Wow. So begins the final 3 weeks of this insane ride I will call JET 2: the sequel! I remember thinking about coming back on JET, and when I do, I remember it as sitting on Heather’s couch, talking with her and her husband, Scott – and them asking me if I was crazy. Ha! I remember showing up in Tokyo for orientation, and Jo asking me if I was crazy. Didn’t I remember all the things that drove me insane when I was in Gunma? And since being back I have had a number of friends contact me about also coming back on JET and did I recommend it. So, here is my laundry list of what a total of 6 years on JET meant to me:
- The wage vs cost of living is pretty damn good. Especially for the amount of responsibility (usually) expected of you.
- You work for a board of education in Japan (or town office if CIR) but if things go wrong, you always have someone to turn to. Actually, many someones. As a JET, you can contact your Prefectural Advisor, CLAIR, AJET or many support groups. A lot of people I know work for private agencies, and when something happens they have no one to turn to for support. I can’t imagine that.
- You get your ticket home paid for upon contract completion
- You get to form relationships with people you would never have met if you stayed home. Many of your students/coworkers will hardly ever leave their region of Japan let alone travel overseas.
- You get to really understand yourself, your language and your culture really well. Nothing like teaching it to other people to get to know who you really are and what is important to you.
- You are often not given enough responsibility to make you feel like you are doing the job you are getting paid to do
- language/cultural barriers. Look at them all! Everywhere!
- Having waaaay too much free time… or working ridiculously long hours that make no sense to you (depending on the work environment)
- Often, JETs live in the middle of nowhere, and have very few young people or foreigners around; which means you are kind of forced to become friends with people you might not if you had the choice… this can be a pro and a con. A pro as stated before, but it can be a con when you feel like your relationships are superficial and merely based on proximity and not actual care for each other. It leads to unnecessary drama.
- Many ALTs in particular, claim to feel like ‘paid monkeys’ or ‘tape recorders’. While this ties into the lack of responsibility, it can go deeper to feeling disrespected or made to ‘feel like a child’. This can be pretty depressing.
- THE DAMN WEATHER. The lack of good circulation and insulation means winter inside is TOO DAMN COLD and summer is TOO DAMN HOT. There are really only about 5 months you can feel comfortable (in most areas of Honshu, anyway
- Having to go to work on days when there is no school, no students, no classes. This is ridiculous.
So, do I regret coming on JET? No. I probably didn’t pay down my debt as much as if John and I had stayed in our jobs in Canada. I missed a lot of stuff in my family’s lives. Little ones aren’t so little. My friend’s kids are getting so big. I feel more comfortable talking via messages and text than on the phone now. And I am terrible at keeping in touch. (Luckily most of my close friends are too, so that is ok). I kind of wish we had gone somewhere new, as I really want to live in Taipei, and if I had been brave, I could have sorted things out there easily too (especially because some of my best friends live there). But, since it was John and my first extended time living overseas, maybe a place that was a little familiar and where I could at least speak was a good thing.
To my friends thinking about coming back? I would recommend looking into ‘real’ teaching jobs. If you are a teacher back home, you can get higher paying jobs with summers OFF at IB schools. But, it does mean a ‘real’ level of responsibility.
If JET is what you want to do (or if you are on JET now), my advice is this: make sure you use your experience and your advanced age (haha) to communicate better with your coworkers. Don’t stand at the back of the room for 3 years and then complain you had no input. Show your coteachers how you can be of assistance. Come up with lesson material that is beneficial for teachers scrambling to finish the text book. Make English come alive for your students. Get involved in your local community. Make an effort to meet more Japanese people. Don’t just rely on your foreign friends to be your social network. Get involved with AJET whether it is at a local or national level. Build your resume on your downtime by taking online classes. Study Japanese.
And the big question everyone is asking ME right now, is what is next? I wish I had a clue… beyond 16 days in BC, and moving to Waterloo Ontario to be with John… I got nothing!