19 June, 2010

Applying for JET

Must mail this by 5pm...
Must mail this by 5pm...

These were the thoughts running through my head in November last year, as I ran to the post office at the University of Melbourne to send my application to be an Assistant Language Teacher with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (Programme/Program, Tomato/Tomato...).

As I reach the post office on a hot Melbourne Summer's day, I suddenly try to think what stamps are required for mailing approximately 80 pages of application letter and in what envelope. Even worse, I subsequently realise that I left my wallet back in my room at Ormond College. Balls.
(My room was the one with 3 windows, directly above the entrance archway)

Run back, go up 2 flights of stairs, get my wallet. My roommate Kiel: 'Hey, weren't you handing in that job application?' NO TIME TO TALK, MAN!
I rush back to the post office and mail off an envelope to the Japanese Consulate which will in all probability change the course of my life.

My application to the JET Program has begun.

So, what not to do when applying for JET? Mailing your application at the last minute, two days before it's due is probably high on my list of things I shouldn't have done. For anyone who is thinking of applying, it's basically a very simple 15 step process as follows:

Step 1: Application
Step 2: Interview
Steps 3-15: The Waiting Game

Step 1: Application
So, you're thinking that you might want to apply for the JET Program. What do you do?
Firstly, I'd check http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/jet/index.html for a very simplistic rundown of what the program is about, and also http://www.jetprogramme.org/. From this official JET site, I'd look at things like the FAQs and Information for JET Applicants and figure out if you can apply through your local Japanese Embassy or Consulate. Each Embassy or Consulate seems to have some sort of JET Program Coordinator who can and should be used as an invaluable resource throughout the entire application process, and they are the ones who should be able to get you started with your application.
The application itself is a monster at around 20 pages, and is almost entirely required in triplicate. Toughest parts of the application are the medical exam, certified documents including copy of passport and university documents, and the dreaded essay.
The essay. In all honesty, I necked a couple of beers, sat down and wrote whatever it was asking me for. Seriously, read the forms you are given and do exactly what is required of you. There is no secret way to write the essay, just as there is no secret way to tick whether you are male or female. As long as you think of it as being just that simple, you'll do as well as you were going to do. People who beat themselves up over mistakes they might make in the application process are just stressing themselves out unnecessarily, as far as I can tell. While I'm able to say a lot of things in hindsight now that I've been accepted to the program, I can also honestly say that the only stressing I had was due to me leaving the mailing of my application til the last minute. The likelihood of one tiny thing on your application making or breaking it at this point seems slim, so just fill out your forms properly.
I should probably point out that I'm part of the 'It's all good' school of thought, which means that stress and I don't seem to cross paths very often. In fact, I once spoke to my doctor about stomach pains I was getting in the mornings and the only idea he could come up with was that waking up had stressed my body too much!

So, after you've filled out all your forms, crossed all your i's and dotted all your t's, haha, you will hopefully hear back from the consulate with good news that you can move onto...

Step 2: Interview
While every interview is likely to be a little bit different, there are still several things you can do to make sure that you are well prepared for the interview, no matter what exactly may be asked of you.
Personally my interview included, but was not limited to the following subjects:
- My ability to speak Japanese, including a quick self-introduction. (NOTE: This was only because the interviewing panel knew that my mother is Japanese and that I have studied Japanese relatively extensively)
- How my parents met
- Why I applied to be a JET, and more specifically an ALT
- Whether I thought I could handle culture shock
- What I would teach children if I had to do one class about Australian culture
- How I interact with children, and do I have experience as a teacher
- The fact that a lot of Japanese comedians seem to come from Southern Japan or Kansai (yes, this inexplicably actually happened)

While I think I did well enough in the interview (and apparently the panel thought so too), I don't think that I did exceptionally well. If anyone reads the above list and thinks: 'crap, I can't speak Japanese, don't know anything about culture shock and have no teaching experience', don't worry about it. I believe that the panel is looking at how you react to situations, and just by being in the interview they will get first hand knowledge of how you react to being put on the spot and likely under a lot of pressure. Do not buckle. Do not get shy. Do not answer questions only with a 'yes' or nod of the head. This brings me to some tips I'd have for the JET Interview, which could likely be adapted for just about every job interview.

1: Why do you want the job/Why should you get the job? If there is one question you need to be able to answer, this is it. You should be able to relatively easily answer this question without seeming totally unprepared nor sounding like: 'Mr. Roboto want job' with a monotone answer that has too obviously been memorised. Maybe think of 3 key words/reasons to remember for this question, and come up with full sentences on the spot, perhaps linking back to something which had been mentioned in the interview earlier.

2: The ability to answer short questions with longer answers, within reason. For example, if you are a university student and were asked a question like: 'What sport do you play at university?', do not answer with Mr. Roboto's: 'I play soccer.'
Instead, make your answer more like: 'I often play soccer with a lot of my friends after classes at university. I also tried out other sports etc... and I also like to play such and such over Summer.' The only possible problem with drawing out an answer is if you go too far, but if it's something that you can bring up, perhaps even on a bit of a tangent from the stock standard answer, you're far more likely to be remembered and impress with an interesting answer. These tangents can also lead in towards point number 3...

3: Say good things about yourself. This may sound stupid, but believe me, there are some people who can really shoot themselves in the foot at an interview. I worked as an admissions assistant at college, and while I didn't have a personal pick in who got places, I was able to hear about how people had gone in their interviews. One kid, when asked: 'Why do you want to study engineering?' answered with: 'Oh, I don't really want to, my Dad just thinks I should.' While honest, an answer like this is a terrible one for an interview where you should basically be trying to seem enthusiastic about a job/position but instead sound like you don't even want to do it. This is probably more an example of saying something bad, but good examples could also be things like bringing up your volunteer work or the studying of Japanese in your own time. If you can squeeze in some good things about yourself anywhere, then take the opportunity because you won't have another one besides the 20-40 minutes people seem to have for their interview.

4: Be yourself and smile. Hopefully these two things go together anyway, but if you're getting nervous, try to loosen up and take things easy. While this might be easier said than done, giving a good impression is what the interview is really all about. You need to seem as though you want the job, you can do the job, and you can do it well. Along the way while explaining this, if you happen to strike the interviewing panel as a generally good person overall, then that certainly shouldn't hinder your chances.

Hopefully, you'll now be into the final stretch of steps for the application process, which run from step 3 through to step 15.

Steps 3-15: The Waiting Game
If you made it through the interview relatively unscathed, then it's time to settle in and... do absolutely nothing. Some people seem to freak out in this stage. 'Oh no, I heard we should find out if we've been successful today but the consulate has been open for 5 whole minutes and they haven't called me yet!!!'
Take a chill pill, fool!

Listen to what your coordinator tells you. If they say they'll get back to you in the middle of April, then at least wait til the middle of April before calling the consulate 10 times to yell at someone about why you haven't heard back from them yet. Once you walk out of your interview, all that is left to do is just sit back and relax, or do whatever it is that you normally do. I myself was unemployed from the end of 2009 when I graduated from university, in the hope that I would be able to take some time off before heading to Japan, which is luckily enough just what has happened.

So, those were my experiences and tips for the major parts of the application process. Since finding out that I got the job, I have since had an informal drinks session with other ALTs past and future from Melbourne, and also been in touch with my Board of Education (BoE) via email. If your supervisor writes and says that you should ask him/her a bunch of questions, then feel free to. If not, then you probably shouldn't bombard them with too much at once. Keep your questions in English very simple, because it is likely that your supervisor does not have perfect English. Personally, I tried to write some stuff back in Japanese just to practise, so if you can do that, they'll probably appreciate it. Everyone else I've spoken to who is going to Japan has a million questions about what it's going to be like, when in reality I think we're going to have to wait and see until we get there.

As for the meeting we had where past and future JETs could get together for a drink, if your local JETAA (JET Alumni Association: http://www.jetalumni.org/1514/) Chapter has such an event, then I'd definitely try to go along. There had also been information sessions in November-ish run by the consulate which I missed, but which probably would have been useful to attend as well. If nothing else, you'll hopefully meet a couple of future JETs you can sit next to at the orientation session in early July, which for those of us in Melbourne apparently runs from 9-5, far longer than those in the surrounding states. If you meet some past JETs you can also try to hit them up for some information too, but you have to remember that your experiences can and probably will be completely different to theirs in almost all respects. Personally, once I found out that I was going to Hokkaido, I managed to find the Hokkaido JET website: www.hajet.org and their forum www.hokkaidojets.org. Both of these have been pretty useful, and I've especially liked that I've been able to make contact with some other JETs who are about to start as well, or who have been there for quite a while.

Well there you have it, an extremely simplistic rundown of the application process. I still have some forms I'll hand in at my orientation session, but I've got the job and have started to buy things I think I'll need for Japan. While writing this, I'm currently nursing a hangover from my going away party which was last night, so once I find some photos from that, I can throw together another blog post in the next week or so about it. I've also been trying to do a whole lot of research on the city I'll be going to: Tomakomai, so I'll also throw together what I think of the place so far when I get a chance.

11 June, 2010

What the hell is a blog?

So, I've decided to start a web log. Why? Mainly because I thought I'd like to document my trip to Japan somehow, and setting it up before I left seemed logical. (Thanks, Spock!) Before I get there, I guess I might as well write a little bit about who I am and why I'm heading to Japan as well.

Like many children, Andrew Toru Suvoltos was born. More specifically, I was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1987. My Dad worked there for 25 years before coming back to Australia, and had previously also worked in Japan where he'd met my Mum.
I'm the 3rd of 4 kids, with the eldest being my sister who is 9 years older than I am, then my brother who is 7 years older, then me, then my little sister who is 4 years younger. My entire family gets along pretty bloody well, and I'd never really realised just how uncommon this can be until the last few years. I'm definitely going to miss them all while I'm in Japan, but years of growing up with a Dad who was often overseas for business more than 6 months a year and siblings who were usually in boarding school on the other side of the world means that we're definitely used to being apart sometimes.
(My parents and I on a previous birthday.)

After 8 years attending the Seoul British School in Seoul, my Dad, my Mum, my little sister and I all moved to Australia, where my elder siblings had already been attending boarding school for several years (my little sister and I would later attend the same school). Unfortunately, I only have a whole bunch of fragmented memories from my time in Seoul, so while I certainly enjoyed it, I unfortunately sometimes write it off in my mind as the time before the rest of my life began. However after only a few months in Melbourne, for a whole lot of complicated reasons, it was decided that my Mum, little sister and I would instead spend a year living with our grandparents in Tochio, Niigata Prefecture, Japan. At this point in time, my entire Japanese vocabulary was pretty much konnichiwa and counting to 10, so you can imagine the sorts of difficulties I had as the first English speaking student to attend my Mum's local primary school since... ever. It was tough. Seriously tough. While I can look back on the difficulties of my first few months now with a degree of nostalgia, at the time it was the worst thing that had ever happened in my entire life. After 2 or 3 months in Japan though, I suddenly realised that I could understand some of the things which were being said around me in the classroom. By 6 months, I could understand most things my friends were saying to me (though a particularly strange dialect for the town I was in certainly didn't help), and by the time I left after 10 months in Japan, I was confidently conversing with all those I came across. As I said before, looking back now, I am able to appreciate just how wonderful that entire year's worth of new experiences was for me as a person.

In 1997 my entire family was reunited properly in Melbourne, where we have pretty much all been living ever since. Melbourne is definitely my home town, and in my opinion is certainly a ridiculously livable city. While I may have to admit that those bastards in Sydney may have the flashy Aussie tourist attractions like the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as well as being the financial capital, I'd say that Melbourne's claim to be the arts and culture capital is well deserved. If you're reading this and have never been to Australia, Sydney is a great place to visit and do touristy things, while Melbourne would be better enjoyed if you've got a local mate to 'show you around', so to speak, just by taking you to places they would normally go to. In fact, I've never done most of the things that are apparently 'tourist attractions' in Melbourne, but I'd say that they're just that, rather than being places people would genuinely often go to.

As you can probably tell, I love Melbourne, though I'm certainly also looking forward to my year in Japan to come. I've been wanting to go back and live there ever since I left in 1996, and it's taken me 14 years to finally get my chance again. Holy crap, I was 8 when last living there, and it's now been nearly twice as long as my life was at that point. How time flies.
My interest in Japan and Japanese (the language) was kept alive through classes at school and university, along with being a Saturday school student for several years at the Melbourne International School of Japanese. (I'm in the back row, far right in a light blue jumper, 1997)

While living here in Melbourne I also attended Geelong Grammar School as a boarder near Geelong (a city 60km down the coast from Melbourne) for 5 years, and managed to laze (verb form of lazy) my way into a Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Arts double degree at the University of Melbourne.
(My friend Lucy and I before the year 12 formal, 2004.

Straight out of school at the age of 17, I then attended Ormond College for 5 of the very best years of my life while completing majors in Finance, Political Science and Classics & Archaeology, graduating at the end of 2009. For any Americans who might be reading this, the 'college' I refer to is distinct from a university, and is probably best described as some sort of cross between a fraternity, sorority, dorm and hall of residence, as far as I could tell from my one day visiting a friend at Stanford University. Ormond is the biggest residential college in Australia, and it goes without saying that it is also the best.
(Me being raped by our college mascot: Mickey Bee, when I was just trying to make a phone call, 2009)

While that's obviously a very short self-introduction which really only introduces things that have happened in my life rather than what kind of a person I am, I reckon it's not too bad for a first post on this 'blog' thingy. My time at Ormond brings me up til the end of last year, and since then the biggest thing that's happened in my life would definitely be my successful application to the Japan Exchange Teaching Program (JET), to be an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). I dunno if anyone who is thinking of applying to JET will ever read this blog, but I certainly scrounged through a whole bunch of JET blogs to see what the the program and application process might be like. Because of that, I think I might dedicate my next post to a bunch of information regarding the initial application, what to do for the interview, and of course the waiting game that is the entire process.

Oh, and if anyone should ever happen to stumble across this blog then please post a comment, if only to let me know that somebody actually looked at it!