Holly’s Desk Warming Survival Guide


Hey Mikans! Guess what!? IT’S DESK WARMING SEASON!!! 🥳… 😑

With term one tests for high schoolers & summer break fast approaching, we’ll soon be out of the classroom and stuck in the teacher’s room… at our desks. If you’re cool with just letting the cicadas lull you to sleep or if you find the hourly, 「あつ!」,「暑いですね?」, stimulating enough then you’re set. BUT, if you need a little more to keep you going, Holly’s Desk Warming Survival Guide has got you COVERED. Enjoy! 

– The Mikan 🍊

Holly Johnson

2023 Arrival, ALT Ehime Prefecture BOE, Matsuyama Kogyo SHS

Holly is a SHS ALT in Matsuyama, from the UK. She is currently creating a prefecture wide art project with many different schools celebrating the culture of Ehime. 

When not working, she enjoys writing speculative fiction, or haiku focusing on the world around her. She also writes about neurodiversity. You can find her work here: hiragi.substack.com

I’m going to assume that you’ve badgered your teachers for work, you’ve planned ahead for the next term, that you’ve made your English board, and you’ve prepared extra English activities just in case a teacher asks you for something.

I’m also going to assume that you’ve spent as much time learning Japanese as you can today.

So you really are stuck deskwarming. What’s something you can do that’s worthwhile?

Here is a list of resources for learning new skills, volunteering, accessing books and resources and ideas for things to do to use your extra time well. Obviously, ESID – which of these activities you will be allowed to do or feel comfortable doing during desk warming time will depend entirely upon you and your school. 

Volunteering 🫂

I’m going to start with volunteering, because, done well, it’s one of the best things you can do for your CV/resume. This is because of the hard and soft skills you will learn as a volunteer, as well as showing that you are a kind, well-rounded, self-starter – all traits employers in most industries value. Some volunteer efforts will even give you a project to talk about, or show you ways or areas of work that you hadn’t even considered.

Oh – and volunteering helps other people! Working together as communities creates valuable change and support in the world, in ways that aren’t possible on an individual or governmental level.


Target Interests: Books, Tech., Volunteering

Time Commitment: 2hrs weekly or more

I will talk about using this platform as a user later, but basically it is a free library that hosts hundreds of thousands of books, audio files and other resources from different university libraries all over the world. There are many ways to volunteer. You can…

  • …be a librarian and use your coding knowledge to fix errors like missing covers or misspellings
  • …be a software engineer to find and fight bugs
  • …be on the communication, outreach or design teams

You can find out more information here: https://openlibrary.org/volunteer


Target Interests: Research, Science/Social Science, History, Language, Volunteering

Time Commitment: 5 minutes or more, no schedule

Zooniverse is a program that hosts many different kinds of scientific and historical projects that need citizen researchers to complete. You don’t need any significant training to take part as most projects have a short five minute tutorial that guides you through everything you need to know. 

Don’t worry about making the odd mistake – each piece of data is worked on by several people and a consensus is taken as true. If a consensus can’t be reached, most projects will flag that piece of data for a researcher to look at.

By crowdsourcing in this way, it allows researchers to identify millions of data points in a way that would not be possible otherwise.

On the scientific side, you can identify animals in photographs taken by trail cameras all over the world, allowing researchers to track populations affected by climate change, deforestation and urban sprawl. You can also help researchers locate new galaxies, identify animal calls, track changes in radiation or spot potentially cancerous cells. You can also join NASA and search for actual aliens. Really. In fact, most of NASA’s Citizen Science projects are accessed through Zooniverse.

On the historical side, you’ll be transcribing a variety of historical documents. Yes, some will be in historic cursive or a different language, but a large amount of current projects are actually transcribing typewritten labels on various museum collections in order to make a computer database that will make these collections accessible to everyone around the world. You could be working on illuminated mediaeval Spanish works, prison records from the eighteenth century, handwritten letters from the nineteenth century, Michigan postcards or Italian water records. 

Which project you choose, how many you choose, or how long you choose to work on them for is all up to you. You can do as little as five minutes or spend hours exploring history and science. 

You can get started right now, here.

Volunteer Match

Target Interests: Writing, Social Work, Administration, Graphic Design, Coding, Volunteering

Time Commitment: Depends on the project

There are many other websites like these, but it would take up too much space to list them all. Essentially, these are like job sites but only for volunteer projects. Most are looking for people to volunteer either in person or through Zoom, but there are several projects which are suitable for deskwarming time. These are mainly letter writing programs, where you can write to incarcerated people, people living in nursing homes or in extended stays in hospital, or people suffering from mental illness. Another common opportunity is virtual administrative work which could easily be done during deskwarming.

However, there are some unusual projects if you have the skills they are looking for. I have been a judge for a short story competition, and I have also seen volunteer opportunities for people with graphic design, and coding skills.

Use this link to see opportunities which are marked as worldwide and online-only: The Best Virtual Volunteer Opportunities: Volunteer from Anywhere | VolunteerMatch

Volunteer with the UN

Target Interests: Social Work, Editing, Coding, Translation, Volunteering

Time Commitment: Depends on the project

Anyone can sign up to this site to apply for their online-only volunteer opportunities. However, since these are serious governmental or major NGO projects, they tend to want people with significant experience in editing, coding, or translating.

Since it’s free to sign up and quick to apply to projects, it’s worth a shot! Working with the UN on a project would be a massive boost to your CV, if you could win it.

United Nations Volunteers programme (unv.org)

Contact your Local Representative/Vote

Target Interests: Politics, Society, Livelihood, Volunteering

Time Commitment: five minutes ~

I don’t know about other countries, but certainly in the UK you can register to vote at a distance, even if you aren’t currently resident. You are still citizens of your country, and laws passed can and will affect you and those you care about. You can’t do much about the issues in Japan, but you can still not only vote in your own country, but you can contact your representatives via phone and email.

Your representative isn’t just your MP (or your country’s equivalent) but also your councillors, and if you are in the EU, your European MP. You can also write to various ministers and public officials even if you aren’t in their constituency. You can do this via email writing campaigns, but it is often more effective to email directly as your email is less likely to get lost in a spam filter or mass deleted. 

Useful Links: Voting in America FAQ // in 2024, Voting in Canada, Voting in the EU, Voting in the UK, Voting in the Philippines 

Learning and Education 🎓

Here is a list of resources where you can read books and learn new skills. Most are free to use and access, but some have restrictions on how long you have to access the material. I haven’t noted these restrictions as they not only vary by platform, but also by resource.

If you are thinking about returning to university when you leave JET, try searching ‘subject name + undergrad/postgrad + reading list’. Even if you can’t find a reading list from your intended institution, you’ll be able to find some which can be a good start on your research, or to get yourself ready for working at Master’s level.

If you want to learn more about teaching to improve while you are on JET, running the same search but for ‘teacher training’ gives good results. The most comprehensive teacher training reading list I found is from the University of Nottingham, which is over 188 books. Obviously, you don’t have to read all 188 – it’s simply jumping off point to find which recommendations for a subject you might be interested in. I would also recommend the teaching resources at OpenLearn – more below.


Target Interests: Books, Academics, Tech., Art

Paywall: None, optional: sign up (free) for a “virtual library card” & save/bookmark material 

I mentioned helping these guys out as a volunteer, but you can also use their service. The Internet Archive is a collection of millions of books, audio records, magazines and even letters and art pieces. Most of which is free to borrow online. Their collection mainly consists of academic works, but there are also loads of out of copyright and out of print fiction and non-fiction.

The Internet Archive also holds the Wayback Machine, which takes and archives snapshots of the Internet so you can look at webpages that are no longer available.

Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free & Borrowable Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine


Target Interests: Research, Science/Social Science, History, Volunteering

Paywall: None, free account required for courses

OpenLearn has 100s of free courses at all levels of undergraduate to PhD level content-wise, but none are accredited. Most of these courses are excerpts taken from their actual degrees, so the quality is very high. There are also 1000s more free resources including articles and audio content on the site.

You don’t need to be a student of the Open University to get an account. Part of the OU’s mission is to make quality education available to all. If you’re from the UK, you might remember their TV show airing at daft o’clock in the morning.

They have seven areas of content, ranging from languages to STEM to history and arts. I recommend ‘how to learn a language’ , both to improve your teaching and your own language learning. If you work in ES/JHS I would also recommend any of their childhood or youth studies courses, as I studied them as part of my degree.

However, there are courses on nearly every topic imaginable that will help you gain new skills and explore new horizons, all for free.

Home | OpenLearn – Open University


Target Interest: Language

Paywall: Free

Unilang offers very basic language courses, but what’s special here is that they have courses in languages that are very hard to find elsewhere. Including Ainu, the indigenous language of Hokkaido. This is the only course I could find that teaches you any Ainu from English rather than from Japanese, although it does assume you can read katakana.

Other languages include Georgian, Bengali, Erzya, Malay and Icelandic.

UniLang -Index page


Target Interests: Higher Education, Research

Paywall: you get limited time access to all of their courses, and then you pay for constant access to the whole site.

FutureLearn has partnerships with many top universities, including Harvard, Stanford, and other groups like Accenture. However, I also think that it has some courses by complete randoms, so I would check the credentials of who you are learning from before signing up to a particular course. I have done trial versions of some of the Japanese culture ones on the site and enjoyed them. However, I find limited time trials not particularly useful for my way of working, so I haven’t explored further.

FutureLearn: Online Courses and Degrees from Top Universities

Barclays and Santander

Target Interests: Coding, Accounting/Finances, Digital Skills

Paywall: Free to everyone, no need to be a customer

Check your bank! Many banks have money and digital skills courses, from managing your own finances to basic coding or Agile principles. The ones from Barclays and Santander are free to anyone, regardless of if you bank with them or not.

Santander also has courses available in Spanish, for those JETS more comfortable learning in that language.

Barclays: Explore our Digital Courses | Digital Wings (uk.barclays)

Santander: E-learning platform | Santander Open Academy

Edited by Gizelle AJ


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