The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program is a highly competitive employment opportunity that allows college graduates from around the world to work for boards of education, schools, and government offices throughout Japan. While in Japan, JETs are able to gain the cultural experience of a lifetime while also developing necessary soft skills for future employment. Although The JET Program is loved by almost all JET alumni, there are a number of rumors circulating about that reject the benefits of the JET Program. These rumors ultimately deter JET hopefuls from applying and taking on one of the most transformative, life-changing opportunities out there. In this series we call “Debunking the Myths: JET Program Edition,” we attempt to tackle these misconceptions/assumptions head on with facts and statistics.
- JET is not a real job.
FALSE: There’s the perception that JET is merely a fun study abroad experience in Japan or something easy and effortless to take on during a gap year. However, this is simply not true. JETs have legitimate obligations and responsibilities that carry weight. They also receive a decent amount of pay (a whopping 30k!) for their hard work. The job of an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) provides unique and valuable work experience that sets it apart from typical entry-level work opportunities in the US. Because ALTs are often placed in rural areas, they have the ability to serve as cultural ambassadors and make a lasting impact in their respective communities. Japanese students are able to understand language learning in a way where it’s not simply something to be memorized, but also an effective tool for communication and connection. There are also options within the JET program to serve as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) or Sports Exchange Advisor (SEA). CIRs work in their communities as translators and interpreters and bridges gaps through their language skills. SEAs help with sports training. Both are incredibly unique jobs that provide diverse experiences one could not even imagine in another country.
- An ALT position is boring and unfulfilling.
FALSE: Being an ALT often gets a bad rap. Because ALTs are given a lot of free time, their work may seem mundane and under-stimulating if not used wisely. Some ALTs have the freedom to create their own curriculum and come up with their own activities to engage with their students, but all ALTs have the opportunity to enrich themselves outside of the classroom. For example, they help with after-school clubs, volunteer in their communities, and travel across Asia, befriending fellow teachers, students, and JETs. They do a plethora of activities that fill their days with excitement. For ALTs who have a lot of free time during the work day, they can study Japanese, earn an online master’s degree, get a TEFL certificate, or any other number of creative uses of their time. ALTs who do not take advantage of their time in this way find themselves struggling with boredom and monotony.
- The JET Program is not recognized with prestige outside the JET community.
FALSE: The JET Program is one of the most renowned international exchange programs in the world. The JET alumni community consists of about 35,800 in the US alone and 70,000+ worldwide. That means that there are thousands of employers in the US and Japan who are JET alum themselves. Even if an employer happens to not be familiar with the JET program, JETs can explain their past job duties and responsibilities to the employer in a way that boosts their image as a job candidate. Presently, international experience and intercultural communication are two highly coveted skills in North America. Therefore, serving as a JET is a huge asset that is hard for employers to overlook.
- There are no career services offered to JETs after they leave the program.
FALSE: Individuals who say this are often not aware of the variety of career services offered to current JETs or JET alumni while they are in Japan. The U.S. JET Alumni Association (USJETAA) has a plethora of programs and resources JET alumni can use to find employment in Japan and the US. If you visit our website, you can find a host of resources and a directory of JET alums to contact who are well-established in their fields. Many of the 19 U.S. JET alumni associations also provide career services for their members. I’ll list some of USJETAA’s resources below for your convenience.
- Professional development webinar series
- Highlighted career support webinars
- Webinars for recent returnees
- The Transitions Career Forum went from an annual in person event from Pacific Northwest JETAA to now being an annual virtual conference co-hosted by USJETAA. Watch the recordings from Transitions 2020 here.
USJETAA provides a job board and career support in the form of one-on-one virtual career counseling with a specialist, and a resume workshop. Many JETAA chapters also provide career support in the form of career counseling (in 2020 JETAA Rocky Mountain and JETAA Heartland both provided this) and via career workshops and career fairs. JETAA Florida holds an annual career development workshop. JETAA New York, JETAA Great Lakes, and JETAA Southern California hold job fairs each year.
- JET is not a good stepping stone for other work opportunities.
FALSE: JET is an ideal stepping stone for people to figure out their career paths. International experience gives you a number of advantages and equips you with a unique set of skills that are not found in a typical job. Many JETs attend weekly Japanese classes to improve their communication skills for job hunting in Japan. JETs are able to build a network with people who are passionate about Japan. Some network with employers in their desired career field and apply to graduate schools in and outside of Japan all while working. On the flipside, JET is an incredibly helpful way to learn if teaching is just not for you. Often learning what does not interest us helps us find where our true passions lie. Not all JETs are ALTs, actually! JETs who work as SEAs or CIRs have completely different job duties and responsibilities. A plus of being a JET is that it’s easier to find work in Japan after ending their JET contracts! Many JETs go on to work for recruiting companies and American businesses that operate in Japan, some even rising to the upper levels of management.