Jul 25

Kitcher’s Café, a new series by Lana Kitcher (Yamanashi-ken, 2010-12) is an assortment of articles, topics and commentary written for the JET Alumni community. Lana currently serves as the Business Development Associate at Bridges to Japan, a New York-based cross-cultural consulting firm founded by JET alum Jennifer Jakubowski (Hokkaido, 1995-97)

As I sat in my empty Yamanashi apartment, one year ago this month, a flood of feelings rushed over me. I had come full-circle, able to cram everything into two suitcases again with anxious yet excited feelings of leaving home for something unfamiliar. I had a bundle of memorabilia set aside to take with me, and pictures of the last days that I had with my students, coworkers and friends. I knew it was going to be hard to say goodbye and turn the page to the next exciting chapter of my life, but I didn’t think that it was going to feel so daunting. This was the first time in my life that the next steps were utterly unplanned and unpredictable. After high school I knew I was going to college, during college I knew I wanted to work for the JET Program… but now that the JET Program was over, the next year was a completely blank slate. I was going to have to return to my hometown temporarily to figure it out, and that idea to me was terrifying.

Japan, ALT, JET Program

LRK ©2013

Many of the JETs that are in Japan right now are clearing out their desks, packing up their apartments, attending farewell parties, and being brought to tears by the students and coworkers that shared many moments with them this past year (or five). Where once was an unfamiliar, foreign and strange place, has become normal life. Do they realize that many of them are about to leave Japan, bound for an even stranger land – the one that they once called home?

As many of us have experienced, returning to your home country after any amount of time living abroad is more challenging than it may seem at first. They try to warn us about reverse culture shock, but we convince ourselves that “I will be different,” and “It won’t happen to me, I already know what to expect.” Some people really don’t experience any strange or frustrating feelings when returning home, but for individuals like myself, the first year back may be a challenging and rocky road.

As JET alumni, what do you wish someone had told you during your final days in Japan? What are some of the words of wisdom that you wish you had known before coming back? How can we help these transitioning JET participants, soon to join the alumni community? My advice to them would be this:

Try not to have unrealistically high expectations of how awesome going home will be, and don’t give up on yourself when things get tough. There may be challenges like living with family members, trying to find a job, readjusting to the foods and customs of your culture, but take them in doses and remember to step back and breathe when things might start to feel frustrating.

Also, the job market may still be a little more complicated than you are expecting. For many, the traditional ways of finding a job are now becoming the least successful. If you’ve spent weeks looking for jobs online and haven’t had any luck, start branching out. Talk to everyone you know and tell them your situation. Use networking groups, meetups, LinkedIn, and informational interviews. Meeting people in person and talking to those already in your networks is likely going to be your key into your next position. Also consider picking up a copy of What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles at your local library. When I was actively seeking help and networking in my community, this was the number one resource that my friends recommended. It gave me some practical statistical information to help me understand my odds of getting a job by applying online, and helped me think of new ways to approach the job market.

What kind of advice do you wish you had heard as you were finishing up the JET Program? Leave your comments in the space below, and give the new returnees a leg up as their tenure as an active JET Program participant comes to a close.

You can find out more about Reverse Culture Shock by reading Surviving in Japan: 10 Ways To Prepare For Reverse Culture Shock And Leaving Japan by Ashley Thompson (Shizuoka-ken, 2008-10), Community Manager for Nihongo Master and editor of Surviving in Japan.

3 comments so far...

  • Alice V Said on July 26th, 2013 at 4:33 am:

    Hey Lana, great article! I haven’t done the after JET after shock yet, but I went through it after my exchange year and it definitely surprised me. The hardest part was when I had exhausted my friends with stories, but still had more to tell!

  • Lana Said on July 26th, 2013 at 8:12 am:

    Thank you for commenting, Alice! I’m glad to hear that you can relate, and hope that your transition home will be full of new (fun) adventures. Be sure to reach out to people in the JET community, and find your local JETAA chapter. Once your friends and family have heard enough of your Japan experiences, talking to people who are currently or who have already gone through the same transition is important. Good luck with your move, and know that there is a great support network out there.

  • Tiffany Said on July 31st, 2013 at 3:25 pm:

    My advice is to go with the flow when you return. Some things that you may think are a sure bet now might end up falling through or changing. Just as I had to be prepared for anything and everything when I moved to Japan, my experience is that the same attitude that helped me survive the initial shock of living abroad was most beneficial to a successful re-integration in to life back home.

    It may also be helpful to connect with your local JETAA group and attend events in your area where you will be able to meet people with a connection to Japan. Keeping in close touch with friends made on JET is also great. Those friends will be able to understand the homesickness you may have for your life in Japan whereas family and friends at home may not. It’ll help create a solid bridge between JET life and whatever it is that lies ahead!

    Finally, enjoy what there is to do and see in your hometown. Finding the positives about your new location will keep you happier than if you just sit around missing what you can’t have from Japan.

    Good luck to all former JETs returning home!

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