5 Reasons to Apply to the JET Program + 3 Reasons NOT To
The end of September means that it's now officially JET Program application season! While every country has its own specific timelines, no matter where you are, if you're considering applying this year you should be making the decision to jump in (or not) pretty soon. And though that seems simple enough, the application process is pretty long and involved and not something that can really be taken lightly, so it's best to really try to commit to it.
So while you weigh your options, let someone who's been there done that help you out a little bit. If you're still a bit on the fence about applying, here are some great reasons that you should:
1. Because you want to experience living and working overseas
Let's be honest here, the easiest way to get out of the country and work abroad is by teaching English. And of all of the programs to teach English (especially as someone who isn't particularly qualified), the JET Program is one of the highest paying options. Additionally, you're probably not going to get much more support elsewhere than you do with JET. Not only do they pay for your ticket to (and from) Japan, your housing will (in most cases) be sorted out for you (in fact, you're more than likely to find yourself with a fully furnished, highly subsidized place), you've got multiple different types of insurance, and there are people whose jobs it is to help you solve any problems that should arise. And, on top of all of that official support, the JET community is surprisingly close-knit, and there are a million and one Facebook groups for participants past and present to turn to for advice, commiseration, etc.
So if your goal is to go abroad, really, this is probably the single easiest way to do it.
2. Because you're not quite sure what you want to do yet
I get it. You're a college senior, and Real Life is coming at you Real Quick. That was me, too. And if you're maybe unsure of whether or not grad school is for you, or whether or not you're quite ready to commit yourself to corporate monotony, you might want to consider the JET Program. Think of it as a free year (or more!) to mull things over a bit more thoroughly while also making pretty good money and being able to add to your resume and not have to explain to future employers that your gap in employment was spent "finding yourself" in India.
3. Because you want to improve your Japanese
There's no better way to improve language skills than by living in a country that speaks that language. And, surprise surprise, Japan is the only country that speaks Japanese. Though it's completely possible to get by without even a lick of Japanese, if you do know some Japanese and want to make an effort to improve, this is your chance.
Also! As a participant on the JET Program, you have the opportunity to take free online beginner/intermediate Japanese courses and, should you choose to sit for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, be reimbursed for your registration costs for the lower three levels if you pass.
4. Because you want to travel
Japan is a fantastic point from which to see East/Southeast Asia. Several low cost carriers service most of the major airports, and because your living expenses are pretty heavily subsidized, you'll find that you have more than enough money to take a quick trip to, say, South Korea or Taiwan. Not to mention domestic travel. From Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south, Japan has a huge array of places worth visiting, and all of them have pretty different food specialties and festivals that can sometimes seem as foreign from your assigned placement as a completely different country.
The amount of paid leave you get depends completely on your board of education, but because Japan has five jillion public holidays, it's actually pretty easy to figure out a way to pull together a four- or five-day weekend every once in a while to jet (haha) away. During my first year, I went on five trips out of country!
5. Because you want to gain perspective
If you read my blog, you know that the idea of "finding yourself" via travel kind of freaks me out. BUT, I think that planting yourself down for an extended amount of time, actually doing life in a place, forging relationships with local people, that can actually help you to figure things out about yourself that you might not have known previously.
The first several months don't count because you're still in that honeymoon phase and just trying to take everything in. But after that, when life becomes a bit more mundane you'll more than likely find yourself upset or frustrated at certain aspects of your new home. And there's your opportunity for growth. Take your frustrations and question them. Why does that little quirk about the culture bother you so much? Why do you think that your home country does this certain thing better? With a little open-mindedness, you'll start to see these things less as objectively better or worse and more as products of different upbringings and belief systems. You'll notice qualities and opinions in yourself that you used to take for granted or not even think about and begin to recognize them as learned behavior, as products of your culture.
Japan, I feel, is a great first foray into this sort of introspection. From the outside, it seems to be the most "western" and "developed" Asian country. And maybe that's true, but once you're here you find that things aren't in fact as culturally similar to what you're used to as you maybe thought it would be, which really forces you to think about more subtle things than being a country that's completely foreign in every way.
But that doesn't mean everyone should apply. In fact, there are several reasons that maybe aren't quite good enough to warrant an application, and those are:
1. Because you like anime
Japanese life is as similar to anime as American life is to cartoons. While there may be some nuggets of truth and shared experience that are successfully portrayed, that doesn't mean you should take everything seriously. Just because Ed, Edd, and Eddy live on a cul-de-sac and cul-de-sacs exist in America, that doesn't mean that everything that happens in the show is an accurate portrayal of American culture. Similarly, if all you know of Japan comes from anime, you might be in for a rude awakening when you get here.
I'm not trying to tell anyone who likes anime not to apply. But if the main reason you're applying is because you're into anime, then you might want to reconsider. Because, one more time for the people in the back, Real Life In Japan Is Nothing Like Anime.
2. Because you want a Japanese/Asian girlfriend/boyfriend
If this is one of your reasons, please read the links below thoroughly.
3. Because you've always wanted to live in Japan
An unfortunate number of JETs who end up leaving Japan after just one year are the ones who wanted to be here the most when they first arrived. For some reason, perhaps because they liked anime a lot or because they fell in love with the country while on vacation, they'd really, really wanted to live here for a long time, but it didn't work out. The reason it didn't work wasn't because of their desire to live here persay. Rather, it was because they had built up this image of what life in Japan is supposed to be like, and sadly reality never matches up to fantasy.
When all of what you see of Japan is festivals and fancy toilets and animal cafes and vending machines everywhere, and you're not used to those things in your own daily life, it can all seem exciting and new. But it's also really easy to forget that, like anything, the novelty does wear off, and things that were once foreign to you quickly become very normal. Even when talking about occassional things like holidays and events - as fun as they are, they're relatively infrequent, and there's still life to be lived between them.
As with the anime point, it's not a bad thing if you want to live in Japan, just know that you'll probably need to adjust your expectations in order to be successful.
If everything checks out, then great! Go ahead and warn your references that you're going to be needing letters of recommendation soon and start brushing up your cover letter writing skills. Once the application officially opens, it's going to feel like you don't have time to breathe.