Alternate Purgatory

Why I’m Glad I Was an Alternate: A Guide to Thriving in Alternate Purgatory – My Story

So it’s that time of year again – the time of year when JET hopefuls are given the “yay” or “nay” regarding their participation in the program; the time of year when many dreams are either shattered or realized. Those who are lucky enough to end up on the legendary “short-list” are most likely jumping for joy and already making plans for their new lives in Japan while those who are rejected are forced to move on with their lives. But what about those who have yet to be given a definite “yay” or “nay”? What about those who have been *gasp* sentenced to alternate limbo?

If you happen to be one such unlucky soul, this post’s for you! For the next few weeks I plan on writing a post per week on life as an alternate. I’m here to help you get through it by imparting wisdom I obtained through being in your exact position last year. In addition, I hope to give some insights into why alternate-dom can actually be a *even deeper gasp* good thing!

**For a definition of words appearing in orange, check the bottom of this post!

My Story


So March 30, 2015 I received an email that began like so:

Dear JET Program Applicant:

Thank you so much for your patience throughout the past month. I am writing to inform you that you have been selected as an Alternate ALT Short-list Candidate for this year’s JET Program.

My heart jumped at the words “Short-list” and I was initially elated – only for the “alternate” part to actually sink in on my 2nd (and even 3rd) re-reads. Being the optimist I was, I was still incredibly hopeful about the whole thing. “Hey,” I thought, “At least there’s a chance.” Having done an insane amount of research on the subject prior to receiving the judgment bestowed upon me by the JET gods, I knew that…

  1. It is actually quite common to be “wait-listed.”
  2. The odds of being upgraded to that ever-elusive short-list are fairly high.

Excited to finally have a shred of closure (no matter how small that shred was) on the grueling process that is the JET Program application, I rushed to share the new revelation with family and friends. But instead of taking a positive position on the matter, to my chagrin, the reactions were mostly negative. I was overwhelmed with responses along the lines of “Wow, that sucks!” and “What are you going to do!?” as if I had just somehow contracted some sort of terminal illness. I simply smiled and nodded at their replies – they were just worried about me and weren’t connoisseurs on the topic of alternate limbo as I was. I knew better. I knew that I was likely to get that upgrade call any day! And eventually – emphasis on “eventually” – I did. …Little did I realize that I was in for quite possibly one of the biggest emotional roller-coasters of my young adult life.

Getting “alternated” looks a little bit like this…


To make a long story short, however, I will say that I received that magical upgrade call on July 14 – a good three and a half months after I had received my alternate status. From what I had researched, this was highly unusual. Everything I had read online told me that most upgrades happen until around the end of June; in other words, though possible to get upgraded after June, it isn’t likely. Therefore, once July came around I had given up hope of being upgraded and, like many of my fellow alternates, needed to move on with my life.

I had made plans to apply to Interac and hoped I would be able to go to Japan in March through them. In the mean time, I was going to move to Florida (again) because the thought of being stuck in frigid Ohio for yet another fall / winter was unbearably depressing to me! But here’s the crazy part: the day I got my upgrade call was also the day I was about to solidify my plans of moving to Florida!

When I got the call I was at work. I recognized the number immediately – it was the number of the JET coordinator who had contacted me before about the interview. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to answer the phone at the time. I did, however, listen to the voicemail as soon as I could. It was extremely vague but I knew it had to be good! So I excused myself for a moment and called back the JET coordinator, who proceeded to offer me a position. Though I had gotten pretty excited about my Florida / Interac plans, seeing as I had yet to solidify anything, accepting the upgrade was a no-brainer!

As anyone that has gone through the JET application process well knows, it is both long and expensive. In addition, the sheer amount of paperwork involved (BEFORE you even know if you’re going to be short-listed) can sometimes feel like putting together a grad school thesis! So let’s just take a moment of silence for all the poor trees that are sacrificed each year as a result of the process. You served us well, trees. You served us well.

A-hem! Anyway, as I said, I was at work when I received the upgrade call. As soon as I had gotten off work, it was my plan to call and reserve an apartment I had been eyeing in Florida, thus solidifying my plans for my new life direction. Once I had accepted the position with JET, though, I no longer had to worry about the Plan B. Instead, I then began a two week-long scramble to get together all the documents and things required of short-listers – but that’s a story for another post!

In Conclusion

 So I guess the moral of my story is this: hold on to the hope of being upgraded as long as it’s comfortable for you. But when you feel like you should move on, do it. If JET was meant to be, you might just get that upgrade call in perfect time like I did. But if not, then it’s probably because something better is on its way – whether that’s getting into JET a subsequent year, going to Japan through a different company, or just doing something else entirely! Regardless of the outcome, I can tell you that being an alternate – for two days, two months, or whatever – is sure to teach you a lot about yourself and what it is you really want. So even if you’re feeling stuck and surrounded by naysayers, just know that being an alternate is actually a great opportunity for growth. And it can – if you let it – be pretty damn rewarding!


Next Time

This week I talked about my personal experience as an alternate. Keep an eye out for Part 2 coming out next week (hopefully!) which will go into what being an alternate entails and what you can do while you’re stuck in the confusing and frustrating throes of alternate limbo!

Lingo That Every Alternate Should Know

short-list – the supposed salvation of all of us stuck in alternate purgatory. Getting on the short-list may sometimes seem akin to getting into Harvard, Oxford or other such Ivy League schools. In my personal opinion, it was very much like winning the lottery. But don’t despair – there’s always a chance!

verb – short-listed 

related forms – short-lister, synonymous with “lucky bastard”

alternate limbo – A term which may have been coined by the author of this blog post. It is the fate we alternates are subjected to by the JET gods and the very pinnacle of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. There are few things as frustrating as being stuck here. Also referred to as “alternate purgatory” by yours truly because I believe the JET gods subject us to such tortures to “purify” us and make sure we are ready for all the trials that come with being an ALT.

alternate – the name given to those who scored high enough on the JET interview to be offered a position with JET but for whatever reason didn’t fit the bill for positions that are currently open. (Seriously. What ARE the standards for getting short-listed!? I’ve known short-listers who made horrible ALTs and former alternates who made fantastic ones… I’m convinced they really just put the names of everyone who “passed” the interview in a hat and pick them at random…) May the force be with you, newly alternated – the force of superhuman willpower, patience, and flexibility, that is. You’re gonna need it.

wait-listed – (almost) the opposite of being “short-listed” (see above). The list of all of us forced to cleanse ourselves before we are worthy of the JET Program.

synonymous for “being alternated” or “getting screwed over”

upgraded – what every alternate hopes and prays for. To be “upgraded” is to finally find salvation and be freed from the smothering depths of alternate limbo.

synonymous for “getting short-listed” or “winning the lottery”

upgrade call the call” – the proverbial carrot on a stick. The idea of one day receiving “the call” is what keeps we alternates in check. It motivates us to keep putting our lives on hold because we hope that one day we may just receive its blessing. It is the facilitator for our elevation from alternate limbo to the bliss that is the short-list.

Interac – a company that offers a good alternative to JET. The main downside is that it costs quite a bit to get started and will ultimately pay less than JET. On the positive side, Interac ALTs get a ton of time off (same vacations as the students), have their transportation costs covered, and often times get to live in big cities.

A version of this post appeared originally on my personal blog where I post about my experiences in Japan. I wanted to post this on both blogs in order to make it easier for my fellow alternates to find, as good resources on being a JET alternate are few and far between.

Author Bio
Hannah Azok

Hannah Azok

Hannah's just a crazy, fun-loving, Ohioan in Japan for the third time. She loves video games, working out, traveling, and ice cream! Her adventurous nature often lands her in some exciting, silly, and just plain awkward situations—but hey, they make for some great stories!


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