Interview With A JET Program Participant

asuka1.jpgImagine you are summoned to your supervisor’s office so he can make an official request: please stop feeding the birds that visit your balcony. Your neighbors don’t like it and more importantly, spreading stale bread crumbs on the window ledge is not allowed. You surprised not only that you’ve been called to the boss’ office for this, but that this is the first you’ve heard of it…after feeding the birds on and off for over two years. Your neighbors have waited until now to complain.

Or: you go on a trip over a long weekend and leave your car parked in the parking lot of a shopping center near the train station. Upon your return to school, you are told not that your car has been towed, or that you have to pay a fine, but that you need to make an official apology for parking there. Mall security found out where you work by tracing your license plate.

These are just a few of the cultural surprises in store for JET program participants (and surely as well as for EFL teachers in other countries). Kim, a former co-worker, shared these stories with me in a recent email interview.

She described the JET application process as arduous but worth it. In fact she liked the experience so much she elected to continue for a total of three years, the maximum time allowed in the program, working at a different base school each year but staying in the same town. During her last year, she started working with a kindergarten class and really enjoyed it. Her advice to potential JET program participants is:
“If you’re expecting to ‘teach’- don’t! You’re more of a ‘cultural ambassador’, and the kids want to know all about you, so don’t be shy! It’s fantastic – go there and enjoy everything and get the most out of it all.” Also, as you will be team teaching with a native teacher, you’ll do a lot of speaking…and knowing some good games to do with 40 person classes can come in handy.

Having worked in EFL both abroad and at home in Canada, Kim is in a unique position to compare the teaching. She finds that teaching at home lends itself much more to creating “authentic” learning experiences like shopping at the supermarket, and finds that her students in Canada – some of whom are serious language learners and some of whom are perhaps more there for a fun experience – are quite diverse in nationality. She recently finished a Bachelor’s in Education (her second degree) in order to facilitate teaching in public schools.

I’ll end the interview with Kim’s opinion on what kind of person is best suited to an experience like JET: “Flexibility is key, as is overseas experience andor experience with kids. You really need to be able to adapt to a completely different culture in order to go there.”

For more on the JET program, check out the TEFL Logue profile of this opportunity.