If you want to get onto the JET programme then congrats! You are reading this article, which means you are doing the research you need! The JET programme receives several thousand applications every year, so you not only want to make your application good, you want to make it stand out. Here are four tips to help you look like the best JET programme candidate.
1) Why Japan?
I have offered to help some current applicants, and I was surprised that some missed out on this key question: “Why Japan?” You may have a fantastic resume of teaching and/or international experience, maybe even background in TEFL, but miss out on specifying why you want to teach in Japan. Why not teach English in China? South Korea? Or even Europe? Why Japan specifically?
This does not just mean a rich background in Japanese studies – in fact, there are many current JETs that had little to no experience with Japan before coming here. My advice is to answer Why Japan?, or even Why JET?, in your personal statement. Even for those applicants who do have university courses and activities they can list on the “Japan-Related Studies” section of the application, the reality is many people, especially JET applicants, probably have some experience with Japanese culture they can add to their application. To make your application stand out, tell them your story: say what sparked your interest and how you are eager to experience Japanese culture first-hand.
2) Remember, you are applying to be a TEACHER.
For many JETs, the JET programme is their first time teaching, ever (including me!). Some of us joke that in the programme there are two kinds of people: people who have loads of experience with Japanese culture (but no teaching) or people with loads of teaching experience (but no background in Japanese culture). Now imagine the person who has experience with both!
For those of you who have little background in education, I encourage you to list any teaching experience, or even experience working with children and teens, you can think of. You are, after all, not applying to live in Japan, you are applying to teach. There is a place in the application where you can list teaching experience, and it is not limited to teaching in a classroom: ever been a camp counselor? Led a lecture at Sunday School? Assisted your professor and/or high school teacher? Think outside of the box! Any teaching-related experience is good experience! And DO mention it in your personal statement – again, I cannot emphasize it enough, this is a teaching job, so prepare your application accordingly.
3) What can you bring to Japan? …What can you bring back?
Consider this: What is the purpose of the JET programme, and how can you fulfill that purpose?
The answer to this question is (and has been) highly debated, but for your application drop the debate and focus on these two objectives and how you can help the programme meet those objectives (then you can pick it back up again once you are here in an izakaya with your fellow ALTs).
Objective 1: Internationalization of Japan
Allow me to remind you of the JET Programme’s mission statement:
The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program seeks to enhance internationalization in Japan by promoting mutual understanding between the people of Japan and those of other nations. The Program aims to enhance foreign language education and promote international exchange at the local level through the fostering of ties between Japanese youth and foreign youth alike. – The JET Program USA
TL:DR The JET Programme wants to introduce Japanese to foreigners.
Believe it or not, but many rural Japanese may have never met a foreigner before – or if they have, it has more likely than not been an English teacher. Japan is known to be a highly homogeneous and relatively closed society, and many argue that this is hurting Japan’s competitiveness in the ever-globalizing economy. As such, an effort of the JET program is not only to help students learn English from a natural speaker, but to help introduce them to a foreign culture.
In your application, tell them how you can help them meet this objective. Why are you the best candidate to introduce your students to your language and culture? And maybe not just your students, but the community you will be placed in? Consider your that you are applying to be not only a teacher, but a representative of your culture – an agent of grassroots globalization.
Objective 2: “Japanization” of your culture.
The JET programme is not only helping the Japanese internationalize, but it helps to improve Japan’s image around the world. The JET programme as a great example of public diplomacy at work; not only do the Japanese learn more about other cultures, but you have thousands of ALTs going back home each year to spread the love of Japan. Thus, Japan’s image improves.
Though the effectiveness of this is debatable, many JET alumni have indeed gone on to play a role in Japan relations in their home countries. You may have noticed in the “Teaching Experience” section in the application, there is a space for you to talk about your future profession; this is no doubt in relation to this objective. The JET Programme wants to know if you might go on to promote Japan’s interests in an influential way.
I know it’s a bit early to think about what you might be doing after JET but this is your opportunity to show that you are not only a temporary English teacher, but a long term investment. And your answer doesn’t have to be “I want to go into Japan-US relations!” (or Japan-whatever country you are from). If you aren’t a politics person, expand your mind and think of how the JET programme supporters are considering the possibilities: an ALT in Akita-ken who is business-oriented might like komachi rice enough to try to introduce it to people back home, thus making a local business international. A candidate who is interested in teaching will bring their experiences to young people back home, cultivating a good attitude toward Japan in their home country. You can find a way promote Japan’s interests in pretty much every career, so think outside the box and tell them how.
4) International Experience: Abroad AND At Home!
Finally, having international experience helps you stand out for multiple reasons, the least of which being that it proves that you can help the programme meet the two objectives I listed in Tip #3. The other side of the coin is that if you have international experience you are more likely to be able to mentally handle living and working in a foreign country. Showing that you have done it before is a pretty good way to reassure them!
So yes, in the “Intercultural/International Experience” section of the application, DO put that brief week-long trip to Italy. Even if it doesn’t seem entirely related to living in Japan for a year, it actually is! If you have never traveled abroad, that’s perfectly okay! But, like the previous tips, I encourage you to find other things to fill in the “international experience” section of the application if you want your app to really stand out. Any experience with other cultures shows that you can help the programme meet their objectives, and it shows you have an understanding of cultural differences which will better help you deal with culture shock.
I hope these four tips help you and that I will see you at the next Tokyo Orientation! Feel free to comment or contact me, or anyone else with the JET Coaster if you have any questions regarding your application. Also, check out our The JET programme application – paper application post about the first step of your app: the paper application. And finally, stay updated with The JET Coaster as we will be writing more application advice!
Good luck on your application, and がんばって！
Featured image by Tom Ventura, with edits.