Unbeaten Paths: Ehime JETs 2019

Compiled by Jordan Rocke

Introduction

When I first applied to JET, the question of “What sort of person becomes a JET?” was not at the forefront of my mind, but I certainly had an image. The image I had, of a young, straight out of university, genki American or British person, was certainly reinforced the sorts of people who appoint themselves representatives of the programme on social media.

This is far from a criticism of anyone attempting to inform people about the JET programme or express themselves, but it’s not truly indicative of all the kinds of people you’ll meet on JET. The Ehime JET community is wildly diverse in ways that I really didn’t anticipate, and that’s something I really want to ensure people know. JETs in Ehime have a wide range of ages, genders, backgrounds, nationalities, languages, religions, personalities, and so much more.

As this is my first year editing this blog, I wanted to do something to explore the wide range of people who come to the JET programme. As such, I asked a few of folks from less represented countries on the JET programme (pretty much everywhere outside of the US & UK) to talk about two things: Why they joined the JET programme, and what they hope to get out of it.

I deliberately gave people very little guidance or structure to ensure they explored the questions in whatever way they found most interesting. As such, here are just a few of the stories of what brought people from all over the world to Ehime in 2019:

New 2019 Ehime JETs

To See If I Could Land On My Feet

By Killian Barry (Ireland)

Killian

JET was an unexpected move, more so for a few puzzled friends back in Dublin than for me. For one thing, I’m outside the conventional age bracket associated with any carefree East Asian galavanting. But I also have a permanent contract back home, and at a point where many of my peers are focused on mortgages, marriages and reproducing, this new departure has raised a few eyebrows.

I’m currently on career break, and this is me maximising that privilege. My life at home is by no means stale, but being a tad jaded with my hometown had increased my restlessness. JET was not a left-field choice; Ireland may be comparatively less represented, but JET is well-established at home. It has lingered in the recesses of my mind since college days. I’m not convinced newly-graduated me would have been ready, but I knew I wanted to step out and have a change of scenery. To see if I could land on my feet was part of the point. At this stage in my life, I could either envy acquaintances who’d done JET or work to make it happen myself. The wariness of eternal regret can be a powerful motivator!

I was attracted by the opportunity to combine my twin aspirations of living abroad and teaching abroad, and by a potential return to Japan, a place that captured my imagination after a brief holiday in 2016. I am known to travel most chances I get, but my dirty secret was I had never lived abroad prior to 2019. Consciously or unconsciously, I wanted to challenge myself, to see how I respond to having less of a safety net than I have in Ireland.

I made life difficult for myself by having to complete my application from Uruguay and to submit medical information while living in Berlin (again, career break privileges). But despite going stupidly close to the wire both times, I returned from Berlin to an express post welcome pack courtesy of Uchiko town, my new home. One quick map-search later, I headed out omiyage shopping.

It’s equally surreal and thrilling to be here. Up until my arrival, Japan remained an abstract concept. I’m a long way from home, but that seems to enhance rather than diminish the sense of Irishness. I envision myself trying the patience of any hypothetical grandchildren with tales of Japan not as a flex, but to speak to a fundamental life event. I have always prioritised new experiences. My hope is to see what it is to live in a new and unfamiliar environment, and of course to enrich my teaching, but on a personal level I’m also pursuing a sense of accomplishment from achieving something I’d set out to do. Like a foreign footballer eager to justify his hefty price tag, I want to feel worthy of the faith placed in me and be useful with the skills I can offer. More concretely, I aim to use my time productively, to explore Japan and begin to understand it, and to actively let the novelty of my new daily grind and the encounters I have along the way soak in. Broadening my life experience with a stint in Japan will, I hope, send me home less restless, more informed and proud of having finally scratched that itch.

An Unbeaten Path

By Farah Mans (Malaysia)

Farah

Summer is slowly fading into autumn. It has been almost two months since I arrived in Niihama, a city known for its “Man Festival” or Taiko Matsuri, as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) under the JET Programme. The whirlwind of orientations and introductions and, not to mention emotions, has come and passed like the countless typhoon that have hit this region, and I’ve finally settled into my place.

When it comes to explaining the reason why I chose to come to Japan, I never really could provide a clear answer. Maybe it was the drama that I saw when I was little? Or was it the music? Or the anime? …whatever it was that had me bewitched has led me to Japan multiple times throughout my life. Even prior to coming here as a JET, I’ve spent more than a decade within the Japanese borders, pursuing tertiary education in Tokyo and later working at the Embassy of Japan in my home country, Malaysia. It was there where I learned about the JET Programme, and became fascinated by the idea of being able to contribute to international understanding on a grassroots level in Japan.

For us JETs who are not from a native English-speaking country (therefore are not eligible to apply for the ALT position), the opportunity to be a part of this programme doesn’t come very often. For Malaysia specifically, up until recently, there has only been one CIR position available, which is in Kagoshima. And since the selected participant usually stays the fully extended term, it will only be vacant once every half a decade. So, when I heard that a new placement was created in Niihama earlier this year, I just had to give it a try, and miraculously won the JET lottery.

Once in contact with my contracting organization, I found out that the International Center where I will be working at was barely four months old, and that I will be the first ever CIR of this city. With no predecessor to consult with, I bid adieu to my steady job and took a dive into the world of uncertainty. Arriving in Niihama, I was struck by the warm welcome, and the enthusiasm shown towards me by my newly acquired colleagues. Even though they barely know me, I’ve been told again and again of what a treasure I am to this city. While I’m honoured beyond words, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the enormous expectations and the pressure that comes with it. The challenge to plow through this unbeaten path is huge to me, and I wonder whether these small shoulders of mine can carry the burden.

Fifty days have passed, and I can’t say that I’ve found the answer. However, I began to realize that I’m not alone in this, and choose to look at the endless opportunities and possibilities that lies ahead. Slowly, but surely, I will play my part in contributing to this city and its people in any way possible. Hopefully, by the end of my tenure, however long it may be, I’ll be able to help plant a seed to something wonderful here in Niihama.

Farah is a first year CIR working at Niihama City Hall and Niihama City International Center. She enjoys travelling all over Japan, and aims to complete her mission to explore all 47 prefectures (now she’s at 34) while she’s here.

The Perfect Combination

By Jared Desello (Manila, Philippines)

Jared

What’s your name, where are you from, where are you now?

My name is Jared!  I’m from Metro Manila in the Philippines, and currently living in Matsuyama City (right across an Iyotetsu track). 

How did you find out about the JET programme?

Quite randomly.  I was listening to a podcast and the host briefly mentioned his stint in the JET Programme.  After a brief Google search, I decided to give it a try!

 Is it well known where you’re from?

From my perspective, I only knew about it because of that podcast.  I didn’t know it even existed until about a year ago!

What made you want to be a teacher/come to Japan in particular?

I enjoy teaching and have taught at one point in my professional career.  I also enjoy traveling to different cities in Japan during the holidays.  Add those two together and the program was offering the perfect combination for me.

How long do you plan on being here?

I’m taking it a day at a time and will probably have a better view come my first year mark.  So far, so good though!

What do you want to do after JET?

Pretty much open for many things at this point.  I can continue teaching if I really enjoy it, or go back to my previous career in Analytics. J

How will JET help?

JET has pretty much helped out quite a lot already.  The entire experience of moving into a different country and living within a foreign culture has been a smorgasbord of learning.  I can say I learn something new here every day.

Do you think your experience on JET so far has been different from British/American JETs due to your nationality not being as widely represented here?

I can’t speak about the experience of my British/American colleagues.  But my experience so far has been great and I owe it partly to my Asian heritage.  It has been easy making friends with both teachers and students in school and share a common appreciation of Asian values and tradition. (For example, comparing notes on family dynamics, educational systems, and local culture.)

One Cool Uncle

By Joshua Pires (Melbourne, Australia)

Joshua

Why I joined the JET program.

Joining the JET program was initially a concept that I kept in the back of my mind since the first time I had heard about it.

In 2015, I was given the opportunity to study in Nagoya for two semesters under their Japanese language course. I was in my second year of university and 19 years old. Most of the other students were in their last semester, and were discussing the possibilities of work post-graduation. This is where I first heard of the JET program.

At that time, my only thoughts were to learn Japanese, return home and finish my degree in Secondary Education. Or in other words, quickly become a High school English teacher who happens to have a grasp on Japanese.

More so, the thought of moving to another country was beyond I thought I could be capable of. I had responsibilities at home, a steady part-time job, and prospects of work after completing my degree.

Then my thoughts began to change in the middle of my second-last year of studies.

It was tax return season, so it was time to visit my family’s tax agent, a Filipino man that has a ‘that one cool uncle’ demeanor. He asked me about what I was going to do with my degree after graduating, to which I simply answered, “Get a teaching job”.

To my surprise, he mentioned that his daughter also had finished her degree in education, but instead chose to study overseas…in Japan. So the thought of the JET program come up again. My tax agent’s advice had really stuck with me since that meeting, to the point where it really messed up the career plan I initially had.

You are going to spend, 30 maybe 40 years teaching in Australian schools, probably regretting that you didn’t teach overseas for at least one year.”

And thus my decision to apply for the JET program was set. I took the risk of not applying for full time contracts in my final year, but instead, submitting the JET program application.

I also talked about my decision with a friend from my exchange studies in Nagoya, who actually was successful in entering the JET program. Her information and advice in regards to the work and life styles really supported my reasons in applying.

I figured that wherever I go with my work life, as long as I am within a cycle of teaching, learning, and having tasks to work for, I would be content.

Now that entering the JET program was the one big goal I had after graduating, I can admit that I’m not sure what I’ll be doing after I am finished here. So I guess I’ll just be doing my best for now.

The Ultimate Graduate Position

By Casey Waller (Australia)

Casey

If you study the Japanese language at tertiary level in Australia, from the time you enter university until the time you graduate, the JET Program is drilled into you like it is the only thing you should be thinking about aiming for. Being a ‘JET ALT’ is spoken about as if it is the ultimate graduate position and is the best gateway for any career in the Japan or Japanese industry.

In my personal case, I participated in a 10-month Japanese high school exchange program back in 2015/16 and was based in a private, all-girls, junior and senior high school in Tokyo city. At my host school, there were two co-JET ALT’s, an Irish lady and a lady from New Zealand. My interactions with them during my exchange was my first exposure to the JET program. When I participated in my exchange I had already just graduated from Australian high school. This meant that my host school did not make me study any actual school subjects unless I actively wanted to participate (which I did for subjects like calligraphy, history, and English of course). They let me focus on developing my own Japanese language ability. Since I was not attending classes all day, I was instead in charge of assisting the English teachers and the JET ALT’s in their classes and was effectively in a bootleg JET ALT position as a 17-year-old for 10 months. During this time, I found that I was actually doing well in my new bootleg position and enjoyed what I was doing at the same time. This was my first teaching experience and it drove me to want to apply to the JET program and be in the same shoes as the co-JETs from my host school. I got pretty lucky in my situation and it gave me a great experience that really kick-started my teaching/ALT career path. I guess you could say that the main reason I applied for the JET program was to follow my own growing interest in teaching while at the same time being able to continue to develop and use my Japanese language ability.

After returning home from exchange, I entered university and graduated from a 3-year bachelor’s degree of Languages and Linguistics, majoring in Japanese and Linguistics. When I was set to graduate, I inevitably applied for the JET program as I had decided on doing back on exchange and was lucky enough to get accepted. Before beginning the JET program, I had also just started and finished my first semester of a Masters of Secondary Teaching (planning to teach Japanese and high school English in Australia). So that degree has gone on pause and is waiting for me to return and finish. While here, my main goal is to grow in myself as a person, grow in my own Japanese language ability, and to gain experience in the teaching field to help me in my future career/s as I attempt to enter the secondary education field back in Australia.

My own journey leading up to becoming a JET ALT was pretty set in stone and I was lucky enough to have many things work out for me at the right times for everything to align in the way that it did. From here on out I have no clue what is in store for me or what I will experience while I am here in Japan as an ALT, but I am super keen to make as many memories and gain as many new experiences as possible.

Casey Waller – Yawatahama, Ehime. H.S. ALT

Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight

By Christian Jalim (Trinidad & Tobago)

Christian

Hello everyone! My name is Christian Jalim, I’m from Trinidad and Tobago and I’m placed in Matsuyama, Ehime. I was first exposed to Japan and its wonderful culture when I was about 7 years old. I grew up in a really small, rural village in Trinidad which often felt like I was cut off from society, as though I was surrounded by four walls. However, there was always a TV programme that aired every day in my country called “Japan Video Topics”. It was a mini-documentary series in which every episode showcased something different that Japan was working on, or just a topic surrounding Japan’s culture.

As a child, looking at “Japan Video Topics” felt like an escape from my reality, even if it was only for 5 minutes. It was at that time that I made it a life goal of mine to one day live and work in Japan, no matter what. As such, I studied International Relations at university with the prospects of it one day propelling me into a career in Japan. However, in my first year of undergrad, my roommate at the time told me about the JET Programme. After some light research on it, becoming a successful participant in the JET Programme became an aspiration of mine but only after pursuing my academic ambitions.

For many Trinbagonians within my age group, “Japan Video Topics” played a key role in shaping our interest in Japan. Thanks to the work of the Embassy of Japan in Trinidad and Tobago, the JET Programme is often promoted to the university students, especially students learning the Japanese Language at the Centre for Language Learning (CLL) in the University of the West Indies located in Trinidad.

Coming into this programme has been amazing thus far and it is definitely an experience you cannot put a price on. I want to set an example to my students that anything can be achievable with perseverance. One of my favourite sayings to live by is the Japanese proverb that says, “Fall seven times, get up eight.” Having lost most of my hearing during the most pivotal years of a person’s academic life, I had to persevere through grueling times to reach where I am today. I want to exemplify that your goals can still be achieved, even when the cards are stacked against you.

Upon completion of this programme, I aspire to continue promoting Japan and the JET Programme in Trinidad and Tobago. I want to work alongside entities such as the Embassy of Japan in Trinidad and Tobago, the JET Alumni Association of Trinidad and Tobago, and CLL to help encourage and inspire Trinbagonians to take the plunge into this culturally rich experience.

I Wanted To Stay Longer

By Liam Kiraly (Australia)

Liam

Hey! My name is Liam and this is my first year as an ALT. I’m currently living in Uoshima which is a small Island in the Seto Inland Sea, The population is just over 100, so my daily life is always interesting.

I wanted to become an ALT because I really wanted to experience living in Japan for an extended period of time, I had a previous exchange in Kyoto for a few months during Uni and from there I wanted to stay longer. As for my future after JET, I’ve yet to decide want I want to do, so I would like to spend a few years as an ALT to decide the direction I want to go.

Sadder Goodbyes

By Ben Kelly (Australia)

Ben1
Teaching students about wildlife conservation.

Moving to Japan and teaching English is something I never imagined myself doing and yet here I am. How I got here has a lot to do with my time living and working in Kenya. I originally moved to Kenya to gain experience working in elephant conservation. During my time there I got to do a host of incredible things. However, one of the standouts for me was being able to teach at a local school twice a week.

The students were incredible to me from the very get go and I quickly adopted the name of “Mr. Ben”. I took part in various activities at the school, such as painting murals, teaching the students about wildlife conservation, and planning an end of year safari trip. Just before leaving Kenya, myself and a colleague managed to secure international funding for the school. With the money they were able to buy new stationary for the students and install a much-needed rainwater collection system. Being able to give back to the school like that was an amazing feeling because the school had given me so much. Unfortunately, I had to eventually leave and saying goodbye to the students was one of the sadder goodbyes I had in Kenya. 

Ben2
End of year photo with some students.

Upon returning to Australia I knew that I wanted to try and have a similar experience to the one in Kenya. After a bit of digging and asking around I discovered the JET programme and decided to give it a crack, and so began the very long and tedious application process. 

So here I am on the JET programme and living it up in Ehime. I’ve only been here for 3 months but so far it really has been amazing. Teaching in Japan is very different to what I had experienced before but there are plenty of similarities too. I teach at an elementary and a junior high school where the kids are curious, hysterical, and very genki, just the way I like it. I think being surrounded by that sort of energy is good for your soul and I lose count how many times a day I smile and laugh at work. 

I decided to apply for JET because I wanted to experience being a teacher again and to enjoy everything that comes with that, and I think in Ehime I have found exactly that. I’m looking forward to my time here in Japan and I think I will have a whole new set of unique experiences, this time as “Beno Sensei”.

The Ozaki Family

By Bruce O’Donnell (Ireland)

image1

Why am I in Japan? And a JET? That may, or may not be, a little more varied that some others on the program. First things first;

Japan and Japanese culture became a presence in my life during my childhood with the arrival of Ken Ozaki into my school. This was Ireland in the early 1990’s and immigration was something of a rarity then as Ireland was an improving, but relatively poor country compared to other European nations. The Ozaki family lived close by and I would pal around with Ken often. Ken’s father was an engineer hired to implement factory design for pharmaceutical companies in Ireland. The Japanese community in Ireland was relatively small; essentially embassy workers and restaurateurs. So when visiting their home the sight of Shoji and Tatami was curious, and this began my interest in Japanese culture. Through Ken I was introduced not only to Japanese culture, but also in a tangible way the Japanese emigrant experience.

This small personal familiarity with Japanese culture meant that as my interest in literature and cinema grew Japanese writers and artists, were often part and parcel of a growing intellectual curiosity. In one sense the Japanese diaspora was the kernel of a cultural and intellectual journey that broadened my youth. 

Now there is the practical part: Brexit. Since the referendum in the U.K, I was struck by the very real sense that this entire process was destined to veer wildly off the rails. I had spent the last decade working in project management, specifically litigation finance, and had grown accustomed to the practical impact of inane political decisions following the 2008 banking collapse. It seemed to me that increasingly the scenario had allied itself to a completely emotional tenor, and not a rational and commercially sound one. My knowledge of the virtual impossibility of stopping a legal chain of events once begun, and having seen enough lawyers to last me a lifetime, and with the prospect of another recession, and contagion in Europe I decided that I was not overwhelmingly enthused in spending another 5 years doing 3 men in a boat.

I then went about investigating the possibility of continuous professional development opportunities, and on a visit to the university where I had done my MSc in Project Management I saw the kiosk for JET. I checked the criteria for applying, and simply put; the thought process was: Why not? I’m not married, I have no kids, if I don’t do it now I never will. I then thought about the benefits career wise, and saw little or no downside. I have a Teaching English as a Foreign Language qualification that I always regretted not using fully, and although that’s another story, I had used many of the skills from the qualification while running teams from varying international backgrounds. So if I enjoy my experience in JET, and my interest in teaching remains I may make the career switch to education when I return to Ireland.

It should be mentioned that the Japanese summer has done it level best to evaporate, iradiate and maim me through a mixture of climate, wildlife and cavalier traffic practices, but so far so good.

Conclusion

Jordan Rocke

My purpose in compiling this series of shorter stories is not just to give our community a fascinating insight into some of the ways people found themselves as a JET in Ehime in 2019, although this it certainly does that.

My main purpose is to reinforce one of the most important things to me about JET, which there is no correct way or reason to be or become a JET. Some people come here to travel. Some don’t. Some people are fluent in Japanese culture and language. Some aren’t. Some people are teachers already. Some want to become teachers. Some don’t. Some people have had the chance to travel to Japan before. Some haven’t. For those already here, that’s something to be mindful of. For folks who are reading this as part of their research if JET is for them, I hope this helps. JET is not perfect, nor is it for everyone, but hopefully there might be something here that addresses a fear you had, the idea that “JET doesn’t take people like me”.

In reality? There’s a good chance it does.

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