Part 1: What is a Coordinator for International Relations?
For many fairly recent college graduates with degrees in Asian Studies, the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme is the next stop on their career path. Last year, we ran several posts on the application process and role of for JET’s Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs), who make up 90% of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. As a former CIR, I’d like to focus on the application process and the work of the other ~10% of JETs: the Coordinators for International Relations (CIRs; 国際交流員).
Who are CIRs? How are they different from ALTs?
When applying to JET, you cannot apply as both an ALT and a CIR at the same time. How do you know which is right for you?
ALTs are Assistant Language Teachers. While they participate in exchange activities other than teaching, teaching is their primary job. There is no Japanese language requirement for ALTs: some participants arrive with no Japanese skills; others are practically fluent.
CIRs, on the other hand, must possess a “functional command” of the Japanese language, which is comparable to passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N2. While N2 or N1 certification is desirable, it is not necessary for the application. CIRs may be asked to do school visits or teach English, but unlike ALTs, that is not supposed to be their primary job. JET describes CIR duties as working “in communities on international exchange activities”:
Major duties often include translation/interpretation for government officials, teaching community or school foreign language classes, and international exchange event planning and implementation.
Duties for a CIR may include:
・Receiving guests from abroad
・Editing and producing pamphlets in English or Japanese
・Advising and planning international exchange programmes
・Teaching English (or other languages) to government employees and local residents (from the official JET Programme website)
Because teaching English (or one’s native language) is not a primary duty, more CIRs than ALTs come from countries where English is not an official language. In my prefecture, we had CIRs from India, Belgium, France, Russia, China, Brazil, and Korea as well as the US, the UK, and Canada. I’m writing as an American who spent two years as a CIR, and so the information here pertains to the American application process.
This is an abbreviated list that focuses on the CIR position. For other positions and for more details regarding citizen status, see the website.
Hold at least a Bachelor’s degree or obtain such qualifications by the designated departure date of Group A participants (late July)
Have a functional command of the Japanese language. (Japanese language proficiency is necessary to function in a Japanese office environment). (See prior section.)
Have excellent pronunciation, rhythm, intonation and voice projection skills in the designated language in addition to other standard language skills. Have good writing skills and grammar usage. [For CIRs from English-speaking countries, this is Japanese and English.]
Not have lived in Japan for six or more years in total since 2002.
Like ALTs, CIRs may request a preferred region, prefecture, or city, as well as whether they would like to be urban, suburban, or rural. However, because CIRs only make up only 10% of the JET workforce, there are not as many positions or placements available. If you want to request a specific area, check the JET statistics (PDF) to see where the CIR positions are. After all, there’s no point in requesting a prefecture or city (Tokyo) with no recent history of CIRs!
CIRs often work for international exchange organizations, international divisions, city halls, and boards of education. Where you are placed will greatly determine what kind of work you do. A town or rural CIR at a board of education may teach elementary English and help plan local multicultural exchange events; an urban CIR working at a city hall might interpret for government officials and help with sister-city exchange events. The work of CIRs is extremely varied, so be prepared for anything!
Why I Applied as a CIR
I majored in Cultural and Critical Studies with my focus on Japan; during my undergrad career, I had interned at Japan America Society of Colorado. My time at JASC helped me realize that I was really drawn to a career in promoting Japanese culture in the US. I continued on this path academically and pre-professionally during my MA in Japan Studies, and in the final year of my grad work, I decided to apply as a CIR to help launch my career in this line of work.
Consider Your Qualifications
Your statement of purpose and your interview, if you are selected for one, are your chances to show the selection committee why YOU are the best candidate for a CIR position. Many candidates have a BA in Japan/Asian/Studies or International Relations, study abroad experience, and at least four years of university-level Japanese. What sets you aside?
In my case, I tried to show my dedication to linguistic and cultural study in my academic career, facilitating cultural exchange in my pre-professional work, and how gaining more experience in this field as a CIR would aid my future career. Interestingly, the CIR position I received was not at all what I expected, but the valuable experience I gained on the job and through my work with the JET community ended up taking me down a slightly different career path, which I’m enjoying very much. (More on this forthcoming.)