I wasn’t a JET. When I tell people I taught English in Japan, they often respond with “oh, were you a JET?”. Then I have to explain that I wasn’t a JET (Japanese Exchange Teaching Programme), and I wasn’t an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). I worked for a private language school (“eikaiwa” in Japanese). This confuses people. For a lot of people, being a JET is the only way to teach English in Japan.
When I first decided to go to Japan to teach English, I did consider JET, but not for long. I decided it wasn’t for me, and I don’t regret my decision. I enjoyed working for a private language school and I had the opportunity to be very independent during my time in Japan.
This afternoon I was representing the organisation I work for (a charity which promotes UK/Japan relations) at a careers information day aimed at returning JETs. Naturally, a lot of people asked me if I had been a JET, and the majority of the people I met (as visitors, and working alongside me on stands) had been. It was really interesting to talk to so many people who had experienced essentially the same programme but in so many different ways.
By the time the careers event was over and the reception (free wine and nibbles) began, I was starting to feel slightly envious of these bright young things who had just returned to the UK with (generally) excellent Japanese skills and interesting career plans. I confess that I became more jealous when the speeches began.
People from the Embassy of Japan, the Japan Local Government Centre, and the JET Alumni Association (JETAA) spoke. They mainly addressed the large number of JETs who had recently returned, praising them in particular for their support and hard work throughout the disaster in Tohoku in March. It was mentioned that two American JETs unfortunately did not survive (from a Google search, I believe that was Taylor Anderson and Monty Dickson).
Having only recently returned from Japan myself, I couldn’t help but feel like the speech was for me, too. Only, when I returned from Japan, no one gave a speech to say thank you and welcome me back to the UK. Of course, that’s because I chose to work for a company rather than embark on a programme. These JETs all left the UK in large groups, trained in groups, spent time in Japan in groups, and made connections with a lot of other JETs. Even though I have never been a JET, I felt like I could relate to most of the people in the room a lot more than I can to some of my oldest friends. Someone even commented that people don’t understand when you start talking about Japan unless they’ve been there themselves, and it’s true.
I’m not really one for being part of a collective, but tonight I wished I was. I wish I had an alumni association to join. I wonder how many people there are in London who used to work for the same company as me, and what they’re all doing now? I’m sure the only thing we have in common is Japan, but that would probably be enough.
Fortunately, with the Internet being what it is, I’m never far away from the people I met in Japan – wherever they are now. It’s a shame, though, that we can’t organise events together, as we’re all spread out over the world.
I didn’t consider the JET programme when it was my time to go to Japan, but I am starting to see the benefits. If you think it might be for you, or simply for more information about the JET programme in the UK, please check out their website: http://www.jet-uk.org.
Finally, I’m interested to know about your experiences in Japan, so I’d like to ask you all to do me a favour and just answer this little poll for me. Thanks! ありがとう！