May 30

Life After JET: Gabai Life!-Educational Journeys of an Ex-JET from Saga

By Jose Ariel Ramos (Saga-ken, 1998-2001).  Jose recently moved to Central Texas where he now works as a recruiter for a charter school.

Gabai Life!-Educational Journeys of an Ex-JET from Saga

“To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”

-Robert Louis Stevenson

I reach for my phone. I want to check my email. I’m pretty sure there is something important there-a job lead, a response from a recruiter, a rejection, an actual offer. I put it back on the table. I go back to re-writing my resume and looking on JETwit, on Idealist, on Linkedin, on many other websites where jobs are posted. Again. Again. Again. Maybe this time I’d get a yes.

This has been my life for the past eight months: re-writing my resume; re-arranging the cover letter; sending all required documents in; filling in another online form at another job application site. I’ve applied to teaching positions in Japan, Oman, Korea, Singapore, China. I’ve applied to be director for different university overseas programs. I’ve applied to grad school. I’ve probably applied for no less than two hundred or so jobs-I’d lost count a while ago. I’ve gotten about six interviews but no luck. “How did I get here?” I’d find myself asking.

I got on JET right after graduating university with a Music and French degree in 1998. With an open mind and plenty of optimism I went to Saga ken as an ALT to find out what Japan was like. At that time cellphones were just starting to be widely used, dial-up was the common way to connect on the net, and we were still making long distance telephone calls on landlines. Saga was a rural place that had it’s own unmistakable dialect-“Gabai oishika!” I would find myself saying after a meal (Really delicious!). I made plenty of mistakes but made plenty of friends, and I had incredible experiences. The first times I went snowboarding, white-water rafting, even bungee jumping were in Japan. Three years of adventure with other adventurous people. I decided back then that that was the kind of life I wanted to live-a life of voyage, excitement, freedom.

I came back home in 2001 right before 9/11, was immediately disenchanted, and with my Japanese pension got my CELTA teaching certificate. That led to a gig teaching English in French elementary schools and even an adjunct professorship for a year. I then moved to New York to live the ‘bohemian life.’ After a few years doing retail and living in a walk-in closet I got another lucky break and became part of the NYC Teaching Fellows. This sadly came to an end when Katrina struck my hometown of New Orleans and I was forced to quit and move my family to a better location.

Japan called me back in 2006 and I taught for a short while for a private program in Okayama ken. There I met incredible people and had more great adventures. I even taught on the Peace Boat on their sixty second voyage around the Northern Hemisphere. But I also started to think that this can’t continue forever, that I’d have to set up shop somewhere permanently. I’d started to get tired of saying goodbye to all these good people. My family and friends were waiting for me back home in the States.

I went back to the US and in 2009 tried for my MFA at a well known arts university. I only lasted one year before financial circumstances forced me to take a job doing the only thing I knew how to do: go and teach ESL in a different country. I went to Malaysian Borneo in 2011 with the British Council and was there doing education and development for close to two and a half years. It was rough, a very tough challenge in rural Borneo. The isolation overshadowed the adventure. I missed my friends, my family, and sometimes I questioned what direction my life was going in.

Last week my phone rang for a job offer. I was ecstatic. I was over the moon.

I’m going to start working for a charter school system in their human assets division in Texas. I’m overjoyed because I found a job close to my brother and his family and I won’t be too far from friends in Louisiana. I’m also happy because I still feel like I’m doing good working in public education. I’ve not outgrown my adventurous streak but I am starting a more stable path where I don’t have to jet away again and say goodbye so much.

I’ve written this to share my experiences and to hopefully give insight into what someone from JET can do. I also have a few tips for those who will be future JET alumni. These are gleaned from a life away from JET for more than a dozen years.

Save money every month now and don’t rely on the fat pension check at the end of JET. It will go a long way when you are home and trying to find a job. You lessen your reliance on other people and if you’ve saved up enough you can have time to look for a job. You can also work on long overdue projects with the time afforded by savings. For the past eight months I’ve been looking for a job almost non-stop and I’ve been co-producing a local podcast as a side project (it’s still coming along). Working while looking for a more stable job is commendable but you might miss that opportunity that comes from looking for a job full-time. This isn’t the first time I’ve come home to the US from a job abroad-it’s my fourth time and I’ve tried both ways.

Pay off as much debt as you can. My second job in Japan helped me pay off a large credit card debt from living in New York. When I came back home and didn’t have a job I didn’t have to worry about paying back that debt.

Choosing to go to grad school is a big step. If you choose to go to grad school make sure to research as much as you can about the program, the school, and how much it will cost. Is going to grad school part of a career change? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? Will the economy support what you want to do after? I have a huge debt from an MFA I still have yet to continue. If I do so it will be at a cheaper school close to home. It also is not the prestige of the school it is the effort that you put in that will help you in the long run.

I’m sure many of you may want to continue as educators. If you want to continue in education get your certification. Teaching ESL internationally really requires a CELTA. That is what got me my jobs in France and with the British Council. Also, if I continued that route I would study for the DELTA, a certification you’ll need if you want to go into education management. If you want to teach back in the USA you need a state certification to get a good paying teaching gig. Be sure to research requirements for certification in your home state and country before heading home.

Start looking for a job way before moving back to your home country. Research leads and sites that would help you find a job. When you get back home plan on spending plenty of time looking for a job. Many people will tell you it is the economy that hampers you, but getting a job is a matter of hard work, persistence, and luck. I approached it as a matter of numbers-if I applied to many jobs then I would have many chances of getting an offer to interview, leading to better chances of getting that magic ‘yes.’ As I said before, I researched and applied to more than two hundred individual positions in the past eight months. Of those I got about half a dozen preliminary interviews, and only got to the second stage interviews of half of those! The job I have now had four interview stages. Eight months of searching for about a half a dozen offers to interview-and I set no geographic limits on where I wanted to go.

Lastly if you are looking now and have not had any luck DO NOT GIVE UP! As those eight months went by for me there were times that I didn’t feel as if anything was going my way. I didn’t give up hope and I didn’t stop looking until I found a job. I am lucky I also had friends and family who knew my goals and encouraged me. Apply as often as you can to as many jobs as you can. Ganbatte kudasai!

I still continue to live a life of voyaging, excitement, and freedom but now it is exclusively here in the USA. A new chapter is starting for me and I’m planning a move to Texas and buying property there. I always look back on my JET years in fondness. I know I can never go back but I am happy just the same. I also realize that if I didn’t have any of those past experiences good or bad that I would not be here making these decisions now. Everything happens for a reason.

If anyone reading this is moving to Central Texas and wants a job teaching let me know and I will be happy to assist you. Also if anyone wants to contact me for more information you can reach me at tigerlibra [at] or look up my Linkedin contact info. Cheers and good luck!

Do you have your own “Life After JET” story to share?  Email jetwit [at]

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