This is the fourth article in a series about the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) and about life in Japan in general. Read Transition Japan: The JET Interview (Part 1) here.
I interviewed for JET four years ago, and while my memory of the day becomes less strong every year, I still remember walking down Michigan Avenue to the Chicago Consulate on a sunny February afternoon, hoping that in a few months, I would be on my way to a new adventure (and full-time employment). Luckily, I succeeded. Below are some questions I recall being asked by my panel. Good luck to all those interviewing for JET this month!
1). Why are you interested in the program?
How I answered it: I’ve long been interested in teaching abroad. As a writer, I think it’s important to always explore and experience different cultures and see the world from a new perspective. I’m also interested in giving back to the community, and I see the JET Program as the most established program to accomplish these goals.
Bottom line: Answer honestly and thoughtfully, but make sure not to say it’s solely for personal reasons (i.e. a Japanese boyfriend/girlfriend).
2). What would you do if you had plans with a friend after school one day but a Japanese English teacher asked you to stay late?
How I answered it: I’d stay after school but hope in the future, the teacher and I would be able to communicate more effectively about our schedules.
Bottom line: Demonstrate professionalism and that you can handle tough situations with grace and with a smile, even if you don’t know the exact solution immediately.
3). What are some of your goals?
How I answered it: Since I’m trained as a journalist, I’d love to start a newspaper with my students. I think it would be a great way to get to know my students.
Bottom line: Talk about your passions and what you’d like to teach your students, or how you’d like to interact with them outside of class, be it through sports, art or other extracurricular activities.
4). What if you get there and you can’t do that?
How I answered it: Well, I’d move forward but hope I could find other ways to get to know my students. I have enough work experience to understand that no job is perfect, but I know how to work hard. Interesting note: When I got to my school, I asked about creating a newspaper with them or writing a column for my students’ existing newsletter. I was told no (politely) but luckily moved on and still had a great time at my school.
Bottom line: Once again, show that you’re professional and that you won’t be dismayed when something doesn’t go your way. Chances are, you’ll be told “no” on a lot of occasions, but that shouldn’t stop you from achieving your goals and being a successful JET.
5). You wrote in your application that you lived and worked in Ireland after graduation. Did you experience any culture shock there?
How I answered it: Yes, I still remember asking a bus driver for directions using a street name. He laughed and told me that streets in Dublin change names every few blocks. All the streets were so circular that I got lost constantly. But there wasn’t a language barrier, and lots of people thought I was Irish, so I didn’t have too much culture shock. I think being in Japan will be more challenging, but in some ways, I think not knowing the language is an advantage because my students will be forced to use English with me. (Note: When I said this last comment, I received some strange looks from the former JET participants. Now I know why. You MUST study Japanese during JET to have a more meaningful experience, but I still believe in only using English in the classroom and as much as possible with your students).
Bottom line: If you have studied or lived abroad, show that you know how to handle culture shock. If you haven’t studied abroad, that’s OK! Just demonstrate that you have an open mind and can overcome challenges/bouts of homesickness.
6). Tell us about your placement preferences.
How I answered it: I put anywhere near Kyoto as my first choice because I visited there once before and thought the city was a perfect mix of old and new. Side note: Little did I know that 1,000,000 others also probably placed Kyoto as their first choice. I now laugh at the fact that I thought I had a chance of being placed anywhere near there.
Bottom line: Be honest about your reasons, but show you’re flexible too.
7). What would do if you didn’t get placed in a city (which was my first choice)?
How I answered it: I’ll be honest and I say I wouldn’t be the happiest because I think I thrive in cities, but I’d make the best of the situation. (Note: I was placed in a small seaside town/ sleepy suburb of Toyama-shi, far from the fame of any major Japanese city!)
Bottom line: Show you’re willing to move almost anywhere in Japan (country, suburb, city, north, south, east, west, islands). Unless there is a specific medical reason you need to be somewhere, your placement choices probably don’t really matter.