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Guide to Japan and Teaching English in Japan

Ryan Olson Thousands of people come from all around the world to work on the JET Program every year. Most work as Assistant Language Teachers, but there are also many positions at municipal offices. This guide by former JET Ryan Olson tells it all, including the pitfalls to watch out for.

January 08, 2009

A Guide to the JET Program - The Application Process

CIR or ALT?
I had originally applied to be a CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) at the recommendation of my Japanese professors, but got a call from a woman at the JET office in Washington early on after applying. She explained that I probably didn't have enough Japanese experience at the time and offered to change my application to the ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) category (which I gratefully accepted).

While I wish that I'd been able to demonstrate my Japanese ability in an interview -- indeed, I think I spoke and read more Japanese upon arrival than at least a couple of the new CIRs I met -- I have no regrets about becoming an ALT instead, and appreciated the chance to change my application. I should note that this is not necessarily standard procedure, and that the decision of whether to apply as a CIR or an ALT should not be taken lightly. At least three years of college-level Japanese including participation in an exchange program seems to be the minimum for consideration.

There are currently over 6,100 participants in the JET Program, 90% of them as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs). ALT's team-teach with Japanese teachers in junior and senior high schools.

I think the things which helped my application the most were my previous experience abroad in Tokyo, excellent letters of recommendation thanks to my Japanese professors, and an articulate essay and interview. (You'd be surprised how many people who apply simply don't write clearly). I think that experience abroad, not necessarily to Japan, but to pretty much any foreign country, is one of the most revealing standards they have to judge an applicant by.

I'm not sure how much my Japanese ability helped in getting me the job. I do know, however, that I have benefited tremendously from being able to understand what's going on here in day to day life. I will go so far as to say that I think my experience has been better than those of some of my peers because of that.

All things considered, Japan is relatively easy to get along in on English alone, given a flexible personality and the right acquaintances -- but, it's a whole lot easier, especially on the nerves, if one can get along in the vernacular. A semester of college-level Japanese provides the basic survival skills, and all the foundation grammar should be covered by the third semester. In my opinion, a very worthwhile investment.

Further Reference

ALT Online
- JET News & Information

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA)
- JET Program Pages

Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR)
- Web site
- JET Program Pages

Association of Japan Exchange and Teaching (AJET)
- Web site

 

JET Tidbits

The deadline of application is usually in December. Applicants are notified in March, and successful participants arrive in Japan in July or early August.

Application documents are obtained at the Japanese embassy or consulate in the applicant's home country.

Applicants cannot have lived in Japan for 3 or more of the past 8 years, nor have participated in the JET Programme within the past 10 years.

Applicants/participants who withdrew from the Programme before departing for Japan are eligible to re-apply after a one year waiting period.

 



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