My Road to JET

(A repost from my other blog)

I used to be in the JET Programme. How it changed my life cannot be understated. So let me tell you about my (long) road to JET.

It’s gonna be long. So please bear with me. I promise you, it’ll be an interesting read.

So let me tell you right off the bat, it wasn’t easy nor simple. It’s been over 15 years in the making.

Like many of you, I assume you first got interested in Japan because of video games or anime or JPOP. When I was younger, I loved playing video games. So I wanted to make video games when I was older. And at that time, game companies were mainly Japanese – Nintendo, Sega, Square, Capcom, etc. So I started to study Japanese. And from there, I started to like anime, and JPop, and Japanese culture. I would eat up whatever Japanese thing I could get my hands on. I admit, I was borderline otaku/weeaboo. But in my defense, since coming to Japan, I moved away from that. I haven’t really watched anime since coming to Japan. Why watch anime about school life and summer festivals when I  work at school and can go to actual summer festivals?

During high school, my English teacher, who was also my adviser and still is my friend and confidant, noticed my interest for Japan. She suggested that I look into something called the JET Programme. I could live in Japan and teach English, but it would also be a cultural ambassador program. So since high school, I’ve always had the JET Programme as my goal.

After I finally graduated from college, I quickly applied to the JET Programme. I was young and naive and an idiot. I didn’t put much effort into the application process. I thought having a passion was good enough to get selected. My application was chaotic, my essay was crap, and my letters of recommendations were last-minute. One of them even spelled my name incorrectly. Needless to say, I didn’t even get an interview. I was disappointed. I have passion! Isn’t that enough, I thought then. So, so naive.

Strike one!

A couple of years later, a friend of mine told me that he just walked in and got a job offer at Nova, one of the Big 3 English conversational companies in Japan. But he turned the offer down. I was quite annoyed. So my slacker friend, who isn’t even interested in Japan, who didn’t even prep, got my dream job?! So I was determined not to be outdone by him. If it was that easy for him to get the job without trying, it should be a cinch for a person like me who has so much passion for Japan.

The closest Nova HQ was in San Francisco. I got my interview appointment. My great friend drove me overnight to SF. We arrived in SF late in the night. Had to wake up early to leave for the morning appointment. Got stuck in traffic for TWO hours! I barely arrived for the group interview in time. I felt horrible. Tired and sleepy from the lack of sleep, starving because I didn’t have breakfast, butterflies in my stomach because I was nervous, and sweaty because I was running to building. I really felt like throwing up the whole morning. I practiced interviews a bit with my friend, but got stumped during the real interview. The interviewer asked me what “dictate” meant. I told her to write what someone says down on paper. So she replied, “You dictate to a secretary. But do you dictate your order to a waiter too?” Obviously not. I knew when I should use the word. However, I didn’t know how to explain the difference. So I was like a deer stuck in the headlights. After the interview, she explained to me that “dictate” means to transcribe something verbatim. A waiter doesn’t write down word for word your order.

Strike two!

But you know, in retrospect, I was very lucky I didn’t get the job. Why? Because the following year or so, Nova went bankrupt. Many employees were stranded in Japan without pay. If I got the job at that time, I would’ve been stranded too without money, a place to live, a plane ticket home.

A few more years went by. JET was always in the back of my mind. Talking to various people, an acquaintance suggested that I try to apply for AEON, the best? of the Big 3. This time, I took it serious. I practiced interviewing with my good friend for a week. During the group interviews, I thought I did a great job. A couple of applicants were horrible and were totally unprepared. During the one-on-one mock lesson, I thought I did pretty well too. Of course, I made a few mistakes but overall I had a good feeling. They told me after the interview that I needed to smile more. That I said “you guys” too much. But I felt good. I didn’t bomb the interview like my Nova one. I left the interview on a high. There’s NO way I didn’t get the job. In my eyes, I nailed it. Well, there was a way and I didn’t get the job. I was devastated. I did so well, I felt, but I still didn’t get the job. What did I do wrong?! I was disappointed, but I guess it’s not meant to be.

Strike three  – you’re out!!

Again, a couple more years passed. JET always lurking around in the back of my mind. But my dream was over. I’m too old for JET. They want recent college graduates, not me. But someone told me to try again. That it’s not too late. That, technically, I’m still eligible. So I tried again. This truly would be my last time. My swan song. This time, I would work my ass off to get it.

I reused the same essay that I’ve been using over the years with a few updated edits here and there. I prepared everything early, instead of procrastinating. I wanted to mail the application in ASAP. I e-mailed my old high school teacher friend, the one who told me about the JET Programme all those years ago, my essay to proofread. We sent copies back and forth. She corrected it as I asked her to. However, she advised me to rewrite the essay. To start over. I really didn’t want to. I was getting close to the deadline. But in the end, I decided to rewrite the essay. We sent each other drafts for weeks. What started out as a rewrite turned into a new essay. A stronger, more well-written essay. I’m grateful that she pushed me.

So I turned in my application near the deadline. Checking, double-checking, triple-checking that everything was in place. I redid my fingerprinting for the background check twice just to be sure.

I passed the first stage. I got an interview!

My interview was.. in February, I believe. I’m not shy. I have no fear of public speaking. I have no problem being silly in front of people. However, I have horrible interview skills. I don’t know how to talk about myself. To overcome this weakness, for a month, I practiced interviewing with my good lawyer friend. Lawyers are amazing people. They sure know how to talk. They word bad things so well that they sound lovely.

I went into the interview very relaxed and confident. I did my best. I wasn’t nervous or regretful. Because I knew, this time, I did my best. I did everything I could for this moment. And if in the end, I still didn’t get into JET, then I’m “OK” with it. It’s fate. It was never meant to me. My best wasn’t good enough for them. But that’s them. Not me.

But the story doesn’t end there. It gets more interesting. How about a quick intermission. Go take a restroom break or get a snack or something? I’ll wait.

Still here? Thank you for coming back.

So we were expecting interview results around April, if I remember correctly. But during March 2011, something terrible happened that I could have never imagined. On March 11, 2011, Japan suffered a triple disaster – an earthquake, a following tsunami, and a subsequent nuclear meltdown.

However, at the same time, my father suffered a stroke. During the scans and testing, the doctors told us that he has brain cancer. They also told us that they believed the cancer came from somewhere else. I remember sitting in the hospital waiting room with my family watching news about Fukushima on the waiting room TV as the doctor came in to tell us that my father had Stage 4 lunch cancer. Shortly after, my dad had another stroke and went into a coma. A week later, he passed away.

Two weeks prior, my father was alive and “healthy.” A week later, we find out he has terminal cancer. A week after that, he quickly passed away. Everything happened so fast. Obviously, we were all devastated. But we were “happy” it was quick and he didn’t have to suffer. I cope by not thinking about it. I cope by living my life. But as I’m recounting these memories, I’m overcome with emotion. It’s a good thing that all the teachers are busy outside with Sports Festival practice, or else they’ll see me crying as I type this.

Shortly after, I received confirmation from JET that was I was selected. However, it was an extremely difficult and painful and excruciating decision. My father just passed away. My mom was suffering from depression and is still suffering from depression over my father’s death. There were also concerns about radiation from Fukushima.

Do I pick up and leave and follow my dream and live in Japan, and leave my depressed mother alone? Or do I stay and take care of my elderly mother and support her, but will regret turning down JET for the rest of my life? Let me tell you, there were many, many gallons of tears shed.

But you all know which decision I took. I decided to follow my dream and come to Japan. And I don’t regret it one bit. I regret my father passing away. I regret that my mom has depression. I regret I’m not younger. I regret many things I cannot change. But I do not regret coming to Japan.

But it wasn’t easy. And it still isn’t easy. My mom’s health is very frail, compounded by her depression. Everyday she wants me to return to America. My wonderful sister is doing her best manning the fort. She’s balancing taking her care of her own family and in-laws, and taking care of my mother while I’m in Japan.

They want me to come back, but they support me. They understand that it’s my dream to be here. They just wish I get sick of Japan sooner than later.

So, my road to JET has been a very long road and a very difficult one. But thanks to my wonderful, wonderful family and my friends who constantly support me and helped me fulfill my dream.

Thank you, Mom, Dad, Sis, Ms. T, and Eric. I’m forever indebted to you all. And thank you, reader, for listening to the story of my dream.


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