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In this post, I want to talk about my experience applying for the JET program, my thoughts on the application process, and why I ended up declining their offer.

 

To start this story, we need to go back in time a bit. When I was 15 years old, I decided I wanted to be an English teacher in Japan when I grew up. This influenced my college decision in a big way. When I went to college, I decided to major in Japanese and minor in education with the idea of becoming a teacher in the future. 


I took classes on instructing ESL and got my TEFL certification while attending school full time and working 30 hours a week. I had been teaching online for 2 years and woke up very early in the morning, sometimes at 5 am, to teach English to Chinese students online out of my dorm room. To this day, I still teach in my free time and I enjoy teaching. However, I realized that being a teacher was not something that I wanted for my life.


This realization came to me in two parts: the first of which happened while I was living in Japan. 


Let's rewind to fall 2017 when I was living in Japan and attending Waseda University. This was the first taste I got of living in Japan for an extended period and being totally on my own, and I have to say I struggled in ways I didn't anticipate. The biggest struggle for me was living on my own in a foreign country and feeling like I didn't have a community. I started to think more concretely about my future living in Japan, which is something that I had been set on for many years. Now that it was staring me in the face, I realized that being a teacher in Japan was something I was now apprehensive about.


I sat there in my apartment and I thought to myself: "Do I want to live in Japan full-time and work here? By myself?" For many different reasons, I came to the conclusion that living on my own in a foreign country was something that wasn't going to work out for my mental health. 


The hours were crazy, the horror stories of teachers living in Japan and having little autonomy over their classes, the low salary and high turnover all turned me off. Furthermore, when I compared salary expectations side-by-side between America and Japan, I saw a pretty staggering difference. I realized that being a teacher was something that brought me happiness on my own time and that turning it into a career took the joy out of it completely. This confused me: I had heard the popular phrase "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life." So why was I afraid to do what I loved? It came to me: I had to do what I loved on my terms, not depending on it for my livelihood. 


When I returned to America, I was still unsure of my path. Only after graduating college did I have to face the music and finally address where I wanted to be in life: and I didn't have the answer. I started working at a language school, did some corporate work, tried getting my feet wet in the business world. I figured I could use my Japanese language skills to find a career that wasn't necessarily teaching but could send me to Japan in the distant future. 


As much as I love teaching (and continue to teach) I realized that it wasn't where I wanted to be when it came to having a career and that fact alone took me over four years to realize. 


All this considered, I still applied for the JET program because I thought I would give it a shot. After I passed the first round of applications, I was given information for the interview portion. If I'm being completely honest, I did not do any research about what the interview would be like, I simply followed the dress code they specified, brought the materials there and showed up. I didn't know if I wanted this job but I had gotten the interview so I was going to go if not just for interview practice. 


As I sat in the waiting room, the waiting room proctor asked me if I had any questions about life in Japan, to which I said 'No, thank you'. In walked a girl with short blonde hair and a crisp looking suit, sitting down nervously across from me with her bag and folder. She looked visibly nervous and excited, and when the proctor asked her if she had any questions about Japan, she immediately started firing away. This made me feel unsettled, and not because I was bothered by her questions.


I saw in her eyes how desperately she wanted this job, how eager she was to learn anything and everything from this proctor. She rambled on about how she prepped for today and what she had googled about the JET program, and at that moment I sat there silently and truly felt the gap between her and I. Seeing the fire in her eyes only served to highlight how truly apathetic I was towards this process, and that made me feel a mix of emotions. When I did have my interview, I was a bit weirded out by the process. 


To be frank, the interviewing team seemed almost smug in attitude and the questions themselves were slightly strange and sometimes almost political. For example: I was asked how I would describe to Japanese children what it means to be an American and what my definition of 'the American dream' is. Looking back now, perhaps these questions weren't that strange, but the way it was posed made me feel a bit off. I was asked to create a lesson for a classroom of 8-year-olds on the spot, in which the interviewing board would roleplay the student. 


To someone who has never taught before, this sounds like a nightmare, however, I had been teaching for almost three years at that point and making up a lesson on the spot tends to happen with online classes when you student breezes through the lesson plan, so I created a vocabulary and sentence building lesson about simple foods. After about five minutes of doing my faux lesson, I was stopped and they told me that I was free to go. 


As I rode the train home, the uneasy feeling I had stayed with me. This feeling only strengthened when I received an email a few months later saying that I had passed the interview portion and that the next steps would be to send me my placement. When I opened this email, my stomach twisted, and it wasn't because I was happy. I knew in my heart that I didn't want this job the second I walked out of the interview room and there I was now, confronted with something that I had told myself I wanted for all of my teens. 


All I could think about was 'I have to tell them no.'


A concrete path to Japan was literally in my hands, and all I wanted to do was reject it. This was such a hard thing for me to confront, and I gave myself some time to think things over. All I could think about was that girl that was sitting in the waiting room that day, so passionate and excited, and how I had felt nothing. Yet somehow, I was accepted. I didn't feel like I deserved it. I knew if I rejected this position early enough, someone on the waiting list could get accepted and fulfill their dreams in Japan.


I sent an email back thanking them for the acceptance, but rejecting the offer. Just because I rejected them this time doesn't mean I'm barred from applying to the JET Program in the future if I want to; I can always apply again. As I said before, teaching isn't totally out of my life. I currently teach English and Japanese lessons in Harrison as a hobby, which I find really fun and rewarding.


I guess if there's any moral to take away from my experience it's that the dreams you have when you're 15 or 16 can and WILL change by the time you leave college and that's okay! Time can change a person so much so don't feel bad if your perspective and ideas change. Whether or not you accomplish what you wanted to do when you were younger, as long as you have a goal you're working towards in the present, don't worry about the dreams you've outgrown.


As always, thank you so much for reading.