Jan 13

Life As and After JET: Building Bridges

Recently posted on JETAA NSW site by  Eden Law (Fukushima-ken, 2010-11):

The JET Programme has lead to many opportunities and careers, sometimes rather unexpectedly. Our Life After JET articles by former JETs gives an insight about their lives after the programme, and how it has shaped their careers and paths. We hope that it will prove useful as an insight for potential applicants into what we as ex-JETs got from our experience, and maybe provide some nostalgic memories for others. Please feel free to contact us if you want to write about your own experience!

Nathan Poore was an Oita CIR from 2004 – 2007, after which he used his JET experience working as an Events Coordinator and Translator for Waseda University in Tokyo until returning to Australia in 2010. He gives us a fascinating insight into what CIR does, as opposed to the life of an ALT.

In July this year, it will be ten years since I first arrived in Japan as a participant on the JET Programme. Looking back at my JET experience, my fondest memories are of the wonderful people that I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know personally during my placement. Apart from being an unforgettable experience on a personal level, JET also became a fantastic professional opportunity. I learnt and developed a wide range of transferrable skills, even though I often did not realise this at the time.

As an undergraduate student, early on I had decided that I wanted to apply to the JET Programme. The grassroots exchange opportunity on offer to live and work in Japan, whilst utilising and improving my Japanese language skills was exactly what I wanted to do after graduation. A number of friends had also successfully participated in the programme, and highly recommended the experience. With the support and encouragement of my Japanese lecturers, I submitted my application. After an interview, I was fortunate to be accepted to the programme in the role of Coordinator for International Relations (CIR). My placement was in a small town called Ume*, located deep in the mountains of southern Oita Prefecture, Kyushu.

I arrived in Japan in July of 2004. My new supervisor and a few other colleagues made the two hour journey north from Ume to greet me at Oita Airport. Nearly ten years later, I still remember how friendly and welcoming my new colleagues were at the airport that day. I soon realised this sense of openness and warm hospitality were characteristics shared throughout the town. I spent the first few nights in Ume with my supervisor and his lovely family. It was summer, and those first days were spent in a haze of introductions to colleagues and neighbours, trying out the delicious local cuisine and attempts at getting used to the southern Oita dialect. I remember feeling at the time that my textbook Japanese was too formal, and I was eager to learn as much of the local language as possible.

My role as a CIR was to facilitate grassroots cross-cultural exchange activities in my area. In reality, this meant organising cultural events for the local community, visiting schools and other facilities, attending local events and basically getting out amongst the community and interacting with as many people as possible. Working together with my Japanese colleagues and other CIRs placed nearby, I planned various cultural events from proposal stage to running the event on the day. This involved gaining the support of my direct supervisor and section chief for each project, starting with a written proposal. With often limited or no budget allocated for these kinds of activities, it was important for me to consider the resources already available to receive the green light. I had many ideas (not all of them practicable) and after each project I sought feedback to try and make the next one more successful. During my time as a CIR, some of my particularly memorable events and activities included teaching Australian-style bush dancing to senior citizens, accompanying a group of locals on an official trip to Queensland as an interpreter, and publishing a commemorative collection of essays from all of the previous CIRs placed in Ume, to name a few. I could not have achieved what I did without the support and guidance of those around me, both inside and outside of the office.

My local CIR network was an incredibly diverse, talented group of people from across the globe, always happy to offer their support and share their skills and expertise. As many JET participants will have experienced, my role as a CIR extended further than the usual nine to five. Whether I was buying groceries at the supermarket or attending a local festival, I was always meeting new people and having conversations about life in Australia and Ume. These kinds of interactions were some of the most enjoyable and memorable for me personally. After living in Ume for three years, I was fortunate to have made many close friends, and feel truly grateful for the kindness extended to me. On a professional level, participating in the JET Programme taught me to be flexible in my thinking, and how to communicate and work successfully with different kinds of people. I learnt how to be resourceful, resilient, and proactive in order to achieve my work goals. I improved both my written and spoken business Japanese, in addition to public speaking in both English and Japanese. I gained experience in event planning, translation and interpreting, and teaching children and adults. These types of skills and experiences that JET participants gain are highly transferable across various roles, and personally speaking I have greatly benefited from my JET experience in my professional life since completing the program.

For new JET participants, I highly recommend getting involved with your local community as much as possible to make the most of your experience. For those who are returning home, I encourage you to stay in touch with your friends and colleagues from Japan, and get involved with your local JET alumni chapter, which is a great way to network and maintain your connection with Japan.

*Ume amalgamated with Saiki City in March of 2005, together with seven other nearby towns and villages.

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