As the EatMyBeats rap contest winds down, let’s take a trip down memory lane to probably the first “music video” I ever made over in Japan.
Tag: living in japan
What if I gave the JET Program another go?
I don’t think I ever would, but here are some important considerations:
- Would you take security over happiness? Are you actually unhappy now?
- What do you tell JET as your reason for doing it all over again?
- Why is there an “urgency” to leave your current situation?
- What about teaching in Japan still seems so great?
- Is there some place besides Japan for you?
- Are you looking at everything with rose-tinted nostalgia glasses?
- (Amy’s Second Opinion) Can you remember that JET is technically a dead-end contract job?
- (Tiffany’s Second Opinion) Is there anything more you can offer this time around?
- (Caitlin’s Second Opinion) Do you have a proper exit plan?
From 2009-2011, life in Japan was going great!
I had a great girlfriend (she’ll get her own feature because there’s a lot of girl talk to breakdown there).
Well, for me, it came down to a getting some extra responsibility. Spidey learned with great power comes great responsibility. I don’t know if I actually got any “power”, but the responsibility in my third year really changed how I saw everything.
- Counselling and consultation
- Provision of information necessary for JET participants’ daily lives
- Mediation and promotion of understanding between JET participant(s) and Contracting Organisation(s)
- Response to a crisis situation involving a JET participant
- Keeping and handling of records in relation to 1-4 above
- Outreach to JETs about the JET Programme counselling system
- Orientation at training seminars
- Promoting the formation of a self-help network for JET participants
(Apparently a lot of the counseling was removed as of 2014.)
Being PA made me feel like I was “moving up”– and this was big for a position were you couldn’t get a promotion. On top of my regular teaching schedule, I was now leading meetings and workshops. It was kind of like being a manager I guess, but with even more things to do!
Something that brought a lot of stress, but was ultimate very rewarding, was being on call for emergencies. I didn’t have to deal with any major natural disasters, but there were a couple of cases that really impacted me.
I got a call once from a school because someone was missing. In the process of finding said person and sorting it all out, I had to talk to both police and the embassy.
I had the “I’m not doing okay” call.
Having this extra responsibility– all of this weight— made me re-think what I’d been doing prior. I thought I was in the zone with teaching, but now I knew I was just in a bubble.
And now that bubble burst.
Before I started teaching, my buddy Chase told me that I was going to change lives. And before working as PA, I thought maybe, just maybe, I was on my way towards doing that. I know I started off incredibly ambitious– and my first year of teaching was very humbling. But I had the drive to keep going, to make it work! Eventually, I found my groove.
But the perspective of the PA had me shaking my head. After making calls to the embassy and making hospital visits, it was hard to go back to class to play Battleship.
The ultimate test of a person’s English ability is doing well on Eiken or TOEIC, two popular English exams. Being able to understand and use English in unstructured, free-flowing communication is not.
What was I really doing for these kids?
I helped them prepare for tests, but I wasn’t preparing them for life.
I had one student who lost his dad, but the very next day he was back in school. You couldn’t even tell he was suffering. I guess the normalcy of school was his coping mechanism. Back then, I thought I was doing my part to help contribute to that. Before, it was enough just to cultivate an environment where they could thrive in class.
The role of PA kicked my focus more and more to life outside of class.
In my last year, I had a student who collapsed from a heart condition. He would make a full recovery, but I made damn sure I saw him at the hospital.
Why didn’t I try to see the kid who lost his dad?
What more could I be doing for these kids?
Why can’t I be doing more?
This is no knock on any ALT who’s living up the teaching life now. I hope you are. I hope you bond with your kids. I hope you’re working in a way where you feel like you’re making a difference. To be effective in that instructor role, you have to believe in the system.
I just couldn’t make it work anymore. What I wanted to do and what I actually did weren’t syncing up. To do work that really helped others grow, while growing myself… that’s what I wanted.
It was an odd feeling because I had so much fire to do the JET Program. So much clarity. And now I had a calling for “something greater”, even though I had no clue what that looked like.
I did know, however, that sticking around as an ALT wasn’t going to do me or my students any good. They needed someone who could still believe in the dream. I felt bad in a way because the freshman I had in my last year were way more passionate. But the timing was just off.
The way the PA role opened my eyes– that’s the reason why I didn’t re-contract.
August is a weird time of year for me. Four years ago I came back to the states after living three in Japan.
The fact that it’s been four years is crazy to me.
Because no, it doesn’t feel “just like yesterday” anymore. But it doesn’t feel like a long time ago either. It kind of feels like it didn’t ever happen.
Sure, I’ve made a handful of friends that I’ve kept in touch with. Some of them being nice surprises– people that I’m way closer with now than I ever was while living over there. And for a lot of people that I thought for sure I’d be keeping up with?
Well, those connections are d-e-d. And, a lot of my original interests that tied me to Japan are dead too. No more RPGs, anime, drama, or J-Pop. I can’t even find a purpose to stick with studying Japanese.
So with the few memories I have fading, and the connections I used to have waning, I’ve been re-thinking what I truly got out of my life in Japan.
What was the real impact? Why did I want to go so badly in the first place? What changed?
These are the talking points I want to hit this month. Some of the answers remain the same, but I think it’s almost therapeutic to revisit them.
I think the best way to kick off this reflection is to cover, once again, the return home from Japan. The short story was it sucked. I talked about it every chance I had, but that might’ve been the wrong approach.
I’m not saying I should’ve suppressed my feelings, but the more I talked about it, the more I could play up the pain.
A few months before it was time to go, I made a promo video to hype up my return:
But that wasn’t for other people to get hyped. That was for me. You’ll notice the dialogue’s taken from the most heartbreaking scene from Terminator 2:
John: No! No, wait! Wait, you don’t have to do this!
Terminator: I’m sorry.
John: No, don’t do it! Don’t go!
Terminator: It has to end here.
I did that on purpose because that’s how I felt talking to myself. And his name was John! Could you get more prophetic?
But yeah, stuff like that. I’d talk about how leaving Japan was “the worst break-up” I’d ever been through. I told Chase it was like that scene from Black Hawk Down where the guy who’s clutching a picture of his family gets dragged away.
I likened myself to Dave Chappelle when he visited Africa and said it felt like home. Except in my case, I was losing that. I was having an identity-crisis.
I had shock of change, shock of loss, and shock of uncertainty. Yes, I was back home with friends and family, but what to do next?
And when I just couldn’t get a steady gig lined up, I got more frustrated. When I couldn’t even get entry-level jobs, I felt worthless.
The JET Program gave me an opportunity for amazing personal development, but as for career development, all these companies were acting like it didn’t mean shit. And it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who was going through this.
But many of the people who experienced the same thing kept quiet. Maybe it was because of shame, but they preferred to stay silent. And when people don’t talk about these kinds of problems, you’ll start to think that you’re the only one who doesn’t have their shit together.
Any JET who’s coming back home, know that you’re not alone in this struggle.