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.
There’s too much sitting-at-desk work.
- FALSE: It is important to note that the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program is not a monolith. In other words, the JET experience is unique for everyone that participates. The amount of so-called “sitting-at-desk work” a JET might have largely depends on the Contracting Organization (CO) or the prefecture’s Board of Education (BoE). This embodies the dreaded JET phrase “Every Situation is Different!” Some JETs may have more time to sit at their desks and create lesson plans while others who teach 4-5 classes a day might not have the luxury. As with any job, there is a lot of variation based on employer. Please also note that the JET Program itself is ONLY a facilitator of US-Japan exchanges, NOT an employer. That being said, when JETs have time in between classes, it is recommended that they brainstorm ideas for activities to engage their children, study Japanese, or find ways to become more involved in their school and community.
The JET administration is unresponsive towards calls for help from JETs.
- FALSE: One of the realities of the JET Program is that communication with program administrators can diminish once settled in Japan. As such, JETs should not rely too much on the JET administration to solve all problems that arise. Part of the JET experience, and any job (good or bad) for that matter, is being able to navigate through tough situations independently. In the event that assistance is needed for technical issues, such as work related matters or housing, the point of contact is the CO or BoE of the prefecture. In some prefectures, there are Coordinators for International Relations (CIRs) working as Prefectural Advisors (PA). In those prefectures specifically, the PA can be a great resource for help. Under some circumstances, CLAIR, one of the organizations responsible for the JET Program, can help with communication between the JET and their COs. However, it depends on the situation as CLAIR has limited authority. Should you encounter an unsafe or illegal circumstance, the best approach is to go to the police, just as one would in his or her home country.
JETs who don’t speak Japanese cannot make friends in rural Japan.
- FALSE: This is definitely not the case. Although it is expected (and recommended) that JETs take the initiative to learn Japanese throughout their time in Japan, a lack of proficiency does not prevent JETs from making friends. There is great value to the JET Program network in this respect. There are a variety of training programs and social opportunities to meet and befriend fellow JETs, AJET chapter leaders, and other foreigners working in Japan. Most prefectures will also offer a variety of activities to new and current JETs and sometimes even have them work in the same school together. Social events are also often chances to meet Japanese people who speak English. One of the best ways to make Japanese friends, on the other hand, is to (once again) learn Japanese and become active in the community. Finding a space in the community to practice a hobby or interest alongside fellow JETs and Japanese people is the perfect way to make friends. Try signing up for a cooking class, a gym class, or join a sports team, for example!
JETs who cannot speak Japanese cannot communicate with their Japanese coworkers.
- FALSE: There definitely are ways to communicate with Japanese co-workers without knowing Japanese. Because Japanese people do possess some English language capability, limited conversation in English is possible. Using gestures and expressions as an avenue for communication can also temporarily offset the need for language learning. However, JET is a wonderful opportunity to take the initiative to learn some of the Japanese language and branch out of one's comfort zone by volunteering locally or starting school clubs. Making these strides can lead to long-term gains in communication.
The salary given to JETs is not enough for them to sustain themselves.
- FALSE: JETs are not only able to fully support themselves on their (approximately) $31k salary, but also make enough to travel domestically or even internationally with their own money. Many JETs even choose to pay off student loans or save for the future. The opportunities for building savings is enormous considering the cost of living in the Japanese countryside. Housing is often subsidized by the prefectural BoE or provided at a very low cost. For this reason, most JETs find themselves living comfortably in rural areas. Those residing in urban areas, however, may struggle due to high cost of living and other expenditures.
Most JETs get sick of their jobs 6 months into their stay.
- FALSE: Feeling frustrated after living in Japan is usually not so much tied to the job as it is being away from home and living in a new country. JETs leave in the summer or early Fall and cannot return home unless their school allows them to take vacation days. Many JETs also choose to maximize their time in Japan by not returning home during the New Years holidays or during Golden Week. It can take a while to adjust to this kind of lifestyle with the added struggle of not seeing family or friends back home. These feelings are quite common, as described in Oberg’s model of cultural adjustment. To make matters worse, the JET Program sends out its yearly re-contracting requests around this time of year! To remedy feelings of homesickness, it is best to make friends or find places in the community that remind one of home.
Because feelings of homesickness can be rooted in depression, we recommend taking advantage of the AJET Peer Support Group or learning more about Mental Health Support services available to JET Program participants.
Read Debunking the Myths: JET Program Edition (Part 1) here!