Sunday, September 27, 2009

The JET Programme - What it is and how to apply

This is a blog post regarding The JET Programme (Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program). It's the reason I'm here today working in Japan. I’ll be writing a few entries like these related to JET and working in Japan. I apologize to those that read this blog that have no interest in applying for jobs in Japan. These will be pretty boring for you. I decided to start writing these because I have a few friends who are interested in applying for JET this year, and I want to give them all the info and advice I can. If you stumbled upon this blog because you’re interested in working in Japan, then I hope you find these blog entries helpful!

So first off, some basic info:

What is the JET Programme?
The JET Programme is a government funded program that brings native English speakers to Japan. The foreigners they bring in are hired by Japanese schools. There are a few different positions within the program:

ALT - Assistant Language Teacher (this is what I do): You work in the schools helping to teach English. Because this is the job I do, this is the position I'll discuss the most.

SEA - Sports Exchange Advisor: You help out with sports in the school system. (I know very little about this position, and I haven't met anyone that does this)

CIR - Coordinator for International Relations: You have the most responsibility of any of the 3 positions in the JET Programme. You're the one ALT's will call up when they need some help. This job requires a high level of Japanese ability. If you haven't passed 2 kyu or higher on the JLPT, then you should probably apply to be an ALT instead. If you have no idea what the JLPT is, then you definitely shouldn't apply to be a CIR.

What are the requirements for the JET Programme?
There are only a few: You must be a native English speaker, have a Bachelor's Degree or higher, and have an interest in Japan. That's it.

Really? What about being able to speak Japanese? What if I didn't major in Japanese?
It doesn't matter. Granted, being able to speak Japanese or having a degree in Japanese/East Asian studies does look good. Having that already proves that you're interested in Japan. However, it's definitely not required. I came in here with a BFA in studio art. I've met plenty of people that came in here not being able to speak more Japanese than "konichiwa." (However, if you're planning to move to Japan, whether it's through JET or something else, I highly recommend trying to learn some Japanese before you come over. It will make your life so much easier!)

What about a teaching certificate?
Also not required. However, if you have teaching experience, you should bring that up in your application (more on that later).

How long can you work while in the JET Programme?
Your contract will be for 1 year. After that, you can re-contract for 2 more years. If the school/board of education thinks you're really exceptional, then you can be asked to re-contract for 2 more years after that. So it's possible to be working in the JET Programme for up to 5 years, but no more than that.

What's the living situation like? Will I get an apartment? How big are the apartments? Do they come furnished? How much is rent? How do I get to my schools? Will my school buy me a car? How many classes will I teach a day?...
All questions like this are best answered with a phrase you will get to know very well when applying for JET: ESID. This is short for "Every Situation is Different." It's important to know that JET does not employ you. You are employed by the board of education wherever you are placed. Think of JET as like temp agency. The temp agency doesn't hire you, but they find a company that will hire you. JET is the same way. Therefore, your work and living situation will be different from other people you meet within JET. There are only 2 things that are consistent for every person in JET: Your flight to Japan is covered, and the pay is the same no matter where you are.

...oh. So how much does it pay?
¥3.6 million per year. You get paid ¥300,000 per month.

How do placements work? Can I choose where I live in Japan?
You can make requests for where you want to live in Japan (more on that later), but they are not always taken into account. In fact, I recommend not counting on getting the placement you request.

What if I don't like where they place me? Can I turn it down and get another one? Can I transfer to someplace else
If you don't like where you get placed, then tough luck. Sorry, but that's the way it works. If you turn down the placement, then you are out of the JET programme for that year. You can't apply again the next year.

Transfers are possible, but you need to have a very good reason. A good reason would be, "I need to be placed in (insert city here) because I need to be closer to the doctor." or "I recently got married, and I want to live in the same place as my spouse." These are the reasons they will actually listen to. Reasons like, "I need a transfer because I hate living in the country side of Japan" simply won't fly.

If being placed in a very specific location is extremely important to you, then I recommend trying to come to Japan through something other than JET.

For an extended FAQ on what JET is, please visit this page:

So those are some facts things about JET. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask. Any questions regarding the interview process or preparing to leave for Japan, I will get to later when the time comes around. I find too many aspiring JETs put too much concentration on things like, "what should I pack for Japan?" when they haven't even sent in their application! Worry about the application first. Trust me, it's a stressful enough process on its own. You'll put yourself into a panic attack if you start thinking about what comes after. That's why in this post, I will only focus on the application.

How do I apply?
Half of the application work is done online, and the other half are materials you will need to send in.

When does the application process start?
The application process starts in the fall. You will be applying for the following year. So if you're applying for the JET Programme this year, if selected, you will start work in summer 2010. The actual date the application goes up online may vary by country. Please check the JET website for your country to find out when the application process starts for you.

What is the deadline for the application?
The deadline is usually late November. (However, the year I applied they delayed it until December.) Again, please check to find out when it is for your country

Where can I get an application?
You get the application online from the JET website for your country. The application will go up on the website sometime in the fall.

What materials do I need for the application?
- The application itself
- Medical forms (these are part of the application)
- Statement of purpose (more on that in a bit)
- College transcripts
- Proof of study abroad (if you've done study abroad)
- Proof of graduation / proof you will graduate on time
- Any teaching certificates (if you have them)
- Proof of citizenship
- 2 reference letters

Check your countries website for more details on these requirements.

The application itself
The JET application is many pages long. As soon as it goes up online, I recommend getting started on it ASAP. The application is similar to most other job applications. It will ask for general information about you, your past work experience, your education background, etc. Like other job applications, this is a good time to bring up things that will make you look qualified for this job. If you have any teaching experience, mention that. If you have experience working with kids (babysitting your little sister doesn't count), mention that. If you've taken some Japanese language/culture/history classes, mention that.

This is also the part where they will ask you if you have any placement requests. Many aspiring JET's stress about this part a lot. In that case, I recommend not putting any placement requests at all. Like I mentioned earlier, they don't always take requests into account anyway. However, if there is a place in Japan you're really interested in living in, it won't hurt to mention it. If you do this, just make sure you have a good reason for wanting to live in that place. "I want to live in Osaka because I have friends there" doesn't look good. I would recommend talking about some aspect of the culture that interests you in that place. And who knows, maybe that reason will be good enough to get you in the place you want.

After completing the form, I recommend looking it over a few times to make sure there are no mistakes. Once you email the application, that's it. You can't go back and correct anything after that. So make sure it's perfect! You will send the application through online, and then you will have to print out a copy to mail in.

The medical forms
Basically, they want to see if you're healthy and if you have any medical conditions they should be aware of. Don't let this scare you. Answer all of the questions honestly. For example, if you have asthma, don't leave it out of the form because you're afraid it will prevent you from being selected. It won't. What these forms are really important for is your school/board of education that employs you when you get to Japan. It's really important that you make them aware of certain things. For example, say you're deathly allergic to shellfish. Your school needs to know so that they don't serve you any at any of the enkais!

Statement of Purpose
This is the essay you have to write. Remember the essays you had to write when applying to college? It's pretty much like that.

I'm going to dedicate an entire post just for the statement of purpose. This post is getting long enough on its own, and I have a LOT to say about the statement of purpose. Check back for it later!

College transcripts
self explanatory I think. Contact any colleges you went to and find out how to get a copy of your transcript

Proof of study abroad
This is a letter you need to get proving you have done study abroad. (Of course, if you never did study abroad, you can skip this part). You can get the letter from the school you studied abroad at, or an official letter from your college's study abroad office will probably work too (that's what I ended up doing).

Proof of graduation
Send them a copy of your diploma. If you're still currently in school, then you'll need to get an official letter from the registrar's office of your college saying that you will graduate on time to be eligible for the JET Programme.

Any teaching certificates
If you have any, make a copy of them. If you don't have any, then skip this.

Proof of citizenship
This might be different in other countries, so check the website to find out what will work. I made copies of my driver’s license and passport for this part.

2 Reference letters
I recommend contacting the people you want as references ASAP, especially if any of them are college professors. The application will have special papers you can print out that have instructions for the people you want as references. Once you have these, immediately give them to the people who are writing you letters.
For references, I recommend any professional work references. Get your current boss/supervisor/manager to write you one (unless they don't like you). If you're currently in college, definitely get references from your professors. Even if you've already graduated, they can still make a great reference. (As long as you’ve kept in contact with them, it should be fine.) Like any other job application, make sure it's a professional reference.

Sending in the application
The JET website has VERY specific instructions for the application. You'll need a certain amount of copies for everything, you'll need everything in a certain order, you'll need everything stapled/paper clipped a certain way, and so on. Do NOT take these instructions lightly. One small mistake could get you disqualified.

When do the results come out?
You'll find out whether or not you got an interview around early January. This really depends on what country you're from, but January seems to be the time everyone finds out.

Will they call me/email me if I got an interview?
For the United Sates, no. When the embassy receives your application, they will send you a number in the mail. The application results will go up online. If you see your number, then congrats! You have an interview! If you don't see your number, then zanen :(

It's possible that the Japan embassies in other countries actually do contact their applicants. I don't know for sure though.

That's about all there is to it. My final piece of advice: start on all of this as early as possible!!! Do NOT wait until the last minute. As you can see, it's a lot to get done, and they don't give you very much time. If you're a college student, then you REALLY can't wait on this.

Good luck /Ganbarimasu, future applicants!! Check back for a post about the dreaded statement of purpose.
Again, if you have any questions regarding JET or the application process, just leave me a comment!

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