“Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow.”
― Caroline Myss
Time has truly flown by and it’s kind of surreal to think that I have been living and working in Japan for 5 straight years. Although there were times when I was unsure about my future here, it appears as though everything that I have set out to accomplish has come to fruition and there’s a possibility that I may be able to obtain a stable teaching job that will retain me until I can retire. It definitely hasn’t been easy and I feel like I have sacrificed a lot of myself in order to build up a very strong network of friends and coworkers. Although I wish that I took more time to travel, I’m confident that should things work out as planned, there will be many more opportunities to do so in the not-too-distant future.
5 Years on the JET Program
I first heard about the JET Program when I was a sales representative for Nordstrom. I had a customer who I was helping in my department at the time and we happened to strike a conversation while I was ringing them up at the register. They told me that I would be an excellent candidate for the program and that I should go to their main office should I be interested. Despite it being years since I had graduated and studied Japanese in high school, I went to their office on one of my days off to inquire about the position and I was disappointed when I found out that I needed a Bachelor’s degree in order to enter the program. At the time, I had no time, no money, and no interest in going to university, so I forgot all about it and continued on with my life.
Years later, prior to entering my senior year at university, I was trying to plan for my career after graduation when someone asked me (yet again) about my interest in the JET Program. I had been volunteering at the International School in downtown Portland for my Senior Capstone Project, at the time, and I seemed to have a knack for getting along with kids. After spending many hours contemplating, I noticed that a lot of my experiences, interests and studies, up until that point, had really helped to prepare me for being an ALT. Suffice it to say, I locked down on the idea and even took a TEFL class at university in order to prepare me for teaching in Japan. In all honesty, it almost feels as though everything in my life had prepared me to move to and live in Japan.
- Getting a free house (2LDK), free rental car, 60 liters of gas per month, free oil changes, and free studless tires every year.
- Having a great work-life balance.
- Never having to worry about money.
- Getting multiple holidays off throughout the year.
- Getting 20 paid vacation days a year that rollover into the following year if unused.
- Coming home to the quiet of the countryside.
- Working with teachers and students interested in English.
- Having small classrooms that allowed each and every student the chance to practice and speak English.
- Gaining the support of my fellow teachers and administrative staff.
- Having supervisors who cared and kept me in the know.
- Finally getting the freedom to live in Japan (and not on a base).
- Meeting, getting to know, and befriending a large international base of friends.
- Getting the chance to work within the LGBT+ community.
- Being away from close friends and family.
- Spending major holidays away from family.
- The Japanese driver’s exam. I do not joke. It was HELL (at the time)!
- Paying approximately $120/month for a 6-day a week, non 24-hour, gym membership.
- Living a 20 minute drive away from the closest convenience store and 30-45 minute drive to the nearest city.
- Culture shock after the initial honeymoon period ends.
- Telling my JTEs that a sentence is incorrect and having them respond with “But it’s in the textbook”.
- Being used as a living tape recorder for 5 minutes of a 50 minute class, then just standing there doing nothing, at a rate close to $20-25/hour.
- Meeting my best friend on my first day of JET orientation in Tokyo.
- Getting placed in the deep countryside, but being allotted a free (brand new) rental car, a free house and gas allowance.
- Watching my students grow from ES students that couldn’t understand a simple ‘how are you?’ to JHS 3rd years that are able to express their personal opinions.
- Travelling to South Korea and Taiwan.
- Spring vacation in Okinawa.
- Falling in love.
- Feeling seen and acknowledged by higher echelon officials for my hard work.