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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Should You Apply To The JET Programme?

A couple of days ago, I received a nice e-mail from someone—a young man named Vince who had JUST stumbled across this blog—who simply asked if I would recommend the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme for someone fresh out of university?

It's a tough question to answer - or for me to even provide advice upon… but I'm going to try. Advice is free, and one's opinion is always correct, even if you are not.

First off… I think the JET Programme is a pretty cool thing.

Not only did it afford me the opportunity to travel to Japan - a country I never thought I would go to (or until that time, even wanted to go to), but it gave me a job, allowed me to lose my virginity, learn how to stand on my own two feet, taught me how to cook, clean, do laundry, sew, shop for anything other than comic books and fast-food (though I did that in Japan, too). It also gave me new friends and experiences that have allowed me to create a blog that I have written every day in since February of 2011. I haven't missed a day yet. Yet. Unless I tell you otherwise, be worried when you don't see a blog. Call 9-1-1!

Basically, thanks to the JET Programme, it allowed me to grow up…

When my mother visited me in Japan, she marveled back home how I yelled at her for trying to do the dishes... my house, my guest, my dishes. That would never have been something I would have offered to do prior to living in Japan.

It wasn't even me showing off... it was just me being me. It just took 25 years-plus and a 15-hour flight to discover that. Since my mother died about a year after she visited me in Japan, I get that memory and knowledge that she knew I had finally grown up, and she was happy for it. I can handle that.

Admittedly, most of the regular readers are wondering how I could say I am mature considering I appear, in my adventures, to be immature… or sometimes the same now, 25 years later.

True… but then again, I take a pretty hard look at myself and try to be as honest as possible with everyone… expressing the feelings I then had, no matter how stupid it makes me look - or even how I think now - no matter how stupid it makes me look.

It's okay. I neither look stupid, or am stupid - so whatever. Looks can be deceiving. You can take that one any way you want.

The thing is… I wasn't just fresh out of university when I applied to JET.

I actually had graduated after five years of York University (Political Science) and two more at Humber College (Journalism) - so I was a bit older than many a fresh-faced alcoholic, I mean university grad. I was fresh out of school, however. But I had seven years of post-secondary education. Seven years? I could have been a doctor? What was I thinking?!

It does NOT mean I was more mature, however.

But it does not preclude the fact that I may have been wiser than many of my peers when it came to certain topics, and not wiser regarding other topics.

I was all over the place… but the one thing I had going for me, was an ability to communicate.

I had also done a fair bit of summer employment - cool stuff such as working with computers in the '80s, marketing research and more, and not JUST flipping burgers, though I think that's pretty cool, too. I worked at Toys R Us and The Beer Store (then the Brewer's Retail).

Volunteer work is important to JET… I had co-coached women's soccer with my friend Rob for eight years at that time. One of the women even wrote me a letter of recommendation for JET.

As well, I was teaching music to students. One adult student also wrote a letter of recommendation for me to JET.

Getting letters of recommendation from two people I 'taught' in two different fields? That's a pretty good way to fly, I think.

I was teaching while I was doing journalism school. Plus… I was coaching while at journalism school. I even coached the college's women's team while I was at journalism school.

I must have done okay at journalism, because even the school Dean gave me a letter of recommendation, not only knowing who I was, but actually what type of person I was (I always recommend you make friends with the secretaries of so-called important people… they will get you in, when others can not). That was my third required letter of recommendation for JET, by the way.

Two 'students' and a 'principal' for a teaching position? I could have done a lot worse. I also had another letter of recommendation from an editor at the newspaper I worked at. Yes.... that many people wanted to get me out of the country.

I was hired on by the Toronto Star to participate in their Summer Internship program - I was the first student in Canada to get into that program coming from a Canadian journalism college program - it was, until then, the reserve of the university journalism programs.

So… it kind of depends on what it is YOU can offer the JET Programme, as well as you wanting to go to Japan… even though I didn't want to go to Japan.

Perhaps that fact prevented me from being a salivating supplicant applicant.

I only wanted to go to Japan because the woman I liked was also applying to 1) get into the Toronto Star Internship Program, and 2) get into the JET Programme.

I didn't care if I did or didn't get in. I just wanted to get laid. If not her, then Miss August would have sufficed.

For this meatloaf, two out of three, ain't bad, but getting into JET made it a happy ending.

At that point in time of my life, I was brimming with confidence and I could charm the pants off damn near anyone I met - and that was just me being me - not some dumbass phoney-baloney.

I was never a hypocrite.

I was a nice guy, and people liked that about me. People still seem to like that about me, but I admit that no matter when in my life I am, I still feel like a bit of a loner.

So - being out there as a JET participant… as an assistant English teacher… I could handle it, but I needed my me time, too. It was how I could recharge those batteries.

So… should you apply to the JET Programme right out of university? Sure.

Will they accept you? It depends.

When I went, they wanted - at least from where I applied - someone with a variety of skill sets that would appeal to both the adults and to the kiddies… to the teachers and students as well as to the community.

Judging from the mix of people who were on the JET Programme, I would say the selection process needed a lot of work.

I always could easily communicate with the kids. I was a nerd, but a nerd who could play sports well. Kids and animals trusted me. And I never gave them a reason not to.

I was a nerd who taught clarinet and piano (I can play all brass, woodwinds and keyboards, however), but I sure like my hardrock music and consider myself to be a suburban punk.

I was a nerd whos liked Dungeons & Dragons and comic books and cartoons and Star Wars and Star Trek, but I also played a lot of sports, knew a lot about sports, and wasn't going to embarrass myself while playing sports - except swimming or skiing, though I could do cross-country, pretty well.

I was a nerd who was shy, but after an initial hello, could turn on the charm. I think I have charm. Maybe… no one tells you about stuff like that.

I was a nerd who was a virgin, but to see me, you'd have been hard-pressed to know that, as I could walk the walk and talk the talk…

I am a visible minority, but I don't play the race card… it's only mentioned by myself here to paint the complete picture of who or what I am. I'm Andrew, by the way.

I don't have any prejudices. Except I hate haters. I don't care what your religion is, or your sexual orientation, your height, weight, color, speech is… whatever. I do prefer my women to be breathing, but at this point in time... I'll take imagined over nothing.

I do care if you are nice or a dink. I prefer one over the other. I am sure I have on occasion been one or the other, as well… and have been judged to be that based on that one time I acted however I acted. I tend to give people a bit more rope, however before providing a final verdict… and when I find them 'wanting', I want to find out WHY they are the way they are. Maybe I could help?

I'm curious. Being curious is helpful, I think, when wanting to go to Japan.

I knew next to nothing about Japan when I applied to go to Japan.

I knew next to nothing about Japan when I was interviewed to go to Japan.

I knew next to nothing about Japan when I was selected to go to Japan.

I had watched a few Japanese monster movies, had heard of geisha and samurai and ninja... so so far, I knew nothing about modern Japan. I knew of the stereotypical stern-faced and serious Japanese man in a blue-pinstriped suit and tie, wearing glasses and a bad haircut carrying a briefcase and a tune trying to sing karaoke. So I really did know nothing about Japan... well, the suit and tie and the bad haircut part was more often correct than not.

However... I knew a fair bit about Japan by the time I left Japan three years later.

I know even more about Japan after starting this blog five years ago… and I also know more about myself, thanks to many an introspective blog. Sh!t happens, now deal with it.

I was part of the second-wave of travelers on the JET Programme. Yup - that long ago.

Things are different now… perhaps thanks to Social Media there are equal amounts of wide-eyed optimism as well as wide-eyed pessimism regarding the day-to-day going's-on about JET life in Japan.

Do you know what I say to that?

Ignore everything. Really. Don't even read the blogs that discuss any sort of news or offer peeks into life into Japanese society. Don't read this blog.

To properly experience anything… you need to go into it with no opinion whatsoever.

Okay, we all know that's no possible, but as little opinion as possible. Eyes wide open. Brains, too. Make up your own mind about whether or not you are enjoying yourself.

As everyone who has ever been to Japan will tell you: ESID. Every situation is different.

So many of you WANT to go to Japan… have studied the language… have read all the blogs… you know what, young Padawan? Do or do not. There is no try.

Just go… experience… enjoy or hate things… but ONLY because YOU enjoy or hate things - not because someone else did, and so you should too.

The Japanese told me that foreigners don't eat natto (rotted, fermented soy beans) because it's smelly, tastes terrible and looks even worse.

Now my Japanese isn't that good, so they could have been talking about me. But I did also hear those things about natto. I heard those things, and despite what people said - well.. they were right… but I chose NOT to continue listening to everyone. It was MY goal to break every stereotype the Japanese had about gaijin.

Or at least the one's I knew about.

I broke so many stereotypes, it's not even funny.

I failed to break so many stereotypes and thus and fell into becoming one of those stereotypes, that it IS funny.

Just go, Vince… if not on JET, then via some other way… private schools, a vacation for yourself… just go… see it for yourself… In two weeks, you will have formed your own opinion about Japan… then you can see if you want to make Japan a part of your future.

Since coming home to Toronto, I chose to make my past of Japan my present… as I prefer to have my future open… in case anyone out there wants to go to lunch one day… or just wants to drop an email to tell me how you are… I still know many of the people I first met 25 years ago either in Japan or went to a rock concert with, but wasn't with, will read this blog from time to time.

Vince… should you go to Japan via the JET Programme fresh out of university?

Only if you want to.

But, it works both ways, as I am sure you are aware… you need to show that you possess some skills that will make the JET Programme want you. And you should possess enough skills to be good for the students. And, and this is very important, you should possess some skills that will enable you to not merely survive or to cope with Japan, but to thrive there. Many JET participants have a survival mechanism which allows them to fight or flight, but many lack a success mechanism that allows then to come out better than they were. I didn't know which one I had when I applied to JET... then again, I wasn't aware I needed to know.

How you handle your first confrontation or weird scene within the coal mine that is Japan—that is when you'll have an idea of where you stand. Then, as long as you are now self-aware, now you can do something about it. However you decide which road you want to travel.

By the way… despite JET's official stance to the contrary where they are now accepting more mature applicants, I would bet you my last nickel that they prefer younger applicants.

Forewarned is forearmed, right?

Carry on, my wayward son,
Andrew Joseph

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