Apr 4, 2015

The Road to JET: Part One - If at first you don't succeed...

My journey to Japan started ages ago, in my early years of high school. I had only a mild interest in Japan at the time, due to my interest in Sailor Moon and a few other anime that were popular in North America such as Gundam, Dragon Ball, and Inuyasha. In grade 8 most of my friends were into various Japanese anime and video games, so I was surrounded by it all on a somewhat daily basis. But still, my personal interest wasn't that strong.


One day in P.E. class, a Japanese exchange student was paired up with me. The teacher asked me to help her get situated in the class as she had come to my school part-way into the spring semester. We became good friends after that, and she helped my fascination with Japan grow. She showed me her fashion magazines she brought with her, which got me interested in both Gyaru and lolita subcultures for a while. She also showed me her favorite Japanese music - an Ayumi Hamasaki album she gave me before she left Canada is still one of my prized possessions. She taught me a few phrases in Japanese and encouraged me to eventually study the language. One of the most important things she introduced me to though was not exactly Japan related - she invited me to hang out in the ESL classroom over lunch hour breaks.

My high school had a large number of international students, and thus had a dedicated ESL classroom which was often used during lunch hours as a place for many international students to hang out and eat their lunch. I met many other exchange students while spending my time in there, and I also chatted with the teacher a fair bit. He was a fascinating person to talk to, and answered easily a million questions from curious me, about ESL and about Japan - but most importantly, about JET.

He had been on the JET Programme in the late 80s and into the early 90s when it was still new and told me a bit about it here and there. He also encouraged me to volunteer with a group of Japanese students that came to the school once a year for a short study program of about 3 weeks. I ended up volunteering with the group from grade 9-12 and made some amazing friendships. Because of these friendships, my interest and desire to go to Japan grew, and because of this teacher I found a strong interest in teaching ESL as my career choice.

Fast forward a few years to the autumn of 2013. I had been attending university for four years and was in my last year of my degree. I had spent my university years highly involved with international students; helping with orientation and other events through the school year. I also assisted in starting a Japanese Club on campus, a club that included both domestic and international/Japanese students and was dedicated to the enjoyment and sharing of Japanese culture and language. I studied Japanese and became more and more interested in the country and culture has a whole. In 2012, I attended a Geography field school, which was not only my first trip to Japan by my first trip overseas. I went back in 2013 for a vacation with friends. By the time I touched foot on Canadian soil again, my goals were set. I wanted to be a teacher, but first, I wanted to participate in the JET Programme and teach ESL in Japan.

In the fall of 2013 I applied, almost 8 years after first hearing about the programme. After a long application process, a super stress inducing interview, and what felt like years of waiting, I was devastated to learn that I had not been accepted but was instead placed on an 'alternate' list. It hit me really hard as I had felt like I was a good enough candidate and couldn't figure out why I wasn't accepted. I crossed my fingers through the summer but started on my backup plans as soon as I could. I entered into the TESL Certificate program my University offers and began preparing to once again face the long, grueling and stressful process of applying for the JET Programme... again.