Archive for June, 2013

The Jet Programme

One day in my Intermediate Japanese class the professor told us about an upcoming seminar about opportunities to work and learn in Japan. I attended the seminar and learned about The Jet Programme. The Jet Programme is a long running Japanese government program to bring foreign English teachers to Japan. Being a JET teacher gets you a free trip to Japan, housing subsidies and a juicy tax free salary. The work all takes place at public schools. The downside is that many of the teaching positions are in small towns in the middle of nowhere.

Overall things sounded good, so I filled out the extensive application forms and sent them in for processing. I was contacted some time later to set up an interview at the Manitoba Japanese Canadian Culture Centre. To prepare for my interview I did a lot of online research about Japan and found some blogs written by people who had lived and taught in Japan.

My JET interview could have gone better. The interviewers were 3 intense looking people in suits who asked a lot of tough questions; why did I want to teach, how would I cope if I was the only foreigner in a small town, would I be okay if the teacher just wanted me to pronounce a list of words to the class, things like that. One of the things they focused on was my business degree. They wanted me to explain how an accounting degree would make me qualified to teach English. I answered that because I had practice explaining accounting concepts to non accounting people I could explain English to non English speakers. I made a reasonably good showing until the ending, where they decided to test my general knowledge of Japan. When I was unable to correctly name the emperor it pretty much sealed my fate.

I got a rejection letter a few weeks after the interview and discussed it with my Japanese prof. She told me that one of my classmates had been hired, but she thought I would have been a much better choice. Apparently the JET interviewers were giving preference to arts and education degrees, and my business degree was a major obstacle.

I was feeling pretty down about not getting hired. The Ex sympathized, but I think she was a little relieved that I would not be leaving the country for a year. I decided instead of giving up, I would find another place to teach English and be the best English teacher that the country had seen. I didn’t quite get that good, but I do believe that the JET Programme missed out.

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The Penpal

Another one of the important characters in my upcoming adventures is The Penpal.

In my second last year of University I took an elective Japanese language course. I liked it so much that I wanted to continue with another Japanese course in my final year of school. My biggest concern was losing my language abilities in the 4 months between semesters. Winnipeg has a very small Japanese community, so I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to find language partners in person. Faced with a challenge, I turned to the internet for assistance.

Searching for foreign language exchange partners brings you to a wide array of websites – some legit language exchange sites, many more for finding foreign spouses. I would promote the website that I used, but it has now been replaced with a straight up dating website.

I signed up for an account and created a profile explaining that I was looking for someone to practice Japanese with. In my profile I specifically mentioned that I was a big fan of Radiohead, Pixies, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and the Beatles. In short order I ended up with penpals from Japan, Korea and the Philippines. One of my Japanese penpals decided to write to me because she shared the same taste in music. She was about the same age as me, and lived in a city called Numazu in Shizuoka prefecture. Like many other Japanese people, she had studied English in school but didn’t have a lot of opportunity to practice in daily life. Out of all of the penpals I got on the website, she and I had the most in common and wrote each other weekly in English and Japanese.

One of the highlights of our email exchanges was when I made a mix CD to send to her. The CD included Queens of the Stone Age, Moist, Our Lady Peace, Frank Black and other music that I was into at the time. Out of the CD, she particularly liked Moist and Our Lady Peace (go Canadian bands!). Not having a CD burner, she responded with a mix cassette. Her cassette included Shiina Ringo, UA, Love Psychedelico and Number Girl. I had never heard of any of them before, but quickly became a fan.

To be clear – I was not looking for a girlfriend. I already had one of those (The Ex). She also had a boyfriend at the time. We were both honestly looking for a language partner, and we both ended up finding a friend. From here forward I will refer to this person as “The Penpal”.

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