Part 3: Life as a CIR
Positions for CIRs are extremely varied in terms of location, duties, and expectations. ALTs know from the start that their primary duty at work will be teaching English at public schools. There’s a lot of variation between what grade level, what type of school, location, staff, and the involvment of the ALT with the teachers, but teaching English is the main objective. With CIRs, you really don’t know what sort of work you’re going to get, and the nature of the job varies wildly based on your office, location, and budget. I think a lot of CIR applicants go into the process with high hopes of working at a city office translating and interpreting, but there’s quite a range.
For example, some CIRs inherit an established position where there are yearly events or consistent work that is expected of them. Some CIRs have to build up their jobs and create their own work. Some CIRs work chiefly with their contracting organization (an international division); others work mainly with an international friendship club; others work with a variety of organizations. A lot of this depends on the history of your position and the budget of your contracting organization.
Your work depends so completely on your placement that it redefines the motto of Every Situation Is Different (ESID). For example, among CIRs I knew during my two years on JET,
- CIR A (urban) does translation and interpretation almost exclusively.
- CIR B (urban) works on developing mid-to-large-scale cultural events, sister-city relations, and translation, as well as some school visits.
- CIR C (town) focuses on school visits for young children and organizing local cultural events; often works with an international club on events.
- CIR D (rural) holds a speech series, writes a monthly column, does school visits, and organizes multicultural events.
- CIR E (rural) does school visits everyday and organizes low-budget multicultural events.
Work as a Rural CIR
One thing I would like to emphasize no CIR should be made to feel bad about his or her job or placement. Your interests and workplace preferences will probably not be taken into account when you are selected for your actual position. In my case, I had academic experience translating and pre-professional experience in event planning, but I was assigned to a position with a heavy emphasis on teaching English to elementary-school children. Considering I had no experience with or interest in teaching or working with children, it was a shock to me.
My contracting organization was a rural town board of education, and their only expectation for me was for me to teach English at two elementaries and one junior high. I was well aware that I might be doing eikaiwa activities or school visits, but I did not expect to have the amount of teaching hours for which I was scheduled. “Teaching CIRs,” as we call ourselves, have it rough because the amount of non-teaching work you can do is based on your board of education’s budget. While other established CIRs might have a bit of the budget set aside for their events, teaching CIRs may not, as some contracting organizations really just want a Japanese-speaking ALT. Essentially, I was doing two jobs: putting in the same number of hours in the classroom as an average ALT while spending the rest of my work day doing translation work, event planning, and AJET outreach (more on this below).
Most CIRs find that duties they initially were apprehensive about turn out to be fun and rewarding: school visits, interpretation sessions, big events aimed at children. I tried my best to do what the BOE wanted, but I don’t think I ever became comfortable with my time in the classroom, despite getting to work with some exceptional and creative students. Furthermore, I was hoping to leave JET after 2 years with event planning and translating work on my resume so that I could pursue a career at a Japan-based cultural non-profit or as a translator. Because the basic job duties did not include anything I would need to pursue my dreams, I spent two years working to expand my role.
Fortunately for me, my immediate bosses really wanted to help me create more projects. I got approval to run a series of international cooking lessons in cooperation with the local children’s club (児童館),and with a lot of pushing, I was able to do some translation work—the town garbage chart, legal documents, tax documents, a children’s book about our town. (However, if you are trying to go outside your role, be prepared to deal with the bureaucracy: start early and don’t bank it all on one project.)
I also got involved in the local JET community. I volunteered for other JETs’ events from cooking lessons to international salons. I started and acted as editor of The Ishikawa JET Kitchen, a cookbook for English-speaking expats in Japan. I also started blogging for the Ishikawa JET blog soon after arriving and took over as editor in my second year, and my experience with writing, translating, tourism, and culture for the blog helped me get my current position as the web content manager of Art of Kanazawa and Discover Kanazawa, an art-based tourism project in Kanazawa funded by METI.
Although I originally had intended to go into non-profit work, I actually got really interested in work in the tourism and travel industries in my second year of JET after I had spent a year blogging about events and destinations in Ishikawa and planning trips for my family and eventually my friends. My knowledge of Ishikawa and my experience translating, researching, and writing, as well as my connections to the JET community (a colleague recommended the job to me and me to my employer) were crucial to my being able to work in this field. Even though my CIR experience wasn’t what I had expected, it was thanks to my work as a JET that I am here doing something I am truly passionate about.
I hope everyone who is lucky enough to receive a CIR position finds enjoyment and fulfillment in the work, and that every CIR learns more about her/himself in the process of working and living here in Japan. Sometimes the career- and life skills you develop while working as a JET aren’t the ones you set out to acquire–you may surprise yourself!
Good luck to all the 2012 applicants!