Scooter vs Japan

JET Application Project | April 24, 2015

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Japan loves paperwork.

While I’m waiting on my contract and placement details, I thought I would get the blog ball rolling by talking about the JET Programme application process and what I’ve learned about ESL teaching in general.

JET Application Timeline

From the outside, one might think that the JET Programme’s application timeline is WAY too long and complicated. And it totally is, but there’s actually a lot going on. This year (2014 deadline for 2015 departure), I recall the application opening in early October with a submission deadline of late November. This is where the first bit of confusion comes from. See, all of the deadlines and dates are the mail-by or post date. With a Canadian application deadline of Nov 21, this means that you can expect another maybe 2 weeks in postage, pushing the administrative process back to early December before they actually received and reviewing everyone’s applications. And assuming the applications stayed in the country of application, this only gave whatever selection committee a few weeks to sort through them and choose their interview candidates.

The second step of the application process is the interview. I received my notification around mid January for an early February interview. With interviews taking place at local Consulates and Embassies, this breaks down to just enough time to recruit and prep interviewers (my panel included a university professor, so it wasn’t just about getting a bunch of Consualte/Embassy staff to pull double duty) while also providing enough lead time for applicants to make their travel arrangements.

The third stage is the notification of short listed candidates. The timeline here varies depending on early vs. regular departure, but my regular departure notification came in in early April. As with the application period, left the administrators with enough to time to interview applicants and then maybe a month to collect their recommendations. And following the notification of being short listed, I expect to have more details about my contract and placement by early May, which would likewise be just enough time to post our acceptance letters and to dot all the t’s and cross all the i’s with regards to placing all of the successful applicants. From there, it’s pre-departure and visa applications, which are a lengthy process anyways from what I remember of my student visa application.

So with regard to the timeline, while it feels like it’s taken forever, I’m actually pretty happy with it. A lot of the extra time is really just the length of postage and communication, with a heavy dose of super hard working administrators. While all of us applicants are chomping at the bit for into and updates, when you break it down, this really is probably the quickest such a selection process can be.

Considerations for Teaching Abroad

On to something different. From speaking with (then) current as well as past ESL teachers, teaching in Japan as well as other countries, the single most consistent comment I heard was this. Schools pay a lot of money, complete a lot of paperwork, and take a big risk bringing in foreign teachers. As such, they are almost more concerned with one’s ability to live abroad and complete their contract than any other factors. This was a big theme that I tried to (and seem to have been successful at) include in my JET application. While I’ve also done some light teaching and training, probably the single most notable factor of me as a candidate was my ability to live and work away from home.

When I was 13, my parents divorced, and I found myself having to make decisions than no child should be making. At 18, I traveled to Japan for the first time on a school trip. At almost 19, I moved across the province to another city 3 hours from home. At 21, I enrolled in college and then university. At 26, I traveled to Japan for the second time for a period of nearly one year, then returned to Canada and the city I was living in since age 19. It wasn’t until 2012 when I returned home due to some medical problems and having difficulty transitioning from university to full time employment. Every since I can a teenager, I’ve been making decisions on my behalf, and had lived on my own for nearly 10 years in two different countries. Now, that isn’t to say that I’m an orphan or that my parents and friends never helped me, but what I’m saying is that I have experience being away from home. I didn’t go to university at 17 or 18, only to come home on weekends and during the summer. I really had to make things work on my own for many years and try my hardest before turning to family for help.

A childhood of taking the reins, nearly 10 years on my own, and almost one year living in the country I hoped to return to surely helped with my JET application, since I can prove that I can handle the stresses of leaving home and being on my own. Having lived in Japan once before, I know what to expect, and am far less likely to have the kinds of culture shock or other serious problems that would make me want to break my contract and return home. So while I lack a teaching degree or direct experience (something you think you’d want teachers to have), I have the vital skills necessary to be a successful applicant.

Now you might be saying, “Oh no, I’ve been living at home this whole time,” or “but what if I haven’t traveled abroad before?” You can certainly be a successful JET or ESL teacher without having the same experiences and troubles I’ve had. I’m sure there are far more people who have traveled abroad without that experience than those who have. My point is that you want to consider how comfortable you’ll be when faced with a new and isolated environment, and you want to showcase then when looking for work. You want to bleed confidence that you can adapt and adjust to the changes you will be facing and that you have every intention of completing your contract. If there was one thing I could tell anyone traveling abroad, I think that would be it.

Another serious consideration would be to complete a TESOL or similar teaching course. While you only need a Bachelor’s Degree to teach English in Japan, having TESOL certification will not only help prepare you for the job, but it also shows your devotion to the occupation. In a scenario of two applicants of similar though slightly unequal qualifications, I would think that the one with a TESOL certificate would be preferred to an applicant who is maybe more qualified but does not hold one. There is also a secret benefit to taking a TESOL program: native speakers don’t know how to teach their own language. In Linguistics, there are marked differences in the acquisition of a first and second language. Simply put, native English speakers already know English because we acquired it as children, whereas the students you will be teaching must learn it. Native speakers don’t know the names of parts of speech or the snappy catchphrases that a 2-L (second language) learner uses to study. Most of us don’t know what a past participle is (and to be honest, I still don’t) or how we actually conjugate verbs; we just know it. I remember one time when some exchange students were helping in my Japanese class. We had to explain to them first how we conjugates verbs and how we were studying grammar so they could turn around and help us. Sounds kind of backwards, doesn’t it? Well, this is the situation that many, if not all, ESL teachers find themselves in. Just like when your Phys Ed teacher had to teach your Science class, we already know this material but don’t know how to express it in a teachable fashion. TESOL courses can help you with this, making you aware of introductory Linguistics and 2-L teaching. By taking one of this kind of certification, you’ll be a leg up on those who don’t, making you a better and more helpful teacher.

My last piece of advice when applying for an ESL position would have the be leveraging your interests and experiences into a workable and valuable form. Simply put, a lot of people trying to get into Japan are nerd, and I’m one of them. But that’s not to say that I’m some rabid anime fan, or rather, am not one anymore. I’ve been down that road. I attended and worked conventions. I programmed events for my university’s anime club for almost 7 years. I even ran the darned thing before I went to Kansai Gaidai. But when I look back at those experiences, I don’t see myself in a dark room full of sweaty teens and 20-somethings watching cartoons. When I look back on the truth that it was anime that got me into Japanese language and culture, I do it with pride because I gained a lot from it. It was anime that got me started. It was anime that got me to transfer schools so that I could take a vacant event planning position with the aforementioned club. It was anime that got me into higher level event planning and operations. It’s because of anime that I’m here right now, holding an almost completely unrelated degree and having a breadth of event and teaching experiences, and I’m not afraid to say it.

Or rather what I should be saying is that anime was an entry into Japan for me, and I learned over the years how to leverage that into skills and experiences that make me an ideal candidate for continued cultural research and teaching opportunities. While many members of my anime club were content with watching anime, partaking in cosplay, and playing video games, many of us leveraged that experience and grew it into something else. Fascinated with this idea, I once held a presentation of “turning your passion into profit,” which was a brainstorm on how to likewise leverage interests in art, games, costume making, and language into sources of study, new hobbies, and potential work. I also used this same theory to explain movement and activity patterns we had been observing in the club and conventions but couldn’t quite figure out, and to explain why everyone in my Japanese classes were self-hating but closeted anime fans.

So in leveraging those experiences in my JET applications, not only could I express an deep interest in Japan, but I could also present training and experience in group management, activity planning, observational research, problem solving, and analytical reasoning, all skills that will be a help to me both as a teacher and as an active foreign national. During my interview, I was asked how I would get involved with the school and community, and I referred back to my time as an event planner for my school’s anime club. I explained that I’ve both planned and facilitated a variety of events, and would have no trouble working with and getting involved with students groups, other teachers, and members of the community.

The Next Stage

Now I’m sitting here, playing the waiting game as I get ready to embark on the next stage of the JET application process and my preparations for foreign travel. As I learn more about the JET Programme or have more thoughts to share on teaching and travel advice, as well as maybe writing up a sort of road map for high school and early undergraduate students who are still a few years away from applying to something like the JET Programme, I’ll happily try to share them here.

Until I get my contract and placement info or I think of something else to write to pass the time, take care and may Godzilla never step on your post office.

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Posted in JET, Teaching

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About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.

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