As a 20 year-old college student at the time, attending a public Ivy league school, one starts to wonder what to do after graduation. I will say that I am very lucky to have a variety of options present for me after graduating college but my actual journey to residing and working in Japan came when a known career adviser personally introduced and recommended me to a JET recruitment team that visited my campus during a career fair present in my school Never did I think at the time that this meeting will change the course of my life for the better.
How it Started: Live and Work in Japan?
First, I need to explain that at the time, I didn’t know what the JET program was. I was also not interested in living in Japan at all. I was just a 3rd year university student, highly focused at multiple grad school and career prospects. My school holds career fairs every fall and spring and as I attended, I was looking at all the prospects available. At this point, I was looking forward to applying to several graduate schools before starting my senior year.
Some might say it’s still too early to apply for grad school or look for a job as a junior, but considering the competition and the limited number of seats, you need to stay ahead of the game. Hundreds of my peers were meeting and greeting recruiters from grad schools and big name corporations such as Boeing, Google, Genentech, and etc. You can see many recruiters smiling in their suits while at the same time students like me are submitting resumes hoping for the chance of having a brilliant and secure future with whatever institution they decide to join.
Looking back at it now, we were all brain-washed to be sheep.
The best part about applying early to my opinion is that by the middle of senior year, most of would already have jobs. If not, there would be a professional internship (with a big company), humanitarian volunteer programs (Peacecorps, UN,), working at a research lab at school, or the option of more schooling like attending Graduate School.
All we had to do is make sure we finished school and stay away from “senioiritis”! Another full year of school and parties would determine if we would actually graduate or not. Since most of us were arrogant wise asses that know nothing about the real world, we seemed very confident that we will all graduate. I’d like to mention that at my school, all of us get to walk during our graduation ceremony. We also get to receive a diploma cover containing no diploma.
Graduating ain’t that easy!
Yes that’s right! The graduation ceremony at our school was all for show. The truth is we get our actual diplomas mailed to us several months after graduation when the school’s registrar confirm we passed all the necessary requirements that make us “worthy” for a college degree from this school. I graduated in May and got my diploma in late July. Those who didn’t, got emails stating they failed to pass/take the required course to graduate and need to take it to receive their diplomas.
A friend of mine was one of those who didn’t get to graduate but got to walk during the ceremony and I just hate recalling how happy his mother was during the ceremony. Her eyes filled with tears of joy, only to find out some months later that her son didn’t get to graduate because he forgot to take one class towards his major. Too bad the job that was waiting for him had to put him on hold until he received his degree but I doubt a company wanted him any more. That’s his bad.
Discipline with high standards is what sets us apart from the rest.
First Contact With JET Recruiters
So back to how it all began. Here was my college adviser, speaking highly of me in front of two JET recruiters at the career fair. One of the recruiters was a Japanese government official from the Japanese consulate and another was a former JET participant. JET by the way stands for Japan Exchange and Teaching. They were very professional and polite just like everybody else and they invited me to a small information session they had later on in the day. I politely refused for I had class at the time of their session so I asked if they can tell me about it on the spot. They gave me a quick summary of what the JET program. In our dialogue, they asked me what my main goal in life was and added that JET can help add experiences average people can’t have. Additionally, JET has helped many former participants pursue their careers after the program. (It’s true… many former participants that I personally know are now doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians, an FBI agent, and etc.)
I was interested and I requested an application form. I glanced at the from and noticed a deadline for December at the end of that year. I was confused because it’s still April and the deadline is in December? What the hell??? Anyways, I take the application packet along with some other brochures they had. As I began to walk away, the JET recruits mentioned how impressive my record is and how I volunteered at a Japanese orphanage during the summer of my freshmen year (thanks to my college adviser). Because I had some teaching experience as a volunteer tutor at my school, its very likely that I can get a position with JET as (I was a volunteer tutor for almost the entire time in college). All I needed to do at first was fill out the application form and get recommendation letters from my professors. The rest will be handled my them.
The Application Process
As easy as applying sounds, the application to the JET program is quite competitive and long. The first part of the application was probably the easiest. As long as you have the necessary documents (college transcripts, letter of recommendations, and etc.) and know how to follow instructions, you will be okay. The applications will then be sent and reviewed at the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C., those that do not fit the bill will be eliminated. Those that have passed the first phase will be sent an email and a packet. The notice requests you to attend the second phase which is for an interview that will be held at the nearest Japanese consulate in your vicinity. The nearest one to me was San Francisco. How convenient!
The interview was actually interesting. In my block, there were about 30 people waiting to be called. As we waited, there were a couple of TVs in the waiting room broadcasting the benefits of the JET program. As I recall, the television broadcast of the JET program just kept going on and on. A couple of minutes later, I was called to wait by the interview room. As I waited to be called again, I noticed another prospective JET candidate across me meditating like a Buddha. I didn’t think that JET is that difficult to get in, but it seems that he really wanted the job.
I was finally called in and to my surprise there was the Consulate General and the same two JET recruiters that many over a year ago! My heart pounded as I acknowledged the highest ranking member of the Japanese Consulate was partly conducting my interview but at the same time I felt a bit of relief that I’ve know the two other interviewers from before. I greeted each other with some small talk, smiles, and handshakes. Thereafter I took my seat which seemed strangely a bit far from the interviewers. If I can recall, accurately, my chair stood about 15 feet / 5 meters away from the interviewers table. This seemed awkward but I believe the reason they made it this way is to make sure they JETs they recruit are able to speak loud and clear.
The interview for me was actually quite long but it didn’t feel that long. I actually had fun. I got in at 1535 and got out around 1600. I was asked all kinds of questions about myself, my academic record, interests with Japan, past teaching experiences, and where I wanted to teach if I got the job. Although I stated my top three places in Japan where I wanted to teach in my application, they asked again anyways. Furthermore, I was asked to introduce myself in Japanese and also asked to name the Prime Minister of Japan of the time. There were some other questions about Japan but I can’t recall them. The question that was the most interesting to my opinion was a grammatical question asking me the difference between “a and the”. I’m not an English expert but anybody with control of the English language has to know this. I answered quite well and moved on to some other questions. As my time ended, we exchanged laughs, smiles, and handshakes! Overall, I can say the interview was formal but fun!
About a month later I got the acceptance call and was notified that I was selected but the decision was not final. This was not final because I had to get medical clearance which is actually quite easy if your healthy and I also had to reply if I wanted a position as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). The time came either to accept or to reject. I didn’t even know where I was going to be placed in Japan.
All in all, this was a hardest part of the application process for me. I had already secured 3 positions with other institutions and those 3 provided work positions that offered benefits towards my field of study/ future career. On the contrary, the JET program did not relate towards my field of study but it sounded the most fun of all. It was really a major challenge for me to decide to accept or decline. It’s a difficult decision because what I choose will determine whether or not I want to live and work in Japan for a year or so. I took my time on this.
As a couple of days passed, a good friend mine who also applied to the program heard that I got accepted and freaked out that I was having a hard time choosing. I can remember that day clearly. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I would have went to Japan. You see, the thing is, he applied but didn’t get passed the interview phase. I felt bad but he was telling me not to waste it as we had dinner at a local Mongolian BBQ joint near campus. He said a lot of things but the words that sounded strong were, “Dude! You got in JET and you’re having a hard time choosing? Most people in your shoes would accept the opportunity on the spot. Tom, John, Christine, Jack, and I didn’t make it in! JET’s not easy to get in man!~ “. He definitely made it sound as if the JET program was a once in a lifetime event. His words rang in my head all night but I still thought this through on my own accord.
Although I had other great opportunities waiting for me, for a very good reason, spending a year or two to take a break sounded awesome. It is still work but more like an educational adventure. JET sounded fun and exciting. JET also helps me serve both the U.S. and Japan by teaching and exchange knowledge and cultural differences with the Japanese people. It’s not like working at some cheapo private English school were you get little or no benefits with dirt pay. The Jet program also is sponsored by the Japanese government and because of that, you become a civil servant where the pay is decent with subsidized living and full medical benefits. For a young college student, JET felt like a perfect “take a year off from school and get out of the country” program.
Interesting to think about it but after meeting the JET recruitment team at my school’s career fair, I never thought that almost a year and a half later, I would see myself flying off to teach at a high school in Japan.
Thus the adventure begins.