Posts Tagged ‘Life’

My “Japanese” name…haha

So the other day my friend was trying to come up with ways to write my name in kanji. He came up with with following:

冷児 (cold child)

霊寺 (ghost temple)

麗児 (pretty child)

So each of these mean “reiji,” but since I can’t write the character for “pretty,” and neither could my friend without the help of his cellphone, I am just gonna combine them into 霊児 (ghost child). Yep. I’m a ghost. Booyah.

So I went to Chicago, and I took a JET interview…

Life has been rather chaotic of late, what with the snow storms, midterms, lack of internet, and far too many double shifts at the cafe for one’s immune system to bear. But, I did manage to get my butt to Chicago for the JET interview despite all the mayhem.

As almost all students of Japanese may know, the JET program is one of the main English-teaching programs emphasized by universities as a way to get students back to Japan. The reason it is emphasized so much is because it is run by the government, and no Nova-esque disasters can occur unless the whole government collapses. However, as more and more students apply, it is getting more and more difficult to be granted an interview, let alone be allowed into the program. There are several reasons for this, the first and foremost being that schools in Japan are cutting their ties with JET in favor for outsourcing their English teaching programs. Why, you may ask? Well, JET, though stable, has had a history of attracting the “loonies” from abroad. Take, for example, the predecessor to my adviser: Sara, the Wakayama JET. Now, Sara was a Scotswoman. She liked her drink, and she also like to throw up in the toilet and pour coca-cola down after the puke in order to “clean things up”. She would also miss work periodically, and when her husband was hit by a taxi, she pretty much quit the program for the last few months (i.e. spent all her time at the hospital and none at the school she was assigned to). She was a nightmare for the system, an irresponsible JET who is now, rumour has it, a plumber. It’s a good example of why JET is being cut out of schools. There is also the matter that outsourcing is much cheaper. Schools only want a JET who is responsible and able to adapt to a new environment quickly and efficiently without a nervous breakdown. And this is all according to my adviser, mind you.

Allow me to explain how the JET program application process works. You fill this application out online, and you print the materials under the “Printable Materials” tab. This is where things get tricky, and this is also where the first round of cuts occurs. If you mess up one tiny step of this application, your whole application, letters of recommendation and all, will be thrown out. This happened to my classmate, who did not specifically state how to write and package the letters of recommendation. Or the woman from whom the recommendation was requested was just a moron and did not know how to read. At any rate, read EVERYTHING on the forms, and go over things as many times as possible to make sure you did not mess anything up. There is even an order in which you must package the materials for mailing, so don’t give them a reason to pitch out your application on a technicality.

There are two aspects to JET: ALT and CIR. 90% of all JET participants are ALT, or Assistant Language Teachers. I once heard it described as being a “child’s santa clause”, but after speaking to a variety of JETs I came to realize that the duties vary not only with the school, but with the amount of effort you are willing to put in to the task at hand. A JET from Kyoto basically does all his own lesson plans for his middle school class, which is excellent experience if you want to be a teacher in the future. Other ALTs, well, let’s just call JET a break from reality for up to 5 years. There is also no Japanese requirement for this position, though JETs that know Japanese are becoming a gold standard. Let’s face it: you may be teaching English, but you still need to navigate Japanese society. Also, flexibility is key for this position, as you will most likely be placed in the countryside far, far away from cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. If you absolutely have to be in the city, your application may be ranked lower than others simply due to the lack of positions available. Now, the other 10% of JET participants are CIR, or Coordinators of International Relations. You NEED to know Japanese to get this position, preferably a very high Level 2 or a solid Level 1 on the JLPT. There are two types of CIR positions: local government and prefectural government. Local government has more leniency than the prefectural one, as you are more involved with community outreach. The prefectural government, located in the capitals of each of the provinces, has a very specific outline of what the CIR is to do on a daily basis. Obviously, Japanese is needed to communicate with coworkers and the people in the community you are assigned to. Tasks range from translating to helping create tour guide tapes to throwing a community festival.

I applied for CIR with the option of being an ALT. I was granted an interview (for reasons unknown to me) for the CIR portion. I immediately ran to my adviser and also to my mentor, who both gave me a list of possible questions, Japanese study guides, and also just spoke to me about their experiences and what I should expect from the interview. The interview was to be in Chicago, as I initially planned to go with my friend (though that plan fell through when I realized CIR interviews are on very specific days whereas ALT interviews are everyday during the assigned week), and it was to be divided into two portions: a 20-25 minute English interview with a former CIR, a member of the consulate, and (insert random Japanese person here) followed by a 10-15 minute Japanese examination. I opted for a Tuesday afternoon timeslot, as it was earlier in the week and on the first day of CIR interviews. I prepped the best I could, and off I went to Chicago to face my doom.

I arrived at my interview a day ahead of time, mostly because I wanted to do some shopping. On the day of the interview, I arrived 30 minutes ahead of time so that I could check in and use the facilities as I pleased until my name was called. All CIRs in Chicago interviewed with Panel A (out of A-D), so I was led into the room and placed in front of a table labeled Panel A. I made sure to introduce myself and shake everyone’s hand. The random Japanese guy, mine was an academic whose name I cannot recall, began the conversation in Japanese. Very simple questions, such as “Why do you wish to be placed in Kansai?” and “How did you handle Japanese food?” I responded accordingly and to the best of my ability, with “I have a large network of friends there” and “I was fine, except I have a milk allergy and that made me unable to consume most desserts”. He also asked me how I would handle a long-distance relationship, to which I responded “I have done it before, and though it did not work out, Skype made the whole process easier”. After that we switched into English, and I was asked how I would handle a company dinner in which a food item I did not like was placed in front of me. I told them I would have to swallow my pride and eat as much of it as possible and not complain (I had mentioned that I was not a fan of takoyaki or okonomiyaki, so they used those items as an example of a company meal). I also said I had done the same thing before with a fugu dinner my host family had held, as I do not like fugu. They asked of my experience in Japan, either working (I did an internship at BNY Mellon, Tokyo and also worked part-time in a restaurant) or studying (I studied abroad in Konan University, Kobe and Temple University, Japan). I said  I had an enjoyable time, though if I had to repeat the experience I would not have selected Konan. When asked why, I asked them if they knew of Konan’s reputation. When they said no, I described the student body as being a stylish entity I had no connection to, thus forcing me out into the wilds of Osaka and Kobe to find a friend network that genuinely wanted to hang out with me, versus being forced to due to the small nature of the college. I also stated that, despite my hatred of the school, I adored my host family, who treated me as their very own daughter. They asked how I liked Italy (I studied there for a summer), and I said it was amazingly eyeopening, and that I never knew men on vespas would hiss at me in order to get my attention. The panel asked me to describe how I would present and teach American Valentine’s Day to a group of elementary school children. I said that I would teach them phrases to put on their valentines, and also have a valentine-making contest. I also stated that I would teach them some picto-grams, just so the kids could have fun with drawing the bees in “be mine” or the eyes and hearts in “I love you”. They asked of my experience at BNY Mellon, and how I was treated during company drinking parties. I said it was usually just myself and the higher ups, so the panel responded with a “What would you do if your coworker got drunk at a company nomikai?” I was stumped, so I responded with “Take care of them the best I can, but when they pass out I would have to put them in a corner out of the way to prevent harm to them or others”. I have no idea how that response went down (same with the Konan statement). There were several other questions seemingly off the cuff: “How will you react to a situation in which you are constantly gossiped about?”, “When you are a JET, you stand out no matter what, so how can you cope with the feeling of eyes constantly on your back?”, and, finally, the dreaded “Do you have any questions you would like to ask us?”. I responded “Yes. I heard there have been times when JETs must work with special needs children….” The former CIR assured me that every experience went over well. She must have thought I was scared, so I corrected her with a “But I WANT to work with them! My brother is autistic, I know how they function and how to help them through most stages of development, provided they are autistic….” I think that response went down very well, as the consulate guy wrote it down on my application. They finally asked me the required questions, including “Are you on medication?” and “Would you like to be considered for an ALT if you are not ready for CIR?”, among others.

After the English portion, I moved to another room to take the Japanese examination. I was greeted by a little old Japanese woman, who told me that she would hand me two essays, one at 2 level and one at 1 level. She gave me one minute a piece to read them. Then she asked me to read them aloud. I did very well with the 2 level, but the 1 level I was very hit-or-miss with. After I read them aloud, she asked me a series of questions about the essays, and I was to answer them to the best of my ability. I did the best I could, and tried to escape as soon as I was able. It was not a walk in the park, but anyone who has taken a JLPT exam would recognize the format easily. I failed my 2 level JLPT by one point, but I think that I am more than capable at working in a Japanese environment.

Thus ended my exam. I thanked the former JETs working the check-in booth for taking the time to talk to me about their experiences, and then I ran to catch my flight (only I hopped on the green line instead of the orange at Roosevelt. Oops…) I will hear from the program in April. I hope I got in, but I am very reserved in this hope, as spaces are limited.

One last thought: Always wear a suit to these things. Presentation is incredibly important, and you have only 15 seconds to make a good first impression. Manicure it up, wear cleanly pressed suits, shine your shoes, and show self-expression in minute details, such as earrings and necklaces and color of the button-down shirt. DO NOT come in khaki pants, a tweed suit, a tweed dress, or, heaven forbid, jeans. They may just reject you on lack of work styling.

Snowstorm of the Century

So, here I am. Snowed in at my parents’ house. I came home on Friday morning so that I would be closer to the doctor’s office, but when I woke up this morning there was almost three feet of snow at my door. Needless to day, I had to cancel both my bass lessons and my doctor appointments for the day… I am grateful, however, that this snowstorm did not hit Valentine’s Day weekend, as I am to fly to Chicago Sunday the 14th for my JET interview (and some shop-therapy on michigan Avenue). At the same time, though, I left all my homework at my apartment. Even more unfortunate, it’s midterm time and I have two this week. Looks like a bunch of all-nighters coming up… 😦