In 2003 I made a decision that has altered my entire life, even though I thought, at most, it would give me something to do directly after graduating college.
I applied to the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme. Today I got a message from a friend saying he had a niece applying and was there any advice. Being forever on the lookout for a post idea, here we go:
First, this disclaimer, my own interview was in the Atlanta consulate way back in 2004. Things might have changed. But since change comes slowly to most things connected to Japan, I think much of the following will be relevant. Also, most of what follows is geared towards those aiming at an ALT position. That was my own experience. I’ve heard CIR interviews can be similar but with more Japanese. In my four years on JET and additional four years working closely with JETs as a prefectural ALT advisor, I never met a SEA. Kind of like finding a unicorn.
Now, let’s talk about the panel. Until JET mist of my interviews had been one-on-one. JET used three interviewers consisting of one former JET and two Japanese officials likely connected to the embassy. Expect at least one of them to have a facial expression that expresses disdain for the entire experience. Don’t let the sour face, or faces, throw you.
Next, keep in mind that this panel can pretty much ask anything related to Japan, teaching, or you. That gives them a huge field to choose from and because different panels will have different interests, different interviewees can face drastically different question. That makes prepping hard work.
Start off by showing an interest in Japan. Are there specific places you want to go or things you want to try? What Japanese foods have you had that you like. When I interviewed it was pretty common to be asked the name of the Prime Minister (I wasn’t asked.) If you have studied any Japanese be prepared to do a self introduction. It doesn’t need to be amazing. Name, age, where you come from and any sort of hobby should work.
Speaking of where you come from, in many ways you will be seen as representing your home area. Knowing a few things your town/city/state is famous for can be really useful. Japan is full of areas that claim to be famous for specific foods or local crafts that everyone local knows. Your interviewer may expect you to have a similar knowledge about your own area. Or it could just be a trick question where the real goal is to see how capable you are sharing basic info about where you are from.
Because, the information and answers you give, while important, might not be as important as how you answer. JET is a teaching program, and while they aren’t necessarily looking for experienced teachers, they do want people who come off as engaging, friendly, and easy to understand. I’m not saying if you mumble, you’re out, or anything that draconian, but putting on that teacher voice never hurts.
Also, keep in mind that you are going to be leaving home and heading into a (possibly) brand new culture. It isn’t uncommon for the panels to try and shake you. Out you on the spot with random questions. Ask you to tell about yourself as if they were elementary school students. You might be asked to sing a song. They are gauging flexibility and openness for new things.
I’ll never forget, the day of my interview several of us prospective were waiting in the lobby for our turn. One guy came out of the interview shaking his head before letting us know that his panel were asking crazy, stupid questions. The panel wanted to know what he would do if students were ever shape their hands into a gun, and then poke him in the butt with their fingers. Like, right between the cheeks. He that it was a stupid, nonsense question.
Except that it isn’t. I didn’t know this at the time, but it is something kids do over here in Japan. It’s called kancho (meaning enema), and kids, mostly boys, do that to their friends. Students usually don’t do it to their teachers, but the new foreign teacher is often considered fair game.
Outside of all that, I would simply suggest to read over application and make sure you remember anything you wrote. Be prepared to answer questions about it, especially an open “why” question. This is especially important when it comes to placement requests. Did you write down you want to live in Hiroshima? Be prepared to say why. Did you write down you wanted to live in a large urban area. Be ready for them to ask about what will you do if you get placed somewhere very rural.
It’s a lot of stuff, and for the all the possibilities, the interview is both short and goes by incredibly fast. If you can, take a moment to enjoy it. After all, if you start having fun, hopeful that means the panel is enjoying it as well. And don’t we all like to remember the teachers we enjoyed listening to? Get them thinking that way, and your almost there.
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