. I know they most likely took more than one shot – the person on the left was probably blinking or making an ugly face that they were self-conscious about. Maybe it was blurry the next two takes. Maybe the person on the right wasn’t fully in the selfie. There are so many things that probably went wrong before they got this ‘perfect’ shot. Not to mention how silly taking a selfie in public looks.

And then after it’s taken, I’m sure each of my friends sat on their phones in silence – editing, filtering, cropping and lens-flaring the recently-snapped picture. So while they’re ‘having a great time at the beach #life #beachlife #bestie #happy’, they’re really just pausing whatever fun they were having together in order to update their social network on what they’re doing. It’s a bit misleading.

To be fair, sometimes I am guilty of this too. I think as a generation that’s grown up with this, we all are to some extent. But even though I do it too, I still find myself looking at other people’s social media posts and yearning for my life to be as cool as theirs. But I shouldn’t be basing how their life is on a single filtered, cropped, softened, lens-flared picture. And neither should you.

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Tackling the JET Program (Part 7): Placements!

 

Hey new JETs, it’s that time of year again! After what feels like months of agonizing silence, you’ve finally gotten your placement!

I love this time because the internet explodes with curiosity, excitement and uncertainty. New friendships are formed as leaving JETs get in contact with their successors and vice-versa. The staying JET community is flooded with excited gossip about who’s coming next, where they’re from and what they look like (Yes, I’m serious. I dare anyone to argue with me about this).

This is a super exciting time as it means that you’re one step closer to moving to Japan! Having an assigned prefecture/city/town/island makes it all the more real. Ahhh!

Here are some tips that I found helped me when I first got my placement in the wonderful Kumamoto prefecture.

 

 

  •  Reserve your judgmenet about how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ your placement is

When I googled Yatsushiro City, the only thing that came up was the depressingly barren Wikipedia page. I actually don’t think it’s changed at all since I last checked it three years ago. I learned about a giant pommelo fruit (banpeiyu) that is grown there, a festival in November…and the main shopping area that is ‘in decline’.

To be honest, I was a bit bummed. Where was this strange place that I was going to? All my other friends who had been accepted to JET were rejoicing in their placements that were only a couple of hours from Tokyo or Osaka. I felt as if I had kind of been exiled to Kyushu – far away from my friends and the big cities that I associated with being ‘REAL JAPAN’.

When I actually arrived in my city, however, I found it to be so much more than I ever expected. There were two giant malls, a gorgeous mountain range to the east and a port to the west. There were ample hiking opportunities, I was super close to a train station and they were actually building a shinkansen (bullet train) stop that was to be completed within the next year.

My point is: don’t put full faith in whatever you happen to scrape together about your placement on the internet. There’s really no way to know how much you’re going to like or hate it until you are actually there. Don’t be discouraged! It’s far too early!! 

 

  • Don’t compare yourself to other JETs and their placements.

I touched on this briefly in the last bullet point, but it’s important. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Especially those who think they know all about their placement. I had people at Tokyo Orientation practically bragging to me about being placed in X Y Z prefecture and how they were going to be so close to A B C and how they were going to do D E F every weekend.

Coming to Japan is exciting, it really is. I think that some people get so caught up in the excitement of it, though, that they start to fantasize they’re already living the life they’re dreaming about. It might sound great to be located only three hours from Tokyo. The reality, though, might be having to drive/take a bus 50 minutes through the mountains to get to the nearest train station in order to hop one of two daily trains that head that direction. Not quite as glamorous as it sounds.

If you compare yourself to other new JETs who are bragging about their placements before even getting there, you might start to feel unnecessarily bad about your own awesome placement. Pay them no mind. Just nod politely, maybe give them the ‘wow, cool!’ that they so desire…and then forget about it.

 

  • Start connecting with people ASAP!

I am a very social person. As such, I immediately began to scour Facebook and other social media when I received my placement. I discovered the AJET page for Kumamoto, joined it and announced myself. I was met with an incredibly warm welcome and instantly found myself put in contact with other JETs in my city or nearby. I then got to ask them all of my noob questions and, in the process, became even more excited about going.

I found in my time in Japan that, as a whole, the JET community is amazingly supportive and welcoming. Take advantage of this social network. In my experience, JETs in your prefecture are just as excited to meet you as you are them. Trust me 🙂

 

  • Reevaluate your expectations.

Surely, if you’re moving to Japan, you’re prepared for things to be different. But knowing your placement can solidify things you had been wondering about. Maybe you’re going to have to get a car and you didn’t think you would need one. Maybe you’re going to be a high school ALT and you really really wanted junior high/elementary. Maybe you’re going to be the only person in a village of 3,000.

I think that, applying to JET, many of us have expectations about what it could be like. When you get your placement, however, these expectations could shift slightly or be totally obliterated. If you were planning on being super close to Hiroshima because you studied there once…only to be found out that you were placed in Northern Hokkaido, you might have to reevaluate your expectations.

Like I said before, don’t get discouraged because things turned out different than you had expected/wanted. It’s important to keep an open mind and roll with the punches. Not only is it required almost every day as a JET, it’s quite possible that you will grow to love your placement more than you ever thought you could.

 

And that’s about all the advice I can think of at the moment! As I said, this is an exciting time and it’s a step closer to the reality of moving to Japan! Enjoy the time you have left while you prepare for your adventure!

If you’re a JET, where are you headed? If there’s anything else that I could maybe help with, feel free to leave a comment! And, if you’re headed to Kumamoto, congratulations!! 😀 

Ian Sensei’s Great Easter Egg Hunt

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It was the beginning of spring and I was going insane. 

The weather had given way from a miserably cold winter to brisk mornings and gorgeous sun-filled afternoons.  Outside, cherry blossom trees everywhere were in full bloom – their gorgeous pink displays lifting my spirits immeasurably.

As I zipped down the bike path that led to my school I was greeted with more smiles and ‘ohayou gozaimasu’s from obaachans than I had been in months. The hordes of biking students on their way to school also seemed much happier. They laughed  and even greeted me in English as they passed; a stark contrast to the winter in which we would both pass each other in frigid silence – cursing the weather and how difficult it made riding a bike. 

 It seemed that everyone in my city had collectively awoken from a grumpy winter hibernation. Like a caterpillar breaking out of its cocoon to reveal a smiling, colorful butterfly, spring had arrived and the ice from everyone’s psyche had melted.

 In Japan, the start of the school year happens in April. Students are mixed into new homeroom classes, able to choose what extracurricular activities they want to partake in, and former 6th graders don their spiffy new uniforms and prepare to venture forth into the intimidating world of Japanese junior high school. Because of this, the atmosphere at most schools is always abuzz with nervous, excited energy.

 During this time, students are not the only ones who experience change. Every year, a good portion of the faculty and staff are moved around as well. This can be as minimal as moving a fifth grade teacher to sixth grade or as drastic as removing them from the school altogether. Nobody is exempt from this shuffle – principals and vice-principals included.

 In my schools, about twenty teachers (give or take) were sent to different schools every new year. Sometimes they are sent to different schools in the city and sometimes they are sent to other parts of the prefecture (often with minimal time to prepare).

The reasoning behind this is baffling to me as an American; I can remember going back to see my second grade teacher when I was graduating sixth grade. She was still there, and hadn’t changed a bit. This rarely happens in Japan, however.

 I’m unclear as to exactly what the motive is for scrambling everything but I’ve heard it has something to do with keeping teachers and staff from stagnating in their current positions. Whatever the reason, it’s always a stressful time of year for everyone involved. 

For ALTs, it can be extremely stressful and a bit like playing Russian Roulette…but that’s a discussion for another time.

 With all of this excitement and change in the air, however, ALTs are usually forgotten amongst the hustle and bustle. At least I was at my school.

 During Spring Break, I came to work in the morning, sat at my desk and would literally do nothing all day. This torture was further compounded by the fact that I asked my supervisors, other teachers, and even the office staff if I could help with anything. I was politely told that no, they did not need any help but they appreciated my asking. 

 As such, I often tried to plan lessons but ultimately always ended up staring out the window of the staffroom and lamenting my boredom. 

 After the first few days of this cruel and unusual punishment, I could no longer take it. I would get up and walk around the school without any purpose or notice to anyone. The students, who were sometimes there for their club activities (yes, even during Spring Break!) were reluctant to talk to me. I realized how strange I must have looked, wandering the halls like some kind of foreign curly-haired specter. 

 Before long, I decided to do something. I had an English Board that I would meticulously decorate and update all the time. I would discuss American culture, holidays and the top songs on iTunes for the month. I would print out eye-catching pictures and write easy-to-understand descriptions for my students to read. It was largely ignored by both faculty and students alike.   

 Undeterred by the general lack of interest, I came up with a great idea. Since Easter was around the corner, I decided to get creative. I was going to do an Easter Egg Hunt. 

 Having wandered my school for a few days, I began to think of places I could hide my Easter Eggs. I began to come up with easy-to-understand English clues and, I soon had quite a list. The clues ranged in difficulty so that first years who may not have had great English ability had a chance to compete as well. 

 I procured several sheets of colorful construction paper from the office ladies (‘No we still don’t need help with anything but thanks for asking again…’) and cut out several ovals of varying sizes and colors. I numbered each from one to twenty four and labelled them simply ‘EASTER EGG!’. 

 My clues were transferred to a sheet of paper and included things like: “This is what you use if there is a fire.”, “This is where you learn to sing and play music.”, and “You go here when you feel sick.”. 

 Soon I was traversing the hallways excitedly, no longer plodding about like a zombie. Colorful eggs in one hand a tape dispenser in the other, I gleefully flitted from place to place hiding my eggs like a strange Easter bunny.

 Soon, the semester started and I, with my eggs all cleverly hidden could not wait.

 During the end of the opening assembly the next day, the vice principal asked if any of the teachers had any announcements. Everyone was a bit shocked when my hand shot up from where the teachers were sitting.

 “Er…yes, Ian Sensei, douzo…” he said as I padded across the slick wood floors of the gym in my socks.

 “Hello!” I said grabbing the mic and walking in front of eight hundred confused junior high schoolers. “In the United States, Easter is a big celebration in April.” 

 As I was explaining, my supervisor translated what I was saying. 

 “We do something called an Easter Egg Hunt!” I continued. “People hide colorful, hard-boiled eggs and children have to find them.” 

 “I thought that we could have our very own Easter Egg Hunt here!” I went on. The audience murmured excitedly as I told them how I had hidden 24 ‘eggs’ around the school. 

 “Read the clues on my English board and when you find an egg,” I said. “Bring it to me in the staffroom and I will give you a special prize!” 

 At the mention of ‘special prize’, the students broke into an excited clamor. What was this? Something fun being done at school? Was I going to give them money? 

 I thanked them, ended my speech and then sat back down as the crowd continued to buzz. The other teachers gave me confused stares and but I saw some grins among them. 

 An hour or two after the assembly had ended, a student opened the staffroom door and announced that he was there to see me. This hardly ever happened. Several teachers cocked their heads in confusion and watched as the boy approached me with an egg. 

 “Awesome!” I exclaimed as he handed me the red oval of construction paper. “Great job! Where was it?” 

 “Umm, under the bench,” he told me. It was the first clue that I had listed on my sheet: ‘Look under the bench in front of this English Board’ 

 “Ah,” I said. “Super easy, right?” He nodded in response. He was a fairly high level student.

 I had him write his name on the egg and then exchanged it for a pack of candy (Skittles) and a pencil. It may not seem like much, but in Japan, giving candy to students is sort of a no-no. I had neglected to tell any of the teachers this, because I knew I would be met with opposition. 

 Word got out that Ian Sensei was handing out candy and within a day, many of my students had turned in to mini-Sherlocks. I would see them roaming the school during lunch or looking behind pictures in the hallway on their way to their next class. 

 “IAN SENSEI HINT PLEASE!” they would shout to me if they saw me. I would just give them a grin and a shrug, thereby stressing them out more. 

Easter Egg Board

 During lunch, I would hang out at my English Board. I stapled the eggs that had been found to the board and crossed the number off of the hint list. If any students came by, I would help them with any hints that they were struggling with. It was great to see the spark of understanding in their eye before they dashed off down the stairs. 

 Some of the more challenging eggs were found quicker than I had expected. I had hidden them in clever places: under keyboards, behind paintings, in an English book in the library, taped to a fire extinguisher, folded into a metronome in the music room etc. I had also hidden one in each homeroom – taped behind the blackboard, tucked into a mounted fan, posted on a class bulletin board.

 Within three days, over half of the eggs had been found. I felt a bit like WIlly Wonka with his golden tickets. 

 Eventually the furor over Easter died down and the students returned to walking mindlessly through the hallways. I think that the grand total for ‘found’ eggs was about seventeen or eighteen – not too shabby. 

 As the school year continued to pick up, the excitement and energy faded away and everyone fell in to a routine. April came and went and I eventually had to pull off the Easter Eggs and make way for the next English board topic.
 
For many ALTs, this time of year is mind-numbingly tedious and unbearably slow. I was proud of myself for finding a fun way to beat the boredom, involve my students and introduce a (heavily edited) aspect of American culture all in one fun activity. I felt accomplished and it was a great way to start my final school year on JET.

 For any current or future ALTs reading this, sometimes the hardest part about teaching English in Japan is not doing anything at all. I definitely know the feeling of being ignored, overlooked and left to basically sit at a desk all day. It’s challenging to not give up and fall in to the ‘well FINE, I won’t do anything then!’ mentality. I myself am guilty of doing it many a day. 

 I think that during times like this, though, it can be invaluable to try and channel creativity in to something that can benefit your school and your students. Plus, it shows your colleagues that you really aren’t just an expensive office ornament.

In my experience from being an ALT, one has to be proactive and brave enough to just do something. If you ask if you can do something, most times you will be met with a teeth sucking noise (‘tsssss, chotto….’) and reluctance to try something new. But I’ve found if you just do something, you will often bypass all the beaurocratic fluff and bullshit. 

 The reason I wrote this was just because I was feeling nostalgic and Easter is coming up. I hope I’ve been able to entertain and inspire with this story. If you have any questions or comments, feedback is greatly appreciated! Let me know in the comments! 

I love you…but I can’t travel with you.

Credit to Bill Watterson

Credit to Bill Watterson

Traveling is great. The experience of throwing yourself into a new location and culture that can, at times, be supremely different from your own, is thrilling. It’s a unique rush for me.

My most recent trip to New Orleans really brought something to mind, though: A travel experience can hinge greatly on who you travel with – even more so than where you go.

Take my friend Yasmin, for example. We have been friends for years – years. In that time, we’ve  grown extremely close and she is almost like an older sister to me. She provides me with excellent advice, calls me out when I’m being a dumb ass and is firmly grounded in her life. She’s a great person and I’m so fortunate to have her as a friend.

But I’ve learned that we can’t travel together.

Before our trip this past weekend, we were both super excited – sending each other messages and emails that expressed how many days away our trip was. And emphasizing how badly Yasmin ‘needed’ this trip.

So with all of this hype building for it, by the time we left, I was rarin’ and ready to go. Austin to New Orleans is an eight hour drive – quite a long trek.

As we drove past Texas farmland, through the metropolis of Houston and over Louisiana marshes and swamps, I kept conversation going. I would comment on things, ask questions pertaining to Louisiana Life, relive interesting stories and read out funny signs that I saw along the way (Really, a huge billboard denouncing Evolution? That’s hilarious!).

I think on long road trips, a lull in conversation is definitely natural. For me, though, silence can be very uncomfortable. To be next to someone in a car for that long and not speak is a very strange thing. Poor Yasmin, it seems, was of the opposite opinion. After about Hour 6, she told me that she needed some quiet. After that, I realized, that I had not really stopped talking since we left.

For someone who is not used to it, I can see how I’m a bit overwhelming – a kind of ‘noise overload’. But I was not aware that I was apparently that intense. Oops.

I’m sure this is what my friend was imagining.

This ‘noise overload’ seemed to last the entire trip for Yasmin, however, and it made for pretty awkward outings. I felt like if I were to comment on something or talk to Yasmin, I would disrupt the sudden mental barriers that she had thrown up. ‘Is it okay that I’m asking you something?’ I felt like asking. ‘Are you okay to speak? Are you okay with me speaking?’

Like I said, it made for some awkward outings. To me, when someone is super quiet in my presence, it feels like they are ignoring me. I then, in turn, become extremely self conscious and upset because I feel like I’m annoying them. It’s this whole weird, Extrovert thing.

I still had a good time wandering around New Orleans, but I feel like Yasmin had a less-than-stellar time. Her sudden withdrawal from interacting with me was extremely jarring and I felt like I needed to walk on eggshells and limit what I said in her presence. For me, that’s pretty maddening.

Some part of me wants to think: ‘Have you exceeded some kind of talk/listening quota or something?’, and ‘If you’re this sensitive to noise, then why the hell would you go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras? Especially with someone like me?!’.

I realize, though, that it isn’t a fair criticism of anything. The thing to realize is that while we are great friends and have been for years…we can’t travel together.

This most recent trip really got me thinking about just how important WHO you travel with is. It can be just as important (if not more so) as WHERE you travel.

People are different when they travel. It can take a toll on some people and they can act in ways that you would never have expected them to. Traveling with someone comes with an entirely different set of dynamics and challenges than simply just hanging out with them. Everyone does it differently.

One of my friend’s lost her shit in Incheon Airport when our group was separated during check-in. It turned out that the airport staff was separating us in order for the line to go faster, but when it’s the end of an 8-day trip and you’re exhausted and confused, things like these can seem like world-ending problems.

These things can happen to even the most composed and grounded of us. When you find yourself in a frustrating situation during travel, it’s not unheard of to react in a way that might be more intense than you normally would; even for things that seem insignificant. I had a friend who went on a five minute tirade when a waiter at a restaurant poured him the wrong kind of wine (complete with bits of cork in it). Similarly, my friends and I got lost in a seedy area of Bangkok and wandered for what felt like hours to find an elusive club. After a while, it all just got to be too much and I ended up acting like a dick to those who don’t necessarily deserve it.

I’ve been there. Traveling is an experience that can bring out different sides of people. That’s why it’s important to choose your travel buddy (or buddies) wisely. Here are three things to keep in mind that I’ve learned in my time traveling:

1) Discuss Expectations

Before you go anywhere, talk to the buddy(or buddies) that you’re planning to travel with. Some people are cool with staying in hostels; others find the idea revolting. If you’re jonesing to ride an elephant in Thailand, make sure that everyone in your party is comfortable with it – and be prepared to go it alone if they aren’t. If you want to have a day to just relax, let it be known. This doesn’t mean you have to plan and micromanage every day of your trip (unless that’s your thing), but you should definitely discuss with your travel partners what you hope to do and get out of the trip.

2) Don’t take things personally

A lot of times, when shit hits the fan, it’s due to several factors. Once, in Taiwan, my friend and I got into an argument at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial. It was hot, disgustingly humid and I was exhausted from having walked around the city all day. I certainly did not MEAN to take out my frustration on him…but I did. After a few minutes of icy silence, we relaxed and things returned to normal.

It’s important to realize that a lot of the time, there are other things going on that can cause people to act differently than you expect. Try to keep a cool head and know that the frustration might not be completely directed at you. Easier said than done, of course, but it’s an important thing to remember.

3) Don’t be afraid to ‘Take a Break’

For someone who had never really traveled by himself, being alone in a foreign country was pretty daunting; especially when I understood a fraction of a fraction of what was going on around me. However, when things got a bit too tense between me and my travel buddies, I found that it was beneficial to split up for a short while. Sometimes I would pair off with someone who I was still getting along with and sometimes I would just fly solo. This is a great way to diffuse any kind of tension and give everyone a break from each other. Being together with someone for extended periods of time can be exhausting (e.g., my poor friend Yasmin).

It should go without saying that this should be done smartly, though. Even if you’re annoyed at your travel companions, letting them know where you’re going and the estimated time that you’ll be back is important.

While traveling is great, remember that not everyone travels the same way. . Some people prefer to experience it ‘on the real’ and sleep in hostels, wander backstreets and eat anything they can find. Other people prefer to spend the money to stay in a nice place and opt for tours and recommended restaurants.

There are several different ways to experience a location and I don’t think any of them are really ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (except for maybe sex tourism…ugh). It’s important to not just be mindful about the culture you’re visiting, but also the dynamics of whoever you’re going there with. It can definitely bring out different sides of people, but isn’t that the magic of travel?!

What are your experiences with this? Have you ever had a travel buddy that you’ve just gotten sick of? Have you ever been that annoying travel buddy (like I was)? What do you think makes a great travel partner? Do you think unfavorable situations can be avoided? If so, how?

I would love to hear thoughts and opinions!

TACKLING THE JET PROGRAM (Part 6): Hurry Up and Wait

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Hey JET hopefuls!

I have been busy this week helping out with interviews! I am, of course, not allowed to divulge much, but I WILL say that I had a great time and it was surprisingly tiring.

It was very interesting seeing the range of applicants who came through the consulate. It was great to see that JET appeals to such a wide, diverse range of people. I think that speaks to the success of this cross-cultural program and it’s no wonder it’s been around for 27 years.

I saw loud people and quiet people. Confident people and nervous people. Really cool people who I would want to party with and a few that I would rather avoid. I saw applicants who I thought would be great on the program; and those who I thought would…not be so great on the progam.

But for those of you who’ve interviewed, it’s done! You can breathe easier and relax a bit!

 From here on out, it’s just as the title says: Hurry Up and Wait. Results will be out in April sometime. My advice is to put it out of your mind and focus on enjoying life. But, of course, it’s easier said than done.  

Have you already had yours? If so, how did it go? Nervous? Confident? Unsure? I’d love to hear from JET applicants who have already had their interviews. How was your panel? Did they grill you on stuff? Were they nice? Did you cry? Hopefully not! 

Thanks again to all of you who have read my ramblings about the JET Program. I hope I’ve been able to assist some of you. When placement results come out, I’ll most likely do another post about what to expect!

お疲れさま!

TACKLING THE JET PROGRAM (PART 5): THE INTERVIEW

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JET interviews are coming up soon and I’m sure the lucky few who landed them are getting more and more nervous as they wait.

I debated recounting my interview experience…but it wasn’t really that interesting. Plus, I tend to ramble and nobody wants to read that haha.

SO! What do you need to know about JET interviews? How can you nail it? How can you knock it out of the park? How can you tackle it and make it your bitch?

The JET interview is definitely pretty intense in that you have about twenty minutes to convince three people why they should accept you into a program that will send you to Japan. I know that I was super stressed about my own interview – I think it’s totally natural to be! The key is to take that stress and let it fuel you to do your best!

Here is some advice that seemed to work for me:

DOs: 

– Look amazing. Throw on your best suit/skirt/whatever. Make sure you’re well-groomed and look professional.

– Know your shit. The interviewers will each have a copy of your entire application in front of them. They’ll have read it before you enter the room and will be asking you specific questions from it. Know your application forward and drawkcab!

– Know their shit. It definitely does not hurt to be knowledgable about both JET and Japan. Know how long the program has been around. What are some things that the JET Program has done for Japan? What does MEXT stand for? CLAIR? How many JETs were sent over last year? Who’s the Prime Minister of Japan? Does your city have any Sister City ties with Japan?

– Ask a thoughtful question. At the end of my interview, the panel asked me if I had any questions for them. To be honest, I can’t remember what I asked but it’s good to think of something if you are given the opportunity. Something like ‘I see that the number of JETs accepted every year is declining. What do you think the reason is for this?’ is a good question rather than ‘HOW MANY PPL R U SENDING OVER THIS YEAR?’.

 

DON’Ts:

– Talk about anime. Just don’t. Trust me on this.

– Expect them to be nice. If you get a nice panel, great! Know that there have been stories of people playing the ‘bad cop’ during interviews in order to see how applicants do under pressure. My own panel was nice, but they also had great poker faces. I never knew if I was saying the right thing or not.

– Freak out. Part of the interviewers’ objectives are to try and trip you up. Stay composed and be ready for anything. They might make you give an impromptu lesson on Halloween. They might make you sing for them. They might even make you dance! Just be prepared.

After my own JET interview, I was second guessing myself hardcore. You might feel the same. It’s easier said than done but…don’t worry about it. Pack it away in your mind somewhere and wait until April.

As always, if anyone has any questions, leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them as quickly as I can 🙂 Just keep in mind that I’m not affiliated with the JET Program and all the knowledge I have just comes from my own experiences as a JET.

TACKLING THE JET PROGRAM APPLICATION (Part Four: the Statement of Purpose)

G’day Blokes and Sheilas! It’s a cold day here in San Antonio (where we don’t use words like ‘bloke’ or ‘sheila’, wtf?). My life has been pretty busy lately, but I figured that I’d write another post for those who are looking to apply to the JET Program for the 2014 intake! 

 First, let me start by saying that the deadline for the JET Application has been extended to DECEMBER 3rd, 2013! This is unprecedented and awesome for those applicants who want to make sure that their application is airtight and perfect! 

 In my last entries, I’ve talked about the application itself. This time, I want to focus on that two-page essay to end all essays: The Statement of Purpose. 

 Now, for me, the SoP was the hardest part of the whole application. As far as your total score goes, the SoP counts for quite a bit of it. It’s the only chance that you’ll have to really sell yourself as a worthwhile candidate. No pressure, right? Don’t worry, as long as you’re succint and eloquent in what you want to get across, you’ll have no problem. 

 What’s that? You aren’t? Don’t worry, I’m not either. Anyone who has read my rambly-ass blog posts knows that I, too, am far from succint and eloquent. My main problem was that the SoP can only be two pages double-spaced. That’s nothing. After many many many drafts, I finally came up with one that I was happy with and sent it off to DC. 

 Here are some tips that helped my verbose self write an effective (or so I assume) Statement of Purpose: 

 – Don’t ramble. Don’t try to take the reader on a journey and paint a story for them. The people reading these essays read dozens of them every day. Cut the flowery language, metaphors and whatever else takes up too many words. Be straightforward and to the point. 

– Don’t be cliché. If you’re mentioning why and how you ‘fell in love with Japan and its culture’, make sure you avoid being cheesy or trite. ‘My grandma had a vase from Japan in her house and I loved it since the day I set eyes on it…’ makes for a pretty weak-ass reason to have become interested in an entire culture and country. You can’t expect the people reading these essays to buy fluff and bullshit, they do this for a living and are ruthless

– Don’t use any Japanese writing in your essay. Not only do the instructions say ‘in English‘ in bold letters, but it can also really screw up your formatting and cost you valuable space. It won’t ‘prove you can speak 日本語 really 上手’ and it will just make your essay look strange. Trust me, this is one gimmick that will not go over well. 

– Don’t make it all about your wants. ‘I would love to learn Taiko’, ‘I would love to climb Mt. Fuji’, ‘I would love to see the cherry blossoms in the spring’, ‘I would love to visit the Peace Museum in Hiroshima’. This is all well and good, but it’s a bit selfish, don’t you think? JET doesn’t want to hear about what you want to do IN the country they’re sending you to, they want to hear about what you can do FOR the country they’re sending you to. Although it is an essay about you, I would recommend highlighting the skills and qualifications you have that would benefit those around you. Not just what you hope to accomplish and check off of your bucket list while there. 

– Do explain yourself. ‘I want to teach kids English!’ Well, that’s great. So do 5000 other people who are also applying this year. Why do you want to do so? Make sure you explain yourself and answer the question of why you want to do this program. Be thoughtful and honest in your answer. 

– Do be interesting. If you have an interesting tie to Japan, mention it! As long as it’s not about your grandma’s vase. 

– Do highlight any relevant experience you have and make yourself sound awesome! Can you play the guitar or another instrument? Awesome! Are you trained in a martial art or have you played a certain sport for a long time? Boom! Were you in acting for several years? Nice! Can you speak five languages and Pig Latin on top of it? Great!

– Do ask for feedback from other people. I found this was very helpful for me – especially asking former/current JETs. Just keep in mind that after everything, it is ultimately YOUR essay, so do what you think feels comfortable and right. Also, read it out loud to make sure it flows well. 

Those are all the tips that I can think of right now! I hope that I’m able to help at least one person! Let me just throw out a disclaimer that these are all just my opinions and I’m not associated with JET nor do I have *~*~*~iNSiDe KnOwLeDgE~*~*~* about the secret workings of the program. 

 Until next time! Happy applying! And happy Thanksgiving to those in the states celebrating it this week! 🙂