My Interview Experience with the Jet Programme

April 7, 2008 at 3:26 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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This post might be interesting for you if you are applying to work abroad, want to work for the JET Programme, or want to work in Japan for another language company.
Everyone’s JET interview is different. Some people feel challenged and some coast by. Some people are asked easy questions, some detailed (politics, culture), some personal. You can expect 3 interviewers on your panel, seated at a table before you while you sit in a chair a few feet in front of them. There will be a government representative, a former JET, and an academic rep. I had a founder of the JET Programme, a former ALT, and a professor of Japanese studies from a nearby university.

Questions I think you can count on:
-Why did you request your placement?
-Why do you want to be on the JET Programme?
-What do you have to offer as an ALT?
-Do you have any questions for us?
(They’re going to want something good, thoughtful. When I asked about deadlines and housing, information they didn’t have or knew I could get online, they got bored. But I won them back when I asked “Since the Japanese school year begins in April, how do we begin our jobs as ALTs without disrupting the flow of the school year?” they loved it. I directed this mostly at the former ALT.)

*Know your application inside and out. They are notorious for grilling on small details. Especially any experience with teaching or Japanese knowledge you stated you had. I’ve heard they may even ask to have you write or read at the level of Japanese you claim to know.

*Know the roles of the JET Programme. The government runs it to encourage “grassroots internationalization” and to make English language learning more interesting and authentic. There are JETs all over Japan in different prefectures (prefectures are like the states of Japan) and at junior high school and senior high school levels. A very few are in elementary. Each region has a CIR too, a person whose job it is in part to help ALTs (assistant language teacher) share their culture with their surrounding community and learn/experience more of authentic Japan. ALTs are expected to “team teach” with their JTEs (Japanese Teacher of English). This is the principal method of teaching for the JET Programme–cooperative teaching. You are their assistant. You are an instructor, they are a teacher. Teacher is an honorable role here, one we are not really entitled to.

Common teaching questions:
-What 3 things would you show students to teach about your home country?
-Give us a 5 minute self-introduction.
-How would you explain Halloween?
-How would you respond to a student misbehaving?
-What do you envision team-teaching w/a JTE to be like? What problems can you anticipate?
-What do you have to offer Japanese students/teachers/schools?
-What would you do if a female student showed you inappropriate attention? Followed you home?

-What interests you about Japan?
-Would you drink a bowl of fish in vinegar? (I got asked this question)
-What are the names of the Prime minister and Emperor? What’s the DIETs role in government?
-references to current news in Japan
-issues of suicide, bullying, patriotism in Japan schools right now
-Who are 3-5 Japanese celebrities?
*While I killed myself memorizing stuff, a friend of mine was always prepared with “I might not have that answer now, but I look forward to learning/studying/discovering that answer in Japan.” I think that works well for general questions, but I think for something you claimed as an area of interest you should know it (art, literature, etc.).
-How would you respond if you, as a female ALT, were expected to serve tea to your male coworkers?

Other notes:
They bring in groups of 5 or so at a time.
The room is divided by partitioning walls and get a little loud.
Speak clearly, show off your ability to enunciate and project your voice appropriately.
It’s good to be modest and enthusiastic.
-Remember to respect the Japanese norm of valuing the group over the individual.
-Maybe come up with a key theme to make yourself memorable. (like I tried to engrain myself in their brains as the eager teacher who wants to observe education in Japan and study more about their art.)
–Show up early!! Like an hour early is a good idea. The secretary is rumored to take notes on the promptness and behavior of the candidates. Show up late, or even just on time, and expect to be discarded as a candidate. In Japan, on time is 15 minutes early.
-Try to talk with the other interviewees. It’ll put you at ease and look good.
-Look as tidy and professional as possible. Remember, they love conformity. “The nail that sticks out gets pounded down” is a favorite Japanese saying. That said, you do want to be memorable…but from your answers, not your appearance.

Overall, like any job interview, be yourself. Be confident about your ability to do the job of an ALT. Be modest about your knowledge of Japan, but express your exuberance and excitement over living there and teaching there. Ganbatte kudasai! がんばってください。

Feel free to post any of your own helpful hints, experiences, or questions.


What to Bring When You Move to Japan

April 7, 2008 at 3:26 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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What to pack? So you’re moving to Japan and you have to get everything you need into 2 checked-luggage bags and a carry-on. Don’t despair. It is possible. I hope this information can help guide you on what to include and what to skip.

-TOOTHPASTE. Japanese toothpaste doesn’t have fluoride, nor does their water supply like that of the U.S.’s. (Although I have heard that the Aquafresh in Japan is the only brand that does have fluoride.) But if you care about your teeth, and you will especially after seeing many Japanese gnarled, decayed smiles, pack your toothpaste. You may want to bring fluoride rinse, too.
-DEODORANT. It is not a product used in Japan. The only available substitute is for women, and is a very weak powder spray that lasts about 2 minutes in Japanese summers.
-A LAPTOP. If you’re a teacher, you’re going to want this with you. Many schools have only one shared computer for the whole staff. It’s also convenient for keeping you occupied in your downtime.
-A PROJECT. On that note, if you’re a teacher, you’re likely going to have a lot of downtime. This is advice you’d get from any ALT website. In my second year, I took a creative writing course for my teaching license in the U.S. and it helped me have better job satisfaction when work was slow. Other people build websites, take Japanese proficiency courses, etc.
-SHOES!! If you’re a size 7 or higher for women, or a size 9 or higher for men, you may struggle finding your shoes. Japan has tons of great shoes for men or women, but the sizes are really limited. And in my opinion, uncomfortable. They are very slim-fitting and usually without padding.
-A CLEAN PAIR OF SHOES, OR TWO. If you’re working in a school, you’ll be wearing regular shoes to work and changing into you indoor shoes. These need to look like they’ve never stepped foot outside. Sneakers, ballet flats, or soft-soled shoes are fine. If you’re planning to join a gym, know that you will expect to have a pair of indoor shoes there, too. (They must look like they’ve never been worn outside.)
-UNDERWEAR. While the shoes aren’t padded, the bras certainly are. ALL of them. If you’re over a 34A, you need to bring your own. Also, the L size here for panties is a lot like a small size in the U.S., so plan to bring your own supply of those too. Men, I don’t think you need to worry, as they must sell boxers for larger men, but you should bring at least a supply to get started on.
-A WINTER JACKET. Fitting through the slim shoulders of a Japanese coat is a problem for many westerners. You’ll need to have something warm during Japan’s cold winters, unless you live in Okinawa.
-WARM CLOTHES. Again, unless you live in Okinawa, you’re going to need warm layers to get you through the winter. Minimize packing bulk by bringing silk long underwear or the like.
-AMERICAN APPLIANCES. Anything you want to use from the U.S. that you think you can’t get in Japan. Japan and the U.S. have the same outlets; Japan’s frequency is just a little slower. There is some contention over whether or not this is harmful to a laptop battery, but what I’ve read is that your power adaptor should adjust the change for you. My laptop works fine here and fully charges. Same with my iPod. But the brand new rechargeable batteries I brought for my camera wouldn’t charge here, so I’d skip that. Basic electronic devices are the same price as the U.S.—toasters, hair dryers, etc—and are readily available at the multitude of electronics stores here, their names usually ending in “denki.”
-OVER-THE-COUNTER (OTC) MEDICATIONS. Any of the standby meds you keep at home you should bring here. Think Pepto Bismol tablets, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Uristat. The U.S. is the land of cheap, readily available OTC meds. You can get these things in Japan, but they are typically much more expensive, and you’ll need to communicate with most pharmacists in Japanese. Also, you’re not supposed to bring Sudafed, Nyquil, etc. because of the pseudoephedrine in them. That said, I was never checked at customs.
-PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS. As of 2007 customs regulations, you were allowed to bring in 2 months of a prescription medication. My parents shipped the rest of mine every couple of months. Don’t assume Japan will have your medications. Try to do some research on its availability here. For instance, the basic antibiotic Ciprofloxacin does not exist here. My friend had a severe peanut allergy and had to travel to Tokyo from Kyushu to get treatment and a supply of medication from an allergy specialist. Bring your own birth control, ladies, unless you want to be put on the first-generation pills and endure their many side effects. Update: Though it was approved for sale in Japan over 8 years ago, the low-dose pill Marvelon finally became available for sale in Japan as of 3/2008. I would still exercise caution if you aren’t living in a big city, however. I can’t guarantee it’s availability.
-PROPHYLACTICS. You’ll need your own supply of western-sized condoms if you’re planning to use them during your stay here.
-A BIKE HELMET. Bikes are a popular method of transportation here, but bike helmets can be hard to find. If you plan to use one, you may want to bring your own.
-ENGLISH BOOKS. Some large bookstores have limited collections. If you’re a reader, you’re going to want to have some on hand. has free shipping and can supply most books and other Amazon products, but the shipping time is very slow—up to 6-8 weeks.
-OMIYAGE! You’ll want to start off on the right foot by giving presents (called omiyage) to your co-workers, bosses, neighbors, and other people who will help you get started on your life in Japan. Look for small, individually wrapped items. Sweets are definitely the way to go. Think fun-sized (Halloween-sized) candy bars. Bring more than you think you’ll need. A lot more, if you have the space. To the highest bosses, you’ll give the best presents, and to your co-workers you’ll give the same thing. Don’t bother lugging Jack Daniels or Jim Beam; it’s available for similar prices here. I gave out small sweets to my co-workers, and to my cooperating teachers and bosses at both schools, I gave hand-made blank cards with pictures I’d taken around the states on them. They went over really well. Hand towels are the traditional gift for neighbors, though I never gave them.
-STAMPS. If you’re a teacher, especially for your self-introductions, you’ll want to give incentives for your students to speak. One and two cent stamps are a great idea. If you can lug them, lots of shiny pennies can do the trick, though I never tried that.

-STICKERS. Japanese stickers are affordable, readily available, and much cooler. Only break this rule if you can find cool holographic stickers, stickers of Disney characters, or the alphabet in interesting fonts.
-DVD PLAYER. If you’re bringing your own supply of DVDs, bring it. But if you’re planning to rent, skip the DVD player. Japanese DVDs and DVD players are region 2, whereas those from the U.S. are from region 1.
-SUNSCREEN. This is the land of sun protection.
-AN UMBRELLA. You’ll learn to carry one with you at all times, and they sell cheap, tiny ones all over the place.
-KIT KATS or SNICKERS. These two U.S. brands are very common here.
-ACCESSORIES. This is the LAND of accessories, for men and women.
-PERFUME/COLOGNE. Most people here don’t wear it, and find it offensive when other people do. Students are known to respond to it with a “You stink.”
-MORE THAN 1 or 2 CREDIT CARDS. This is a cash society. Definitely bring one or two for online shopping or traveling outside of Japan, but within Japan you will be using cash. (Note: Call your credit card company and tell them you are moving to Japan. Also mention if you are planning to travel around Asia in the next year or two.)
-STATIONERY. Pens, pencils, paper, paints, sketchbooks are affordable and readily available.
-HOUSEHOLD ITEMS. Just wait till you go to your first 100 Yen shop. It will blow your mind, all of the things you can get there to furnish and organize your daily life.
-A BATTERY CHARGER. Again, my camera batteries never recharged here.
-SHAMPOO, CONDITIONER, SOAP, RAZORS, CONTACT SOLUTION. You can get equally good stuff here, often in the same brands (Dove, Venus, Shiseido, Opti-free, Pantene.)

Remember, unless you are planning to move to Japan, don’t bring TOO much stuff. You’ll inevitably acquire more during your time there, and that means more to pay to ship back! Good luck with your packing. Feel free to post comments or questions below.

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