Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Personal reflections on the possible JET Program expansion

LDP plans expansion of JET program - The Japan Times

I didn't come to Japan via the JET program.  I gave it a half-hearted try but found one deadline had passed and the next was so far away there was no way I could get to Japan around the time I was desperate to do so.  Instead, I found an easier way through a huge conversation school chain that apparently hired everyone who showed up to its recruitment seminars.  You can figure out for yourself the company I'm talking about and read some of the horror stories of others who worked there.  I have to say my time with them was fine and dandy.  They never lied to me, paid me on time, didn't give me grief when I had to fly home for my father's passing and were gracious when I resigned.

But then, I played largely by the rules.

When you come to Japan that way, in a group hire, and you're thrown in with people in the same situation, you tend to end up in a bubble where you largely socialize with your co-workers.  I already had friends in Japan who worked independently and I've always been kind of a lone-wolf, so I popped the bubble for myself.  One guy I worked with spent a lot of time with JETs, though.  And even I met a few JETs during those crazy days.  My impression was they were all very young but a little less party animal than the people I worked with.  It would have been nice to form some friendships, but I was too wrapped up in my own things-- bowling on Sundays with other friends, monthly trips to Tokyo, girl troubles-- to put much effort into it.

Still, as a foreigner in a city with not a whole lot of nightlife and what little there is confined to a specific geographical area downtown, I kept running into JETs here and there.  They became part of the backdrop in which people I knew better and I acted out our little comedies and dramas.  Then I got to observe a JET drama firsthand.

After a year and a half of working for this conversation giant, I'd had enough.  I gave three month's notice without a plan for finding a new job.  I had this vague feeling I wanted to stay in Japan, maybe in some other city or doing something else.  But I was also prepared to go back to the States and start working in graphic design again.  Thanks to my connections I got lucky and snagged a spot with a small mom-and-pop school-- so small they only carried two foreign teachers-- in the same city I'd already been living in and had friends in.  This school proved to be paradise and I settled in for a good long stay.

My first co-worker decided to go back to university in Canada and hired a replacement and as a result, I ended up going to a party for new teachers held by a JET manager, her boyfriend.  I say manager, but I'm really not sure what his title was.  He was a nice guy, a good host but I have no idea what   JET program architecture is like.  Managers?  Supervisors?  Crew chiefs?  To hell with it.  He was in a supervisory position, and he had this party to bond with his new teachers and make them feel welcome.  I met a lot of JETs at that party.

There was, unfortunately, a cultural split in evidence at this party.  My host was more into some of those geeky aspects of Japan that so attract me, or are at least related to my interests.  I'm not that into giant robots myself, but I'm very much in favor of them.  The new arrivals... were not.

Maybe it's just me, but as the party went on, I found some of them aloof.  One was chatty.  But two of them were kind of clinging to each other as if they were shipwrecked here and in  need of rescuing instead of adventuring and taking come-what-may for a year.  I have no idea what the deal was with these particular JETs, but they exuded tension.  They complained about Japan.  They carried on a sotto voce conversation of their own within the general one.  They were preoccupied with their cellphones and text messages from the guys who declined to attend the party.  They gave me a very unhappy vibe.

Sometimes you make a decision and it's the wrong one.  Coming to Japan for a year to teach English with the ample security a government-sponsored program offers certainly has its appeal.  And a year's not all that long.  You know, unless you get here and make a bad connection with the wrong people or just end up hating the country.  If someone has been in Japan for less than a month and he or she is already complaining, then chances are coming here was a big mistake on their part.  I came away from the party thinking these two JETs were not going to make it.

Not long after, they broke their contracts and really screwed things up for this guy whose only crime was to invite them over for drinks.

All of the above might read like some kind of warning, but think of it more as a learning experience.  If you think you have what it takes, then by all means take advantage of this development and come to Japan via the JET program. You know, if this expansion comes to fruition.  Certainly, there are other ways to get here.  But the JET program has government backing, puts you into positions where you can get experience for finding other teaching jobs here.  Also, it pays you to live and work in Japan.  Just know what you're getting into.  Japan can be a difficult place to live and work if you're not prepared.  So do your research.

It helps to have a real interest in the culture here.  And if you do, don't expect your co-workers to share it.

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