During introductions at various JET conferences, I as a CIR (Coordinator for International Relations) am often called a “unicorn” by the various ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers, for those out of the know) I meet. True, we are on the rarer side, making up only about 8% of the total JET population, but the real unicorns are the SEAs–they all (all 4 or so a year) come in during C Orientation, if you were wondering (I’ve met a few–more like stood behind a few and were told in hush whispers who they were–and they’re real). There are actually a couple hundred of us, although still infinitesimal compared to the several thousand ALTs, and I knew enough CIRs already coming in that to me, we were few but obvious. Considering that my prefecture Tochigi only has roughly 30 JETs on average, it’s easy for CIRs to come into some sort of contact with ALTs, in comparison to prefectures like our neighbor Gunma with 117 ALTs and even fewer CIRs than us.
I am often asked what I actually do as a Coordinator for International Relations–which is in itself a very valid question, as really, no one knows for sure until they actually start the job. Our role can vary from desk translator to glorified English teacher to doing basically everything (the latter is most fitting for my case), and that is one major aspect of anticipation for those applying for CIR. It’s interesting talking to other CIRs at conferences and hearing what they do–there are some that make me regret my job (“I get to travel all around my prefecture and try different restaurants, see famous sights, etc. and blog about them for work!”) and some that make me never want to risk leaving my job (“We don’t even have internet–we have intranet”–yes intranet, like what North Korea has). While there is plenty of information out there describing different ALT situations and scenarios, the popular disclaimer “every situation is different” seems to be used as a reason for not even trying to give concrete examples or information regarding what CIRs do (or potentially/may do). And to be honest, there are times when I’m not even sure that my office knows what I should be doing (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), since they rarely explicitly tell me what to or what to not do (I mostly figure this out by seeing what websites are blocked on my work computer)–therefore, my first month or so was filled with anxiousness wondering if I was doing things right or doing what I was supposed to, but more or less half a year in, I’m filling up most of my time with awesome projects–like writing this blog entry.
Therefore, to facilitate some cross-occupational understanding and to help out some potential (or recently appointed) CIRs, here is what a week in my work life entails, more or less.
First, some background info, if you didn’t know it already. I am Tochigi’s only English-region CIR (we have 4 total) and am a prefectural CIR (meaning I work in the Prefectural Office in the capital city, as opposed to a more local office or international organization) in the International Affairs Department. As such, I am also automatically designated as a PA (prefectural advisor) for the other JETs (although how PAs are designated changes from prefecture to prefecture). In general, I would describe my job as doing the following:
- Translate (Japanese-English and English-Japanese) and edit (English) official government documents and publications, promotional materials, and other miscellaneous documents
- Interpret (Japanese-English and English-Japanese) for and escort officials of the prefectural and national government and delegates from abroad–mostly in relation to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and sister state affairs
- Plan and deliver presentations about America to (mostly middle and high) schools and organizations to promote international understanding
- Manage all Tochigi JET online resources and social media
- Promote sister state relations between Tochigi and Indiana
- Produce newsletters and other forms of information communication for all Tochigi JET Programme participants
- Serve as a Prefectural Advisor to counsel and manage all ALTs to maximize their potential and experience in Japan
- Instruct English lessons for government employees to facilitate international communication (this hasn’t actually happened yet, but is in the works–bureaucracy is dragging me down)
I also do other things with my time such as study Japanese, take Coursera or Edx courses, read the news and cultural articles (these are all actually really important for being able to translate, interpret, and make American-centered presentations), and serve in other projects, such as being one of the final bosses (judge) for the prefecture-level high school English speech contest finals, and organizing JET Tochigi orientations and conferences. Now, for what all that LinkedIn jibber-jabber means, here’s basically what I’m doing this week:
First, to prepare for my PA work, I wake up every morning and blast the following, singing at the top of my lungs until my lovely neighbor comes banging on my door:
I wanna be the very best,
Like no one ever was.
To catch them all is my real test,
To train them is my cause.
I will travel across the land,
Searching far and wide.
Teach ALTs to understand
The power that’s inside
[JET] Program on, it’s you and me
I know its my destiny
Program on, you’re my best friend
In a world we must defend
Program on, a heart so true
Our courage will pull us through
You teach me and I’ll teach you
Program on, gotta catch ’em all
Every challenge along the way
With courage I will face
I will battle every day
To claim my rightful place
Come with me, the time is right
There’s no better team
Arm in arm we’ll win the fight
It’s always been our dream
Just kidding. None of that actually happens. But I recommend sneaking those lyrics into a job interview. If the situation allows, of course. (But please don’t.)
Anyways, my job starts at 9:30 am and goes until 5:30 pm with no overtime expected of me in most general cases (although I can’t say the same for my Japanese counterparts). I have one hour for a lunch break, during which I normally go out for a walk to stretch my legs and get a bit of exercise in.
So, without further adieu, here’s (finally) the basics of what I did this week:
(Those marked with an asterisk* are projects I have taken upon myself to do in broad interpretation of my job role and duties.)
MONDAY – START
- Go through all the kairan (circulating documents and files that need everyone’s stamp, whether the person actually is relevant or reads the materials or not) I missed during my recent week+ of vacation. These mostly have information regarding something a staff member did for work (for example, whenever I give a school presentation, I have to submit a print copy of what exactly I used and feedback sheets), or otherwise news articles, fliers for events and other advertisements, governmental staff updates, etc. I often glance through the news articles, take note of relevant events, and take out the Kaihou Shimbun (解放新聞–a weekly paper regarding human rights issues in Japan) to read thoroughly later.
- Check my email, respond as necessary, and go through (even more) e-kairan.
- Work on a translation project in preparation for the public opening of a previous British Ambassador’s summer villa in Nikko
- Work through 4 lessons in the translation/interpretation course from CLAIR that I have gotten far, far behind in.
- Clean out some of the old files in my desk.
- *Go through Buzzfeed News articles.
- Research Washington, Indiana, as a delegation from Indiana will be coming later in the month and is looking to find a sister city in Tochigi for it
- CLAIR course
- Continue translation projects
- Meet with the ladies at the Tochigi International Center hosting an event I will lead regarding Indiana and the USA in general and with a cooking element to help plan specifics.
- Start fine-tuning presentation for said event and looking into American recipes and information on the Amish
- *Start working on monthly newsletter to send to JETs (recently I started trying out Mail Chimp, but previously I had been using plain ol’ emails)
- *Coordinate with volunteer services specific opportunities for JETs to volunteer in the local community (I have set up a monthly volunteer system for Happy Tails and am also helping coordinate our volunteering for a special New Year’s event)
- *Read Aljazeera and Japan Times news articles.
- CLAIR course
- Continue translations
- *Get Tochigi JET website working and finally bending to my will (there had been a lot of bugs up till now).
- Prepare for a meeting later this month with an Olympic-related Australian delegation
- Translate names of photography works that are on the receiving end of various awards in a Nikko photo contest
- *Start writing this post and fervently try to remember what I did on Monday.
- Go through more kairan
- *Stare at more Buzzfeed articles to keep up with/prepare for sharing American culture
- *Edit my LinkedIn
- CLAIR course
- Continue working on presentation materials (ex. look up distances between my hometown and Chicago, NYC, etc. and equal distances from Utsunomiya/Tokyo; translate 2 American recipes; start new PPT)
- Contact a few JETs regarding reappointment matters, etc.
- *Edit Tochigi JET website
FRIDAY – FINISH
- Continue translation project
- Review PA health insurance materials
- *Research places to donate old books
- Attempt to clean out a couple sections of my desk
- Review and edit script and presentation for promoting investment in Tochigi to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- *Read travel and language magazine/website articles
- *Edit Tochigi JET website
- *Read Japan Times news
And there you have it! As you can see, I’m particularly focusing effort on a couple on-going projects this week, catching up on stuff I missed during my vacation absence, and there’s not much taking me out of the office for a bit. This is at best one example of my week–even within my job, I have a lot of variation (there are weeks where I’m out of the office multiple times, and on special occasions need to go out to work an event on a Saturday or Sunday). If there’s any call for it, I can write another entry during a week that’s more interesting later!
Sore dewa, otsukare-san.
This dog-loving former Tochigi CIR hails from its sister-state of Indiana and loves traveling the world and eating everything. She graduated after completing a thesis discussing the links between human trafficking and idol culture, and now works in Tokyo for an international human rights NGO.