Hey, everyone. I’m Amanda and this is my first time posting on the blog so I think I should probably tell you a little about myself. I’m a Gettysburg College 2009 graduate with a B.A. in Japanese Studies. I studied abroad at Kansai Gaidai during the spring of my junior year and I was also the 200-level Japanese tutor my senior year. I’m currently teaching English to elementary school students in Osan, South Korea.
That being said, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m in Korea instead of Japan. Well, folks, that is exactly what this blog post is about: why I didn’t do JET. This blog post is just going to tell how things panned out for me. I was hoping it would show you all that things might not always turn out the way you had initially planned after graduation, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. JET is a great first job out of school, but it might not be for everyone.
First, you should know that I did apply to JET my senior year at Gettysburg. Initially JET was my ideal job out of school: it was a way for me to get some “real job” experience, make money and start paying off my school loans, as well as improve my Japanese. My Japanese is nowhere what I would consider fluent so I thought the best thing would be to return to Japan right after graduation to maintain and improve my skills. I went through the entire application process and I got an interview at the Japanese Embassy, but I failed to receive a position or even get put on the waiting list for positions that opened up from people that dropped out.
There are a number of reasons why I think I got rejected, but none of which I can confirm or prove (especially since JET gives you no information on the matter). For one, I was poor at the time and I didn’t wear a suit to my interview. I didn’t look like a deadbeat, but I felt slightly underdressed for my interview. My interview was also kind of a mess in hindsight. I was extremely nervous and fumbled with my words as well as missed certain opportunities to display my love for Japan. For example, I mentioned in my jikoshoukai (self introduction) that one of my hobbies was watching movies. So an interviewer asked what sorts of movies I liked. Rather than starting to name all of the Japanese films I enjoy, I for some reason said I liked fantasy movies, like Harry Potter. Yeah. Another reason I think I got rejected is because I applied to JET with my boyfriend. He got an interview as well, but it apparently didn’t go well either seeing as he’s now teaching in Korea as well. I said I was willing to be far away from him (which was the truth) but I don’t think they quite believed me. Lastly, this is a rather sensitive issue, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I got rejected because I’m Korean. That’s not at all to say JET doesn’t hire Asian people, but I think the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of English schools in both Japan and Korea would prefer a Caucasian or typical “white” English teacher. I have definitely experienced such discrimination in Korea too, so I’m definitely not singling JET out.
So the next question you would likely have for me is why I didn’t just reapply the next year. That is also a rather personal issue, but it had to do with my debt. My school loan debt is… well, a rather sizable amount and unfortunately my parents aren’t in a position to help (otherwise I’m sure I wouldn’t have taken out loans to begin with) so waiting another year to apply for a job which I may or may not get was pretty much out of the question. At the time, I couldn’t even secure a part-time job to hold me over so I was pretty desperate to find something immediately. Not only that, but even applying to JET was eating up money since I had to mail that giant stack of papers i.e. the application and travel to the Embassy and back for the interview (I lived in Northeast PA and had to travel to DC). Korea was the better option because I could apply at all times of the year, whereas JET has a really strict timeline for applications. I also didn’t have to travel for interviews for positions in Korea because they’re usually done over the phone. Lastly, this is really trivial, but the JET application itself is also a pain in the butt to fill out and I sure as heck didn’t want to fill it out again if I could possibly avoid it.
Another question you may have is why I didn’t work for an eikaiwa (English conversation) school in Japan. I did apply to a handful of eikaiwas after JET but either heard no response or was rejected. After my interview with AEON I decided that an eikaiwa work environment was not suited for me because I felt the emphasis was more on bringing money into the school rather than the students’ educations. My viewpoints and morals didn’t quite line up with how an eikaiwa runs. I understand that’s just business, but that’s why I decided not to pursue eikaiwas any further. One other detail was the fact that eikaiwas don’t pay your airfare to Japan if you’re hired. That’s all on the teacher. As you know, plane tickets are not cheap and that was an expense I would have rather avoided. On the other hand, it’s quite common for both private and public schools to pay your airfare to Korea (well, in my case reimbursement).
The last reason I decided to come to Korea is because, well, I’m Korean. I love Japan, but I have an interest in Korea as well and it was an opportunity for me to learn more about my native heritage. Obviously this has nothing to do with the work situation, but it is one of the large reasons I decided to come here.
My current job is likened to JET, but as Rachel explained in her post, the E in JET stands for “Exchange” and your job involves teaching but does not revolve around that. In JET you are meant to represent your country, and cultural exchange with your students is stressed.
I am in the GEPIK program, which stands for Gyeonggi English Program in Korea. Gyeonggi is the province I teach and live in. There are separate programs for Seoul (SMOE – Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education) and the rest of Korea that isn’t Gyeonggi (EPIK – English Program in Korea). All of these programs are for public schools only. Like in JET, I teach with a co-teacher, but also unlike JET, this is for sure a teaching-based job. It’s good to be able to teach the students a little about your culture, but it’s definitely not the main focus and it’s more about helping the kids learn English. I’m an elementary school teacher and I feel that my job is to make English-learning fun for them; my job is to engender a love for English in the kids.
To sum up, my reasons for not doing JET I’d say were largely financial. The other factors were time constraints and personal interests. For me, JET just ended up being a not-right-now situation. I could absolutely end up doing it later on, but for the time being Korea seemed the better option. The only bad thing is that I’m not improving my Japanese right now like I wanted to, but I suppose I can always work on my Japanese later. I just don’t like not keeping up with it; when you don’t use it, you forget it.
So there you have it. If you’re thinking about JET, great, go for it. Just know that if you don’t get in there are other options and it isn’t the end of the world. And unlike me, you can choose to reapply. Weigh all the options before deciding what you want to do. If you’re interested in ESL jobs, know that there are plenty of other countries to teach in besides Japan and also know that not all schools or programs work in the same manner. In the end I’m sure you’ll be able to find a path that works for you.