So you finished your interview and you waited the two months while the JET gods are deciding your fate. After those two months, you will receive an email of either congratulations, you made it onto the short-list or you are on the alternate list. I was glued to my phone, refreshing every few minutes during the day to see if I got an email. I received an email on April 1st that I was on the alternate list. Beginning of April seems to be the common time you will find out if you have been accepted or not, so in those two months, try to stay busy. But yes, I was placed on the alternate list.
Alternates: There are mixed feelings about this position. For one, there is a possibility of you being upgraded to short-list if someone drops out. But that is also banking on someone dropping out. They would have to drop out from your consulate, so if you are from a small city with not very many applicants…good luck. If you are placed on the alternate list, do not give up hope! It is still possible to be upgraded. Word around the grapevine is that there are two major times when alternates are upgraded: after the paperwork is due at the end of the month and prior to departure time in July. People either turn in paperwork late or decide they don’t want to go or that they realize that they were not ready to leave and drop out. Upgrades can happen throughout the year too, but this is not common. Your best bet is around those two times.
Once you know what list you fall on, you must turn in the necessary paperwork and await further instructions. April 30th was the deadline for me so I turned in all my paperwork and just waited. It is hard to stay away from your computer or phone and constantly checking your email to see if you got upgraded. Again and again, try to stay busy and work on that backup plan for if you don’t get upgraded and go to Japan. But how the upgrade process works is that you will simply receive an email from your consulate stating congratulations! You have been upgraded to short-list! And with that, there is more paperwork to be done but you made it! My upgrade happened on May 8th, so a little over a week after the paperwork was due and within that first wave of upgrades. So it is possible! Never give up, never surrender!
Here was my process and dates from alternate to short-list and the documents needed at those times: (my consulate also sent me an email when they received my paperwork so I hope yours does too because that made life easy)
- Beginning of April – Email received. Alternate position. QQ.
- End of April – Deadline for the following forms: Alternate Reply Form, copy of Application of Criminal Background Check, and a copy of passport
- Beginning of May – Email received. Upgrade to Short-List position. Yay!
- Mid-May – Deadline for the following forms: Status Upgrade form, a copy of the application for IRS Certificate of Residency (Form 8802)
- Mid-June – Deadline for Certificate of Health
- Mid-June – Email received. Placement in Ibaraki prefecture.
So you made it onto the short-list, but what do you do now? At this point, you have little information to go off of. You know you are going to Japan, but where? You could literally be placed anywhere in the country, despite what preferences you may have put. All you could do is start preparing for the departure. Some things you can do while waiting:
- Start buying omiyage (or at least researching what to bring). You are going in the middle of summer, so be mindful of things that melt (if you want to bring chocolate, freeze them before taking them on the plane as a carry on). Local snacks are always safe and if anything, much desired (Japanese love their snacks). Something small so you don’t have to carry so much. Don’t fret so much about omiyage either. Your schools and other people will be happy with whatever you give them, but still put in an effort. (For a more detailed look at omiyage, check out my omiyage post)
- Make a packing list. Again, going in the middle of summer so be mindful of the clothes you bring. Plus you can go shopping for anything you might need when you get to Japan. You can pretty much find anything you need here if you look hard enough so if you have particular brands you just can’t live without, bring it with you. You also have to be willing to pay for it so if you aren’t, bring it with you. Or if you are way out there in the inaka (countryside) and not close to a station that can take you to a major city. Then definitely bring your favorite stuff with you. But you are limited in space, so think carefully. You would be surprised about what you can find here.
- Things you might want to bring:
- Deodorant because they aren’t as powerful as Western ones.
- Clothes in general if you run a large size. They have Uniqlo that offers some big sizes and Western stores too but if you run exceptionally large or exceptionally tall, consider bringing some clothes and having the rest shipped to you. As a female, finding bras…forget it. If you are anything larger than a D-cup, bring them with you or have them shipped.
- Shoes because shoe sizes run small here so finding anything beyond 25cm will be a hassle (sorry, gentlemen mostly). Here is an international size chart for your viewing pleasure. If you have big feet by Japan standards, bring your own. Remember also: you will need indoor shoes. Any kind of shoe is fine, just as long as it hasn’t been worn outside ever. They do have Crocs here which are good indoor shoes but if you want to bring your own, easy slip on slip off tennis shoes is a safe bet.
- Things you don’t have to bring:
- Basically everything else needed for daily life. Japan isn’t a third world country. Unless you are high maintenance or you need those certain brands to live, you will be fine with the Japanese equivalent. But if you want to bring them, more power to you.
- Things you might want to bring:
- Plan them going away parties and dinners. Spend some time with your family and friends. You may not be seeing them for a while and Skype/any other video chat could only do so much. Take pictures, make videos, eat your favorite foods because I can guarantee you will miss them here. Unless your favorite foods are Japanese foods. Then you are fine. But Mexican food? Forget it; gorge yourself. But yes, take lots of pictures and videos. I can guarantee you will be asked about your family and hometown, so bring pictures of your favorite places and people and pets. Plus it is nice to look back on them when you are feeling a little homesick or need a pick-me-up.
- Start thinking of your self introduction. You will be giving a million and a half self introductions during your first couple months at your schools (sometimes in the first five months like yours truly… -.-), so think of what items to bring, what prizes to bring, what you want to share. If necessary, take pictures of what you need. (Note about your self intro: some of your schools may not have access to technology like a projector or sound so prepare for both cases.)
- Prepare your computer. I wish I did this before I left and I am kicking myself for it. Load it up with MS Office and make sure you have the necessary video players or books to entertain yourself in the time you don’t have internet. To clarify, you will have internet access for the first three days you are in Tokyo for the Tokyo Orientation, but when you go to your respective places, your place may not have internet so be prepared to spend a few weeks without it in your new place. You can buy a computer in Japan, but the keyboards are a little different and can be pricy so if you are particular, then bring your own and have it loaded up with everything you need.
There are hundreds of other things you could do but this will help you get started before you find out where you are placed or who you are teaching in terms of school. Speaking of placement, that email doesn’t come probably for another month. Since I was an alternate upgrade, my placement came a little later (or at least I would like to think that was why it was delayed). But after you get your placement, you can really do some digging on what schools you will most likely be teaching at and who you will be working with.
Once you get your placement, do your best to get in contact with the person you are taking over for as soon as possible. Assuming they are available for you, they should help you in answering whatever questions you have that your research couldn’t find. I was lucky that my predecessor was helpful and walked me through some things and even offered some suggestions (and we still talk now!).
But that is all I can offer right now. The rest is up to you. Go forth and make a difference in the world! Good luck and if you have any questions at all, feel free to comment below. There is no such thing as a stupid question. The only stupid question is a question not asked.