A (Probably Uninteresting) Tale of Two Interviews: JET

Well, it certainly has been a long time since I last updated this blog!

It’s been almost a year since I came back from Japan – one more month and I’ll have been in the United States for a year. I spent that year mostly trying to graduate. I wrote my senior thesis on host clubs and their relation to gender roles in Japan. I got a good grade on this paper and managed to graduate. I then enthusiastically started to look through various options for teaching in Japan only to find that largely, these jobs required you already have a work visa. Those that didn’t require that at least required you be in Japan in order to interview. I did interview for JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching), and I interviewed for AEON in June. When neither of these panned out, I sat around and stared at the scenery, pondering aloud what I might do with my life.

Well, I’ll start by talking about the application process for JET.

I had heard various reviews of JET in the past. What I’d heard was that those who spoke good Japanese got far less out of the program than those who don’t speak Japanese. I was a bit wary about applying, but in the end I went for it. There are actually three different positions you can apply for: ALT, the assistant language teachers, who are mainly what JET is known for. Then there are CIR, coordinator of international relations, who use Japanese almost exclusively in their jobs. I don’t really know anything about the third position, the SEAs. Anyway, after finding out about CIR, I decided to go for it.

I think most of the application itself focuses on the essay you write. It seems to me that people who fretted about the essay got to the interview stage, while those who wrote it last minute amongst a stack of other college papers didn’t move onto the next stage. Of course I’m sure they take other things into account, but I know some people who I feel are just as qualified as I am, if not more, got rejected because they put off writing an essay until the last minute.

Waiting was excruciating. All I could do was continue my daily life and try to ignore that part of my brain constantly nagging me to know the results. And then the results came; a giant list of numbers through which you must sift to find your PIN number. There it was! I was going to go to Chicago for an interview!

At first I felt confident, and then I read reviews about the JET interview. They could go one of two ways, most reports said. Either I’d get stony-eyed Japanese interviewers who would be cold and not show emotion, or I would get friendly JET alumni. No matter which panel I got, I would be asked awkward questions that would attempt to unnerve me and test how much I really wanted to get into JET. I started practicing my answers every day. You can find sample questions all over the internet, and believe me, I did. I also made hundreds of flash cards for myself – the CIR position requires a one-on-one interview that’s more like a Japanese reading test.

The weekend came and I flew out to Chicago. This was in March, and I remember sitting in the airport at 6 in the morning, listening to reports about Midwestern airports shut down due to a blizzard. Some woman behind me was talking about how her original flight had been delayed. I was sitting in the airport shivering, praying to whatever it is people pray to that my flight would be on time. I was quite lucky it was. In Chicago a cab driver told me, “The snow just melted when you got here! You sure have some timing.”

My interview panel was quite friendly. Two former JETs and one Japanese woman. All of the questions they asked were written in various sample question lists I’d prepared. Two things threw me off at this point in the interview: first, I had to explain one of the clubs I’d been in during college in Japanese. Secondly, I had to use polite language to ask for a day off as part of the interview. I also did one other thing wrong at this stage: all of my answers were very general. With study abroad and my experience with the Japanese community in Minnesota, I had tons of potential specific examples I could have listed. I failed to do this.

The CIR portion of the interview was not quite so nice. The woman conducting this part of the interview was quite intimidating. She was a Japanese woman of an older generation who spoke with some kind of thick dialect. She had probably been testing people all day, and she seemed tired of it. The first sheet of paper she handed me was a story about the new Sky Tower with furigana. I got through this fairly easy. Then came a second sheet filled with kanji. This one was about nuclear energy in Japan. There were plenty of characters I couldn’t read, and this woman seemed utterly disgusted by every character I failed to read aloud. She then proceeded to ask me questions about clean energy – what could people do to use less energy? The questions were of that nature. With every question I began to formulate a way more complex answer than she was looking for. As I began to talk about lifestyle changes, the woman growled, “What should you do with the lights when you leave a room?” Oh. The cherry on top was when I was leaving. She asked for the papers back, and without thinking I handed them to her. “This is no good,” she said in Japanese. She then explained to me how you’re supposed to hand things over so that the print faced away from you, with both hands. Of course, I knew this. The fact that I’d neglected it felt very embarrassing.

After the interview I had no time to explore Chicago. I grabbed a quick meal and had to head back to the Greyhound terminal, since I was going to save some money and bus back. While waiting for the bus I had my head stuck in my DS. When I got on the bus, however, I switched over to music. That was when my brain started to go crazy, telling me all the things I’d done wrong. I started to get depressed. What was more, I was missing a friend’s birthday party. So while on an 8 hour bus ride I got the occasional text asking, “How did you do!? Wish you were here!”

The results, much like the results for the initial application, took several months to come in. In my head the whole time I kept preparing scenarios for either outcome. What would life be like if I got in? What would life be like if I didn’t get in? I thought about these things in extreme detail. There wasn’t anything that could happen that I wouldn’t be ready for.

When the results came in, it turned out I hadn’t been hired. I hadn’t been declined, either. I was an alternate. That meant that if someone else dropped out, I would be able to go. If I didn’t have a job by December, I’d have to reapply.

I hadn’t mentally prepared that scenario. I didn’t know what to think of it. I knew one thing, though. I would have to keep worrying about a job on the off-chance that I didn’t manage to get fully accepted.

To be continued…

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~ by megumiwasframed on July 26, 2012.

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