This article is the second in a series of reflections about my time spent in Japan with the JET Program. You can read my first article, about how the JET Program changed me, here.
Top 3 Reasons the JET Program is Worthwhile
The JET Program occasionally comes under scrutiny – both from officials in Japan worried about shrinking budgets in schools nationwide and also foreigners who like to pontificate about the state of English education in Japan. A constructive debate is always healthy, and the JET Program certainly is not without its flaws, but I generally have only positive things to say about my two years teaching with the program. Here’s why I hope the JET Program remains strong and active for many, many more years to come.
1) Grassroots Internationalization – Japan’s population continues to decline at alarming levels, and among the hardest hit are rural communities, where most JETs are placed. There are fewer and fewer job opportunities in areas of Japan far from the major metropolises of Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and Nagoya, so many times, being a JET means being the only foreigner, or one of a handful, in your community. Yes, it gets annoying to be stared at and constantly judged for what I am buying at the supermarket or how I am cutting a kiwi, but living here and exposing Japanese people to foreign cultures is a form of grassroots internationalization, one of the goals of the JET Program. Every time I visit one of my four elementary schools, despite having lived in my town for two years, there is always a young student whose jaw drops at the sight of me – someone who looks different from anyone they have ever seen around them or on TV. In my younger classes at elementary school, I’m often asked for my autograph after a lesson. I’m not in love with all aspects of my job, but I’m proud that I’ve worked to promote the English language and have hopefully inspired some of my students to travel and learn more about other cultures.
2) You Meet People from Around the World – What is the capital of Trinidad & Tobago? And more importantly, can you find the country on a map? I live in Japan, but thanks to the JET Program, I have met fellow JETs in my prefecture from Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, South Africa, Brazil, Canada, Korea, Russia, New Zealand, Australia, England, Ireland and Northern Ireland. One of my closest friends is from Trinidad & Tobago and whereas two years ago I could barely point to his country on map, I now know its capital (Port of Spain) and have heard much more Trini dialect than I would like to admit.
3) There is a Strong Alumni Network – There are about 55,000 JET alumni scattered around the world. After you successfully complete your tenure with JET, you can register to be part of the JET Program Alumni Association (JETAA), which has chapters around the world. JET alumni often are active members in their current community and many continue to promote Japan-America (or their home country) relations through various endeavors and volunteer activities. I am looking forward to joining the Chicago chapter of JETAA upon my return to the States. One of the most comprehensive Websites about JET alumni is JETWit.com, which posts interesting articles about unique things JET alumni are doing around the world as well as useful job hints for those transitioning to another career.