Taken from the blog “Memoirs of a Gaijin”, here are some questions about my experience in the JET Programme and living in Japan. Although the common Every Situation Is Different (ESID) mantra is strong, it does help to have as much information of what could happen when living in Japan and teaching here.
Prefecture Placement: Ibaraki
Prefecture Requests: Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto City, Tokyo City (I like to dream big)
Teaching Experience: 2.5 years at my university during my graduate program years and some undergraduate years.
Number of Schools and age: three senior high schools and one secondary school (junior high and high school combined)
School Level: I am not quite sure what my secondary school’s level is because it is still in the experimental stage. As for high school, one high-medium, one medium-low, and one low. I got a nice range of students to work with. The low level students are a tad difficult to work with considering some of them will probably not go to a university so their level of caring for English is zilch.
Average number of classes a day: 3
Closest JET to you distance wise: 40 minutes drive away (although I haven’t reached out to other JETs in the surrounding prefectures that border me so for all I know, there is one closer.)
Best part of the job: the students outside of the classroom. They are so funny and interesting and want to talk about things they like and you like, but inside the classroom they are quiet. It is an interesting phenomenon when that happens. It’s like the class time itself creates a barrier between teacher and student and once that bell rings at the end of class, students are all like “Lucy sensei! Lucy sensei! 見て！見て！(Look! Look!)” and they show me a picture on their phone or something or something in their pencil case.
Worst part of the job: Uncooperative students and JTEs who do not help discipline them. It is difficult to control a bunch of rowdy teenagers when you do not know the appropriate words to calm them down. I am not one to yell at students to get them to cooperate. And it doesn’t help of the JTE isn’t stepping in to calm them down. It has led to days where I felt apathetic towards the students. Also, teachers moving to different schools after a certain period of time. I like my teachers so I don’t want them to leave but some do and it makes me sad.
Best part of living in Japan: the ease of travel. It is so easy to just look up how to get somewhere and find a path there. The train system is phenomenal here so getting from point A to point B anywhere in the country is simple. Yeah, there are other and sometimes cheaper options like buses, renting cars, or flying. But you can explore so many places on a weekend or even in the evenings if you are close enough.
Worst part of living in Japan: Hmm…I don’t know if there is a worst part as most of the difficulties that come with living in a foreign country, I already kinda expected it all to happen. I already knew there was going to be a language barrier so that isn’t the worst thing about living here. I suppose the worst part about living here is the trash system. It is difficult to toss certain large items and sometimes you have to pay to get it hauled away so that is kind of frustrating. Oh, and shops closing early, even on weekends. That’s kinda annoying.
Favorite memory so far: I have two: Tokyo Game Show (TGS) and Universal Studios Japan (USJ). TGS because I met someone special there and USJ because I got to see the gigantic Shingeki statues and that just blew my mind.
Hardest time so far: Having bad days and not having that immediate physical connection with someone. I am in a long-distance relationship and I usually coped with my rough days by seeing my significant other and spending time with them. Now, I can only see them through a screen and that is really tough.
What do you miss most about home: My family, friends, and food (specifically pizza and burritos).
What would you miss the most about Japan if you left tomorrow: The people I have met here, both fellow JETs/ALTs and my JTEs. I am having difficulty swallowing the fact that some teachers change schools and I like most of my teachers. They are still in the same country, yet I am really sad they are leaving my schools. I would miss everyone I have met here if I were to hop on a plane tomorrow back home.
What’s one thing you wish you’d brought with you to Japan: A new laptop. I didn’t realize my tiny little netbook couldn’t handle what I needed it to without crashing or slowing down. I could be way more productive at home if I had a better laptop so I am currently hunting for one.
What’s something/things you brought that you wish you didn’t: Nothing really. I packed relatively light so everything I brought, I needed. Maybe some foods or spices I can’t get here? But again, I could live without them.
Tip for living in Japan: Go out and explore as much as you can. Your time here is limited (unless you plan to live here forever, in which case ignore this) so live it up while you can. Experiences over possessions is what you should spend your money on so travel more and spend less on material things that you are just going to have to send back with you when you go home or leave behind. Plus Japanese apartments are pretty small so it is best not to have too many things to begin with. Make friends with both other JETs and the locals in your area and don’t be a shut-in. Even introverts find friends in other introverts. You are not alone.
Tip for being a JET: Go in with little to no expectations (aka keep an open mind about EVERYTHING). Many people go in with the fantasy of Japanese life and teaching in a Japanese high school being amazing and exciting and the students are respective and obedient and that is totally true…to a certain extent at the beginning. But once you start establishing a routine, the novelty of living here wears off and you start noticing the little things that either don’t make sense to you or you think could be done better. Just know that you will hit moments where you question being here and you will either get through it and continue or realize that this gig isn’t for you. And that is totally okay. JET is there to place you in an area that needs you and you have little choice in the matter (despite what you put on your application). Make the best with what you got.