In 2005, I visited Japan for the first time in my life. The trip was an eye opening and humbling experience. I came over to Japan depending on my friend who had taken Japanese, while all I knew were simple things like “Konnichiwa” and “Moshi Moshi.” I knew the textbook silly words most westerners tend to know. But, even with so little Japanese, I met the most wonderful people. One day in Kyoto, we spent 3 hours talking to a woman who lived amongst the massive grave next to the famous Kiyomizu temple. I decided to whip out the dictionary and tell her how sweet she was. Instead, I told her she tasted sweet. It was then I knew when I got back to the states and started school again, I wanted to take Japanese so I could avoid telling people how they tasted. It was when I visited an old mountain temple town called Koyasan that it cemented in my mind that I would return, no matter what.
I began taking Japanese courses in 2006 and met some of the most amazing friends in those courses. I still speak with a few of my Japanese classmates and I cherish spending 2 ½ years together. I never have had a better bond with any other classmates than I did in UT’s Japanese courses. Though, I wasn’t a strong student (my weakness was very much grammar and conversation), I still dreamed of going back to Japan. I tried my hardest to get myself there and in 2007, I applied to the JET programme.
There is a saying in the JET programme. Every Situation is Different, or in other terminology “ESID.” I made the waitlist for the JET programme and in July of 2008, I was given the call that I had made it. I had achieved my goal that I had set out to do 3 years ago. Little did I know that my situation was going to be very different. I will spare the many details of my time there, but in summary, I was put in a less than ideal situation and ended up coming home with the tail between my legs feeling defeated and quite upset. I do NOT discourage anyone applying and trying to do the JET Programme because it is one of the most amazing experiences one can have, but there is the small percentage of placements that can be very hard. It’s something that I think potential applicants should be aware of and they must be able to accept the adaptation if they are put in a situation that is less than ideal.
Well, even with the failure of JET behind me, I knew that I wasn’t done. I wanted to come back to Japan despite the circumstances I met while abroad in the JET programme. So, I set to research of other companies and ended up interviewing with all the big name Eikaiwas or “English Conversation Schools.” I interviewed with places such as Aeon, Geos, Joytalk, ECC, etc. When I was done interviewing with the various companies and seeing what they had to offer, I ended up choosing a specific Eikaiwa located in the Kansai area of Japan. Not only did the company allow me to choose where I wanted to live, but I was also given probably what I felt was the best overall package. ECC, at this time, is promoted by Takeshi Kitano or better known in western countries as “Beat” Takeshi. I ended up choosing ECC because it was a fit for me and so far has not let me down.
I teach from ages 2 years to 90 years old. I am primarily a kids teacher and have many students ranging from 2 to 12 years old. I love teaching the little ones because they are like sponges and absolutely adorable at that! I also love having lessons with my adult students because it’s not only a language course for them, but also a culture course for me. The experience has been one in a million and I’m glad I didn’t give up on my dream of coming back to Japan after my initial failure with JET. I learn new Japanese everyday and even though I may not have been a straight A student in all my Japanese classes, the foundation is invaluable.
The moral of my story for any potential students who want to live in and teach in Japan is that there is no “end all, be all” to what you want to find here in Japan. JET is not the only option. You actually might benefit from sitting down and deciding what it is you want when you come to Japan. Is working in a public school your ultimate goal? Does private education appeal more to your working style? Do you want a wide range of students? Do you find that you prefer having more control to where you end up living or do you enjoy immersing yourself no matter the location? Does the absence of being in a big city bother you?
All those I answered for myself and I found a job that matches exactly all that I feel is good for me. Not only am I living exactly where I wanted to, I work a job where I learn about traditional Noh from my adult students or I end up playing fun games with my 7 year old kids. I returned to Koyasan 1 year ago and said hello once again to one of the places that made me fall in love with Japan. I plan to continue my journey here and it’s been quite a ride.
I can’t thank my Senseis in the UT Japanese department enough. After everything, I still think back fondly of my classes and of the bonds I formed while in the program. It’s more than a language course, but it’s also an amazing chance to experience Japanese culture. I’ve never been so thankful.