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orinocou in jet_life

Hey beautiful JETters, question to you...

Hi everyone, sorry if this is something already discussed. If so, feel free to tell me off. ;)

I've got a question that I hope you guys can help me with. I'm seriously considering going into the JET program. Got my interview date all set up and everything. But now I'm having second thoughts about it all. See, the last few times I was studying/living abroad, a lot of my interaction with the native people centered around my ability to speak English. It got to the point where I almost felt like I was being "used"- that people would feign friendships or an interest in me just so they could unleash their broken English for me to assist and correct them. My appearance, as a foreigner, made me stick out even more and I ended up feeling sort of isolated a lot of the time.

I know the JET program has you in a teaching position, or at least an assistant position, and I want to ask you all: Do any of you JETters ever get that feeling, like you're just a foreign curiosity or a talking English parrot, while living abroad? What about you people who are kind of shy, like me? Are the challenges of JET even harder as a result of that?

Any feedback/stories/ideas you have would be most appreciated. This is a major decision in my life and I want to think it all the way through.

Cross posted to a few other Japan-related LJ communities.



I felt like a novelty just visiting that country for a week, getting stared at in the subway and in restaurants when the nationals thought I didn't notice. And if I pass the interview this time, I'm looking forward to boring conversations about the weather and otherwise being ignored unless I can help others with their English skills. I'm really only taking this job if nothing in the States pops up in the meantime, which is very likely thanks to the current mess that late stage finance capitalism has gotten us in.

So when I'm inevitably bored, homesick, or stressed, I will repeat this mantra. "It's better than living with my parents. It's better than living with my parents. It's better than living with my parents."
The alienation factor (pardon the pun) really honestly depends on where you're placed, the community you've got. Which is sadly something that can't be predicted.

As I've experienced it, the essential point of the JET Program is that basically Japan recognized how insular it was, and established the program to promote internationalism and English learning; what it boils down to is a government-sponsored foreign guests, essentially. The reason that JET participants are here is to help Japanese students/people have interactions with foreigners, to get them thinking about the global world and global affairs, and Japan as a participant in that world. So, yeah, part of the purpose of JETs is to be a foreign curiosity, but more than that to PROMOTE foreign interest.

I live on a little island in Okinawa (pop. 1500) and I am literally the only foreign person here. So for some of the little old ladies here the JET program is the only interaction with foreigners they've ever had. Because Japan wants to promote foreign exposure, especially in regional middleofnowhere places, the likelihood that you'll be placed in that kind of area is higher than, say, Tokyo. Where there's really no need for ALTs at all. Furthermore, because you want to galvanize the students into having an interest in where you're from and the language you speak and all that, yeah, a lot of your teaching is a performance/entertainment; the level that you do so is really up to you, but the more enthusiastic you act, the better the response is from your students. For the record, I teach kindergarden through junior high third grade (age 15 or so).

BUT in my experience I've never felt like a freak or a parrot, and that's because my placement is AWESOME. Yeah, it's in the middle of nowhere (besides one other island, there's no habitation within 400km of my island, just blue blue sea), but I cannot emphasize enough how much I love my school, my community, my boss (with whom I go drinking with pretty much every week). I'm already planning on doing at least two if not three years (though my boss has joked with me about doing five), and it's freaking awesome.

And I empathize — I'm actually really shy myself, so after a week of being genki I definitely use my weekends to hole up in my house and refresh my introversion. But, you really have to reach out to other people because they're shy too, worrying about trying to talk to you or offending you or whatever. The more you put yourself out there, the more you'll get back. If you don't make an effort to join clubs or find out things to do with other people, you won't meet them, and that makes it harder for you to magically make friends.

It is hard sometimes. I'm not gonna lie to you. But on the other hand, it's only a couple years of your life AND it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you love it or if you hate it, either way you're gonna get a paid flight to and from Japan and learn things about yourself, the world, and experience tons of new things.

Plus the little midget kids are really cute.

September 2010

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