Welcoming the New JETs 新しいJET参加者へようこそ

Every summer I fly to Tokyo twice to pick up the new ALTs who have come to Japan on the JET Programme to live and teach in Miyazaki. It is very exciting to be the first to meet the newcomers in person, and something that I look forward to every year. The JET Programme organizes a two day orientation for the new recruits, which includes a variety of workshops and lectures. This year I was once again invited to fly to Tokyo a day earlier to participate in the panel discussion, which I accepted enthusiastically. It is an honor to have the opportunity to share my experiences and the things that I have learned these past four years. I also love hearing the opinions of the other panelists, which are often so different from my own experiences. Japan may be a relatively homogenous society, but a lot of diversity can be found between the different prefectures and regions. For this reason, it can be a little hard to give answers that will be relevant to everyone who attends the panel, but at the end of the day, I felt like the discussion was valuable. 

There were two things different about this year’s panel. First, the audience was only half the size, as the groups were divided into two: ALTs who will teach at senior high school, and ALTs who will teach at elementary school or junior high school. The two panels took place simultaneously, and I participated in the high school one. Even though it was half the size, it was still a huge group at around 400 participants each week. Talking in front of an audience that size is a little intimidating, but at least there were three other panelists on the stage beside me, and an excellent moderator for support. I would like to take the opportunity to share with you some of the discussion questions and my prepared answers.  

What do you think are some essential tips for building positive working relationships with your JTEs and other teachers?
Getting to know your coworkers will help immensely. Drinking parties are one of the best ways to get to know them. I teach at multiple schools so during certain seasons, namely end-of-year party season and transfer season, I attend two to three drinking parties a week. It's expensive, but in my opinion, worth it. I don't always drink. If I want to avoid drinking, I will drive or bike to the party. If drinking parties are not your thing, there are other options as well. During summer vacation, I sometimes go out to lunch with teachers, or eat bento with them in the teacher’s room. At one of my schools I joined the teacher's running club. Finding some common ground will help the communication flow more smoothly.
I think it is also important to understand and respect your role in the school. You are the assistant language teacher, and the newcomer. Be flexible and open-minded. 
The Akae Running Club takes on the Tsuno Marathon!
Do you use Japanese in the classroom?
When I first came to Japan, I pretended that I couldn’t speak Japanese, and used only English in the classroom. These days, I use some Japanese. I think it is more important to build relationships with the students, and speaking a little bit of Japanese helps me to do this. I think the students feel more comfortable speaking with me knowing that I can speak Japanese. I think it is also good for them to see that you are interested in their language and culture.

Did you experience culture shock or culture fatigue and how did you deal with it?
JET was my third time to come to Japan, so I think the term cultural fatigue more accurately describes my experiences. I burned out on all things Japan and found myself wanting to return to my family and friends back home. Even now, after four years in Japan, I sometimes have days when I feel over-it. Once you hit ‘stage three’, the well-adjusted stage on the culture shock timeline, life doesn't simply straighten out; there will always be ups and downs. Honestly though, even if I wasn’t living in Japan, I think my life would have highs and lows, that's just how life is. When I am having a bad day, I get out of my apartment, talk to my fellow ALTs, and concentrate on all the things I love about Japan; my friends, festivals, the culture, the language and Japanese TV dramas.  

What are the types of questions that you are frequently asked by coworkers/students and how do you go about answering these?
How old am I? Am I married? Do I have a boyfriend? What do I think about Japanese guys? Is that my natural hair color? Am I wearing color contacts? How long have I been in Japan? What surprised me about Japan? Why did I come to Japan? Do I like Japan? --- I also get a lot of unusual compliments such as: Your skin is so white. You have a small face. Your nose is high. You use chopsticks well. Your English pronunciation is so good.
The chopsticks compliment used to bother me, but then someone told me that it is just a conversation starter. It shows that the person wants to talk to you, but doesn't quite know where to start. It's not restricted to chopsticks, I have been complimented on my knife and fork skills too.     
If I want to avoid answering an awkward question, I usually just make a joke about it. I have 100 boyfriends. My real eye color is yellow. I am so white because I am a ghost.                                              If it is an inappropriate question, like when students ask your bust size, you can tell them it's inappropriate. If you respond calmly but firmly, they won't ask again.   

Do you have any advice about integrating yourself into the Japanese community?
What were your expectations? What was the reality?
Before coming to Japan, I had all these fantastic ideas that I was going to make tonnes of Japanese friends, speak Japanese every day, and in one year I would be fluent at Japanese. To my disappointment, it was a lot harder to integrate into the Japanese community and make friends with local people than I had expected. I thought that the most logical way to make friends would be to become friends with the teachers at school, since that is where I spend most of my time. However, I eventually realized that the teachers I work with are often too busy to socialize outside of school hours. In fact, most young people in Japan are super busy working their way into the system of the Japanese company, which often requires a lot of overtime and attendance at drinking parties. Add to that the language barrier and cultural differences, and pretty soon you are starting to feel like you will never make local friends. The best choice I made was joining a club. I chose to join Rotaract, because I had been a member in Australia, and already knew the basics, but any club or class would work well; a dance class, a choir, a sports club, anything that will give you a chance to interact with people in a relaxed environment.
It's self-introduction time at Rotaract! All in Japanese, of course!
Is there anything else you would like to tell new JET participants?
One of my favorite Japanese words is "ichi-go ichi-e". The literal translation is "one-time, one-meeting." JET really is a once in a lifetime experience. The ALTs that you befriend, the students that you teach, the old lady that you talk to on the bus, most of the encounters and experiences you have here, will be a one-time only deal. With that in mind, make the most of your time here and put 100% into everything you do. Build yourself a support system for when things get rough, and don't be afraid to reach out for help when you need it. Your attitude and enthusiasm will ultimately be what shapes your experience on JET.

Every day is a once in a lifetime opportunity! Embrace it!


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