Yeah, so I know I kinda just slid that in there among all my “I’m leaving Roatan for good blah blah blah” stuff lately… “oh and PS I’m moving to Japan”.
(I know, right.)
It’s actually been a really, really, long time coming. To be accurate, about 10 years in the making! Here’s the story.
From the time I was a little kid, I have always been fascinated with Japan. Not Asia…not other countries in the area. Just Japan. I wasn’t into anime or J-pop, but I was in love with the food, the crazy Harajuku fashion, the precise and efficient infrastructure and the stunning natural geography in the different regions of the country. My anxiety-ridden and obsessive-compulsive self was calmed by the explicit and controlled set of steps in the traditional tea ceremony and flower arranging. When I got to university, I gave up on French after 14 years of conjugating a million verb tenses and enrolled in a Japanese course (hello 2.5 tenses, I love you). I found the local Japanese community and started with language exchange partners (which, if I recall correctly, consisted mostly of us speaking English and eating copious amounts of crappy sushi). I rented out the second bedroom in my condo to a Japanese ESL student and she taught me homestyle Japanese cooking, the Japanese nuance of ‘reading the air’, and was forever trying to convince me that it was totally sanitary to consecutively share bathwater with your family as long as you all showered first (still a no for me).
When I was in my third year of university in 2006 (hence
the 10 years in the making bit), I was walking down a hallway to class
when I saw a booth set up with information about the JET Programme. I
saw Japanese flags so I stopped. The people at the booth animatedly told me about this program that sent university grads to Japan to team-teach in public schools with the local Japanese English teachers and promote cultural exchange. You got paid a decent salary, flights were covered, free Japanese lessons, rent was subsidized and you got ample time off to explore the country. There’s a one-year contract that can be extended up to 3-5 years depending on placement. Sounded pretty good to me but I wasn’t done university yet so I left it in the back of my mind.
Fast forward to my last year of university. By then I had decided I wanted to become a high-powered criminal lawyer because who the fuck knows why. I was applying to law schools left right and center and had completely forgotten about the JET Programme because I have a one-track mind and am somewhat like a goldfish.
After university, I worked as a legal administrative assistant while still trying to get into law schools. Finally I decided it was time to let that dream die, so I did my paralegal certificate and worked as a paralegal. I visited Japan in 2009 on a whim when some friends and I found $400 return flights out of Vancouver and it was the best trip of my life. I had built up Japan for so long in my head I was worried it would disappoint. It did not. I thought about the JET Programme again, but I after doing some serious Googling I realized I didn’t really have the background the program was looking for…I didn’t have much international experience, I didn’t have much volunteer experience, and I had no teaching experience of any kind. So I went back to work as a paralegal. Aaaaaand I hated it.
Last year on Roatan, I knew things were heading in a downward direction there and I started thinking about JET again. I still had all my interest and passion about Japan, but I now had loads of international traveling experience, experience living abroad, demonstrable initiative in learning a new language in my host country (Spanish and creole), teaching experience (scuba diving!), volunteer experience (charity work), lots of different types of professional work experience the last 10+ years both in my home country and abroad (office, hotel, restaurant, dive shops) and I had taken a TESOL and TEYL certificate online. “Holy shit,” I thought, “I might actually have a chance at this now”. So I decided to go for it, and applied last fall.
Like any government thing, the JET Programme is a looooooong process. This varies by country, but in Canada the applications open in late September and are due in November. The application is pretty long and detailed, and you need to write an essay and get two bangin’ reference letters. Then you wait. If you get selected for an interview, you find out in mid-January. The interviews are held mid-February. Then you wait. If you are selected/alternate/rejected, you find out the last week of March. So end of March rolls around and yay you’re in the top 6% of the thousands of applicants and you got a spot. Woohoo! Now….you guessed it… you wait. You know you’re going, but you have no idea where. You have to wait till mid-May for your placement! (Have fun answering “I don’t know” for months to everyone who congratulates you on getting the job and then asks where you’re going.) After you get your placement, you get to wait again to get your contract from your new employer (the Board of Education wherever you’re going) and hopefully hear from the person whose position you’re taking so they can tell you what you need to know/bring/etc. This can happen anywhere from right after your placement up until THE WEEK BEFORE YOU MOVE. Which is the end of July. Guys, there’s a lot of fucking waiting.
September 2015: start application
End November 2015: application due
Mid January 2016: notification of interview
Mid February 2016: interview
End March 2016: acceptance notification
Mid May 2016: placement notification
June-July 2016: placement contract and information
End July 2016: fly to Japan
It’s almost a damn year of your life to do this thing before you even leave. If you get chosen as an alternate, it’s even worse. You could get upgraded anytime until 2017. I have no idea why this program thinks people can put their life on hold for a year+ but luckily I wasn’t doing anything with my life anyway so I had time to wait.
But… I got in 🙂 I GOT IN!!!!
I’ve been placed in a city of about 60,000 people called Naruto, in the Tokushima prefecture. It’s located on Shikoku, which is the smallest of the four main islands of Japan. It’s pretty rural by Japanese standards but coming from Roatan it’s a huge step into the 21st century for me. I’ll be an assistant English language teacher along with six other JETs at the public junior high schools. I don’t know how many schools I have yet, usually it’s a few. They’re split between the seven of us. I’m still waiting on all the details from my predecessor. However, I do know the most important detail – there is A/C in my apartment!!
|tip of the arrow is right on my city!
I asked for a placement (you get to make three requests which are usually not granted so I don’t know why we even do it) up in the far northern part of Japan. Guys, that’s up by Russia. I made this request while doing my application in Roatan where I was sweating to death. I ended up being placed in the south, but right on the tip of an island so I’m right by the sea and the mountains. The climate is pretty temperate and no snow! So I actually ended up getting a placement that was a better fit for me than what I asked for anyway. I’m THRILLED with my placement. Shikoku has diving, surfing, mountains and tons of natural beauty. It’s also only a couple hours to Kobe and about 3 hours to Osaka. My town is known for some crazy whirlpools where the Pacific Ocean and the Seto Inland Sea meet, is the starting point for the Shikoku Pilgrimage and has the largest art museum in Japan. Also there’s a crazy big bridge connecting it to the next island over on the way to Honshu (the main island in Japan). Plus, my prefecture has it’s own famous style of ramen (obviously food is still #1 guys).
I can’t wait to get there. The next two months are going to be really busy getting ready but I’m planning to do some more in-depth posts about the application and interview stages of the process because I read a ton of blogs that really helped me prepare, so hopefully I can spread the love by continuing on with that.
For those of you who are only here for the Roatan stuff, I’m not done with it yet and there will still be some Roatan stories sprinkled in here and there until I finish with everything I wanted to write about it. This site will be continuing on with my life in Japan though, and wherever I end up on adventures over there and after that. I’m still going to be posting stuff about diving and hopefully will get a chance to do some diving around Japan and SE Asia while I’m in that corner of the world. If you’re looking for an expat Roatan blogger still on the island, both Amanda and I have left permanently but Deb is there! You can always check into my Roatan FAQ page too.
I have no doubt that Japan will provide me with as many adventures and misadventures as Roatan did. I’m living my dream that’s been 10 years in the making right now and I couldn’t be happier. Someone once told me, “jump and the net will appear” and I’ve been living my life by that motto ever since. The net will always appear. So I always jump.