Hope your 2019s are off to a good start. Today I would like to share something that I wasn’t sure if I should keep private or not, but I figured that I might as well share it to possibly help others who may be on the fence about their own recontracting decisions, for my friends and family to understand more about my life in Japan and why I would or wouldn’t decide to stay and work in Japan, and also to keep myself accountable for any goals that I make and as a reminder of the reasons why I wanted to do JET in the first place.
We received the recontracting forms back in December right before we ended work for winter vacation and it is due by January 11th, although in reality we have to turn it in on our last day in the office this week which is tomorrow January 9th.
Where I was at before I really sat down with myself to think and reflect was that I honestly didn’t feel like going back to work. The thought of returning back to work and teaching was giving me anxiety and I just really didn’t want to go. I mean, I still feel like that now. I thought that I would definitely be recontracting but not with solid conviction, as if I could decide against recontracting at any given moment. This decision has been weighing on my mind for a while now but the time has finally come to make an actual choice. It’s not one to be taken lightly either.
As of now, I have been working as an ALT in Asagiri Town, Kumamoto Prefecture for 5 months. January marks the start of month 6 in Japan. However, if I decide to recontract, that means saying yes to being in Asagiri and working here until at least August of 2020. That’s over a year and a half away.
Considering my first 5 months on the program, I would say it’s been pretty rocky and I am not at all sure if I can say that I’m happy, doing fulfilling or meaningful work, and/or making progress on my goals. With this in mind I want to think about the thorns and roses (aka pros and cons) of staying and working as an ALT in Asagiri, as well as go through the questions presented in the General Information Handbook for JETs to see if I am really deciding to stay for the right reasons.
This is mostly for my own benefit as I go through this thought process, but if you are interested in reading it as well I just thought I would share.
I would also like to make a note that everyone’s experiences are different and although I am opening up my mind to share and therefore inviting chances for criticism, I would like to ask you to please refrain from refuting any of my points or trying to argue against certain things because these are my feelings and things that I have experienced–not for anyone else to tell me is just me being sensitive or looking at things negatively. So while I would appreciate your thoughts on the matter I would like to kindly ask you to avoid judgmental statements and or comments.
- Not feeling valued for my efforts
- Not having the chance or opportunities to use my skills
- Insecurity of the ALT position (in terms of being left on your own to figure things out/not knowing what to do)
- Dealing with stereotypes of ALTs (foreigners working and teaching English in Japan) such as just being here to fool around, party, etc.
- Being compared to previous ALTs (the “perfect ALT”) or being called your predecessors name often and without apology
- Not really feeling valued as a person for your own skills and accomplishments but rather being made to feel like a tape recorder or show monkey that should perform chants on command; Also being treated like a flashcard maker or classroom furniture used when needed and left on the side when not
- Feeling disappointment from others for not being a “real” foreigner or not being “foreign” enough
- Lack of understanding or empathy shown to JETs who have decided to uproot and move from their countries to teach English and try to have impacts on communities in Japan; living and working within a foreign country and environment.
- Being away from friends and family
- Living relatively isolated in the countryside
- Inaccessibility of travel
- Feeling like the “invisible foreigner” compared to the “real foreigners”
- Lack of privacy
- Less available activities or chances to do things that I value such as play taiko, play volleyball, volunteer, study Japanese, do intercultural exchange (as opposed to a city where it would be easier to find interest groups)
- Difficulties of meeting new people or making friends; limited opportunities to do so
- Connections are everything and if you don’t have them then you’re kind of stuck
- Keeping up long-distance friendships and relationships requires a lot of energy and work, which is absolutely worth it, but also not something that I think should be taken for granted. The effort required may not be appreciated by others who have never lived away from home or family before.
- If I am not feeling motivated and fulfilled by work then it is difficult to find motivation in other aspects of life as well such as Japanese language study.
- I do deal with homesickness constantly and when I think about how much easier it would just be to move home combined with my lack of satisfaction with how I am doing here, it makes me more unmotivated.
- I have kind of forgotten now since I’ve been on break but I really do love seeing and working with young children. I know that I truly do enjoy working with kids and think that their happiness is contagious.
- There are a handful of teachers that I do especially enjoy working with and who give me an ideal of what my ideal work-life as an ALT could be like. More specifically, they make me feel valued as a person through asking me for my input and actually listening to them. (Some teachers will ask and then dismiss ideas).
- Even if I am not able to contribute much through my classes and work in the elementary schools, I have complete control over my nursery school and adult English Conversation classes so I should focus less over what isn’t going well in the elementary schools and use more energy into creating lessons that are creative, fun, and that I can be proud about in my classes that I can control.
- If I stay, I will have more time to create chances for me to make and leave a mark here whether through another Hawaii Cultural event or through finding other opportunities to interact with members of the community
- I will get to continue to live in my big house (which I love) and enjoy having my own space and home.
- I’ll get to continue to work and spend time with my friend Jess (the other ALT who lives next door and has also probably decided to recontract)
- I will have more time to try and get closer and spend time with my host family who lives in town but who I am not as close with as I would have hoped
- I’ll have more time here to attend the seinendan (Youth Association) events and try to possibly make friends there
- I will have a chance to save more money with a constant and predictable income
- If I stay one more year, I won’t have to worry about a lifestyle adjustment phase since I will be living in my same house even if my schools that I am working at changes.
- I will have the satisfaction of knowing that I didn’t give up what I planned for over 5 years, after just 5 months of living here.
- If I stay, I am believing in the potential for things to improve and giving faith to the idea that things could get better if I just give it time and go with the flow
- I will have another year and a half to continue to explore Japan with my house as my home base and personal space to return to
- I have yet to accomplish my goals of reconnecting my Hawaii family with family in Japan and that requires vacation time, money, and the wiggle room (time and energy) that is often unavailable when I am busy and tired with work
- I can choose how to interpret and intake the events and happenings around me and if I can change my mindset of how I look at things even a little, or even just learn to be more resilient and bounce back quicker, then I will have more energy and motivation for the things I can control and the things that I want to do
General Advice Regarding Reappointment: (from JET General Information Handbook; pg. 67):
- “While in a foreign country a person undergoes many changes and mood swings. Do not make your decision overnight. Please talk with friends, talk with your supervisor, and talk with your family.”
- “Think things through carefully and make your decision with confidence before informing your contracting organization.”
Possible things to consider when making your decision: (from JET General Information Handbook; pg. 67):
- What are your long-term goals? (Where do you see yourself in 3/5/10 years? Are you considering further education or a career change?)
- My long-term goals at the minute are to give myself 2-3 years in Japan first to see if this is where I really want to live and work long-term into the future. Can I see myself living in Japanese society? Will I be able to find work that I enjoy doing and makes me feel as if I have a purpose? If I think that the answer could be yes, then I might be in Japan in 5 or 10 years but I have told myself to let go of worries about the future and try to focus more on the experiences to be had in the present for now. I just want to “master” this current experience and see where it can take me rather than trying to decide the future end goal and lining up all of the things I do from now and then in a way that I think will deliver me there.
- Depending on the outcome of that, I may or may not decide to try to go back to school either in the U.S or in Japan. I could see myself continuing my Japanese Studies or possibly going to get the certifications needed to become an actual teacher. It really depends on my goals and feelings at that time and where I decide I want to live and work in the future.
- What expectations did you have when you started the JET Programme? How have they changed?
- I guess when I think about my expectations when I started JET based off of other people’s experiences, I would have hoped that I was able to join a taiko group or a volleyball team as most people say that during JET especially in countryside placements that people will welcome you into the community. However my own personal experiences have been different in the sense that I was faced with almost discouragement for trying to join community groups.
- Otherwise my expectations have kind of been met. It could have been a self-fulfilling prophecy or my own insecurities projecting themselves, but I also believe that it’s not all on me. Specifically the struggles of being an asian “invisible foreigner” as well as a Japanese-American and the frustration of being used as a tape recorder/flashcard maker.
- My expectations have changed in the sense that since my own expectations of what I hoped the JET experience would be have not been met yet, I want to change what I expect of myself. I still expect myself to try hard in work and in accomplishing my goals through creating opportunities, but I don’t want to keep hoping for things at work to change or become easier because as anyone who knows Japan understands, change rarely occurs and if it does, it’s too slow to really benefit anyone in the moment.
- What do you wish to accomplish in the next year after reappointment?
What would you do or wish to accomplish if you didn’t reappoint?
- If I do decide to stay some of my main goals are to plan another Hawaii cultural event or another intercultural exchange event for the community members.
- Make more of an effort to spend time with my host family
- Spend more time with Jessica and other JETs here that I enjoy hanging out with
- Meet with my other friends and family who are spread out in Japan. Making it a priority to plan those trips and make it happen, rather than getting caught up in the every day of work and life.
- Creating more structured time to connect with those back home such as Skype dates etc.
- I still really want to play volleyball and/or taiko here and I think in 2019 I want to try again to see if I can find somewhere, even if it takes me out of town
- I want to commit to studying Japanese in a more structured way again because I know the lack of use is resulting in my skills decreasing as well as my confidence in general about living in Japan. I may even try and get a tutor.
- I want to begin to more seriously start to look for jobs and places I might want to live after I finish my time as an ALT in Kumamoto so that I can begin the preparation I need to make that happen.
- How satisfied are you with your current lifestyle, position, and work?
- If I want to be completely honest with myself, I am not really that satisfied. I do have moments where I am happy here but otherwise I feel like I am always looking forward to things that haven’t happened yet just to stay motivated every day.
- I love my house and I have been learning how to “adult” and live on my own, such as paying bills and taxes, driving, learning to cook and manage my time, but I do not feel happy with where I am at yet. Whether I am just being too hard on myself or I am really slacking is hard to say.
- While I enjoy working with the children, the relationships with the teachers and the working environment at the schools has caused me a lot of stress and I don’t really want to continue to submit myself to that. The work is not necessarily difficult but I feel that the unspoken expectations and the following disappointment at not meeting them is too stressful and frustrating.
- With my current job, I basically can go to work and then come home and not have any work to do at home which is nice and I know not at all realistic for a future job but that is also because I don’t have input into my work in the elementary schools and even if I do, it’s not something that I feel so strongly about that I would take it home and continue to work on there. I would like to be busier because that means that I feel invested in what I am doing on a deeper level and feeling motivated to work harder. Right now, I don’t know what my impact is and that makes it difficult to want to do above and beyond.
- I think that with all things considered, I am doing the best I can here and I am proud of myself for sticking through this and also learning to rely on others for help instead of getting caught up in my own head and dark moods.
- Do you feel that you are making a contribution that has a positive effect on others?
- I would like to think that I am. Just by being here and existing within the same space as these children and other people, I am exposing them to something they may have never thought about before. A person who looks like them and has some similarities but is different in values and attitudes based off of a different upbringing. While it is a struggle for me to be living in Japan based off of a lot of identity issues, I think that it’s also worthwhile and meaningful for me to be struggling here both for my own benefit and the more subtle and more subliminal benefit to others.
- I do feel like me being here and making friends could mean that I am enriching someone else’s life in the same way that they have for me even if the effect is not equal. I do think that I have the ability to make classes fun for the children if I am given the opportunity to and that in effect makes me feel like what I am doing here is worth it. Friendships and relationships are also two way streets and the give and take, no matter how small the interaction or how limited the time, is still something worthwhile.
- What skills have you built on the JET Programme? What skills or certifications do you want to acquire next?
- Adaptability– as an ALT I’ve often had sudden schedule changes with last minute or no notice at all. I’ve been suddenly requested things on the spot where I’ve had to roll with them as if it was a part of the plan. I’ve had to adapt to working at 3 different elementary schools with 3 very different atmospheres and also many different teachers and teaching styles. I’ve had to adapt to live and living in Japan.
- Flexibility— Similar to adaptability but I have had to learn to adjust my expectations in order to be able to compromise or say yes to things that I might normally not have.
- Communication— Since I am working at multiple schools and through a language barrier, communication is one of the most important things. I am also an employee of the Board of Education rather than at one school so that means I also have to communicate with my supervisor as well as the other ALTs. While the lack of communication or direct communication has been a major point of frustration, it has also taught me what I do not want to model or want to do to other people.
- Desired Skills and Certifications: JLPT N1 before 2020 (2 more chances for the July 2019 and December 2019 JLPT exams) and more background in TESOL whether that means taking an actual certification course or just studying a bit on the side.
- What would you gain or lose by reappointing? By completing your term?
- I feel like this is mostly covered in the thorns & roses section so I’ll skip it here.
- How does the idea of reappointing make you feel? (e.g. excited, discouraged, purposeful, lost, etc.)
- The idea of reappointing kind of makes me feel uncertain. Mostly I am thinking that I know that I am going to stay but I am not certain if I am choosing to stay here in Asagiri as an ALT for the right reasons.
- I do feel like there is still potential and that hope is important. I don’t feel like it is shining as brightly as it did when I was applying to JET but I still don’t feel ready to end it yet either.
- How does the idea of returning home or moving on from JET make you feel?
- I know that even if I finished on JET I still wouldn’t be returning back to Hawaii or the U.S. yet. I would still try to search for another job within Japan, but at the current moment I don’t know if I still want to try and teach or if I want to get a job in a field other than child-care or education. I also know that my Japanese isn’t anywhere near the point where I want it to be yet so I am not ready to move on from JET.
- When I decide to move on, I want to feel ready to move on and satisfied that I did all I could with the time that I chose to be here rather than feeling disappointed with it. Even though different things have happened, I still don’t regret my decision at all. I have met great people and made wonderful connections that would never have happened if I didn’t get assigned to the “no one knows” small town of Asagiri in the countryside of Kumamoto. There are a lot of things that I didn’t get to in this post–the smaller and more subtle joys of my life here– but I did have to look at the bigger considerations of why I should stay or leave here.
“Note: When considering reappointment, beware of deceptive rationalizations like, “I’ll save money next year” or “I’ll learn Japanese next year”. Reappointment does not necessarily bring about a drastic change in your life, and it can be difficult to change your habits dramatically in your second or third year etc.”
Although I still can’t say for certain and put those words out into the world yet, I do feel like I have a clearer mind and I think that I have given this decision the focus and time that it requires to consider it. As many family and friends have said, they know that I will make the right decision and maybe I should believe that I will make the right decision too.
Just like everything else in life up until this point, I have believed that I can make the most out of whatever situation that I find myself in and take control of my own happiness. No matter what I decide, I can try my best to make it work. The things that are out of my control are exactly that and I shouldn’t agonize too much over them and rather focus in on things that I am able to change. If I let go of the frustration over that, then maybe I will be more open and have the energy to say yes to other things.
If you read over my post even just a little bit, I just want to say thank you for listening to my personal ramblings. No matter that my decision may be, I still have a lot of back-posts to catch up on and I look forward to sharing more of the experiences that I had on my first 5 months in JET.