I wonder…

What will Japan really be like?

I mean  living in Japan. Trying to really learn how to speak with people. How quickly will I get frustrated by the language barriers? (I’m sure it will happen eventually).

What kind of place will I live in? Will it be a tiny studio that my boyfriend and I will have to squeeze into? Will we get the luxury of having an apartment with a room or two? Maybe a view even? (“dream on” I tell myself).

I have so many questions swimming around my brain. It’s like being 4-year-old during the month of December, just waiting for Christmas to finally get here already!!!

Trying to get my questions answered online has produced some results. But not enough to satisfy me.


For example, wondering “what necessities I should bring,” I found several pretty good answers. A suit. Totally reasonable. Although, as a woman, do these suits need to be pant-suits? Do they need to be matchy-matchy? Don’t get me wrong, well tailored, matched (like with pants and a jacket) suits can look fantastic… but that’s quite a bit of cash to drop… because I’m not about to go buy a crappy suit from a mediocre store that I hate 30 seconds after wearing it for the first time…

I have great black pants (A.P.C’s and a fantastic pair of cropped, straight-leg blocky black suit pants  from this little shop in Yaletown that imports apparel from Korea). I have some great black and navy pencil skirts. And I also have some very modest, nice work blouses/shirts. But blazers… blazers… I’m going to try to find a good one before I get there… but if I don’t have one and wear a nice work-appropriate sweater, will that be good enough?!?

I’m not bringing any sort of extended supply of toothpaste. That’s silly. People obviously brush their teeth in Japan, I’ll figure that out over there.

I’ve read “bring you hobby stuff,” so O.K. That’s easy enough. I paint and draw – that’s how I relax. So a nice assortment of my favorite brushes, and maybe ONE drawing and writing pad (for the plane and the train… because one stop to Tokyu Hands or Itoya and I’m set) are all I need. Fine. Easy.

What about slip-on indoor shoes? I’ve heard it’s good to bring some with you. BUT then figuring out what style/type of shoes will be appropriate is hard. I can’t seem to find a satisfying shoe description.

Should the shoes be close-toed? How important is that? Are we talking ballet flats type-of-thing? What about low, slip-on heels  like these Maryam Nassir Zadeh Sophie Slide’s in white:


Or would they need to be closed-toed like these Rachel Comey Seneca’s in black:


So yea. I’m a tad confused about the shoes. I will continue to scour the interwebs for more advice, any is welcome. Because I’m not really a “ballet-flat” kind of gal. So there’s that.

In the Classroom.

What about materials for the classes I’ll be teaching? (Not gifts, I know about gifts, that’s a separate issue all together).

But I’m so curious – what kinds of English abilities will my students have? Is it more common to be put into super beginner classes? Will they know the alphabet? Should I bring my favourite kids books? Should I bring basic English materials with me?

Or should I prepare for more advanced levels of English knowledge? Will I be able to set up peer-peer conversation practice?

I had this idea the other night, based on a technique my professor used in University when I was taking second year German in Ontario. My instructor (who was German) had been in Germany over the summer and had connected with a former colleague (or something) in Berlin who was teaching English classes there to her German-speaking students. The two instructors matched students up; one German student in Berlin with one English student in Kingston,ON. We shared our e-mails and Skype information and part of our class homework was to connect over Skype and practice simple conversations and phrases with each other.

It was such a great way to learn! It made me work much harder at trying to think about the right phrases and words to use. In those Skype conversations, I pushed myself more than I ever did in class because in class, you know that everyone else is struggling too, so when I didn’t know something I’d often throw a glance around the room to gauge how stuck everyone else seemed. If everyone else looked stuck, I’d just give up and say what I needed to in English and my instructor would casually fill-in the words I didn’t know and continue with the lesson. Over Skype, it was just the two of us so if neither of us could figure out how to communicate something, that dead air would make me work, make me look it up at least!

Is it worth it for me to try to set something up like that before I leave for Japan?



Yes sure I know about gifts. (O)miyage as I understand they’re called. I’m really not sure what’s best. And also – where should I pack the gifts?

From what I’ve gathered, essentially you can bring all the suitcases you want to Japan (obviously I don’t want to be in charge of lugging around too many massive suitcases) but once you arrive, you keep one for Tokyo and then at the airport you can forward the other suitcases on to your end destination.

So my question really is: will I need gifts for people in Tokyo, or can I keep most of that stuff packed away in my Katano luggage?? Because I don’t want to get caught without gifts for people!!!


Here are some of the types of gifts I’ve thought about:

  • Canada Pins
  • Little Canada Flags
  • A Canada mug or two
  • Salmon Jerky
  • Maple candies
  • Maple syrup (maybe not though, because an explosion would be THE WORST)
  • Tea towels with pictures of Vancouver or Aboriginal artwork
  • A small print/water colour painting of Vancouver
  • Canada key chains
  • Canada pencils
  • A nicer Canada pen
  • Letter opener

Actually now putting all these ideas on a list, maybe I have enough options. But I’m always open to suggestions.


As for the self-introduction classes, I did find a super fantastic article written by one Verity Lane for Tofugu, about Mastering the ALT Self-Intro Class.

Basically I’ve decided to steal all her ideas because they’re gold.

I’ll need to prepare my introduction still, but I’ve been thinking some good topics to hit on will be things like:

  • Where is Canada? (Kanada ni doko desu-ka?… Am I right? Or is it Kanada wa?)
  • Where is Vancouver?
  • How BIG is Canada really? – 4.5 time zones instead of only 1… (is it cool to talk about how many times bigger Canada is than Japan, versus how many more people Japan has than Canada? I was thinking about touching on this with a simple cute picture/infographic)
  • What else is around Vancouver? Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, Forest, Wild Animals like Moose, Bears, Wolves, Cougars, Beavers, Elk… Raccoons, Coyotes?
  • I’m from Vancouver and my father is also from Vancouver (Burnaby), and my mother is from the Netherlands
  • I like sailing, painting and math (give ’em simple and varied interests so I can connect to as many students as possible)

I’m nervous about my first impressions. Hopefully I can suck it up and deliver something fun and friendly.

Me no know English. (O.K. I do but…

I taught sailing at a sailing school (not a yacht club) for 5 years, so I feel lucky that I have some teaching skills to fall back on. I know the feeling of honing a lesson plan. I know the trial and error that is simply reality when dealing with little kids and their attention spans.

But I always found teaching sailing easy, because all the material is there for you. There’s a skill: how to sail. There are steps one needs to learn before one can approach that skill: what makes you go? WIND! How do you know where the wind is coming from? etc. etc.

I don’t think teaching English will be nearly as easy. I’m not afraid or anything, but I do get a bit nervous about it… thing is… I’m a late-French-Immersion kid. For any of you who went through it – (and I’m not saying the early Frenchies don’t experience the same or similar thing, I just don’t want to speak for something I don’t know) – you hit grade 6, and essentially stop learning English. Late Frenchies as we called ourselves, already had to be doing well enough in school that when we started Immersion in grade 6, disrupting our learning in other subjects would be something we’d easily be able to overcome.

Grade 4, honestly I remember learning cursive that’s about it, and grade 5… I don’t even know if we did English. I guess we would have… but I don’t think we were learning particularly complex English grammar rules. We just spoke it automatically and didn’t learn about why.

So then for grade 6 and 7, English is cut. We had to focus on catching up in French, so a lot of subjects fall to the wayside. Sure we did a tiny bit of social studies in French… I guess we might’ve done some Science units… really it was all about learning French.

And in my first year of high school, I applied to be in the English Enriched classes, and got in. I guess though, by getting into that class we were deemed as having already advanced capabilities in English and so learning real grammar was seen as unnecessary. We never did grammar, I was never tested on grammar, my teachers were never concerned that we knew to call something a conjunction or an antecedent, it was just right to novels, poems, short stories, plays, and long essays. (Is a conjunction like and? or like? or with?

So I went all the way through my education without ever really learning what a proper adjective, a definite article, or a reflexive pronoun really are. (Like really, I just looked up all those terms and have no idea what parts of a sentence they refer to).

I’ve gone on too long.

Point is, I’m freaking excited. I’m incredibly curious. I research Katano every day! (They have a Canadian sister-city, Collingwood, ON. I wonder if that means there’s a bigger interest in learning English??)

In the mean time, I’m focusing on learning as much Japanese as I can before I go.

Watashi wa Nihon ni shichi-getsu niju-ichi-nichi o ikimasu.

I’ll keep at it.

– K









Applying to JET (a long and necessary step)

Although I just received my placement yesterday (!!!) I realize maybe the best post to start with is one that describes my experience with applying for the JET Programme.

There are a lot of great blogs out there that talk about tips, advice, information to know when applying to JET. I encourage anyone who is interested in applying for JET to do a Google search for other blogs. The more information you have, the more prepared you’ll be, and (I think) the better chance you’ll have of being accepted.

Some of the blogs out there were very helpful to me, and I found others seemed to point out what I thought were fairly obvious things.

So this was MY experience.

Thinking About Applying

I first started to think about applying for the JET programme in February 2015. I received my placement only yesterday, May 19th, 2016. I think this is worth noting.

Applications for the JET programme are only accepted for a short time in the fall of each year, and those applications are for the school year starting the following August. So my process has been a long time in the works when you include my pre-planning. As much as this may seem like a bit of a slog, I think the long process is your first opportunity as a JET applicant to prove your commitment to the programme.

Although applicants were given 2 months to apply (October and November), if you haven’t already at least done some preliminary planning, it can seem like a pretty tight time line.

If I remember correctly, I needed proof of my graduation (so my diploma) as well as all transcripts from any colleges or universities I attended. Transcripts can be the wrench in the plan if you’re like me and went to three different schools during my undergrad. I had to get copies of my transcripts from both my Canadian Universities (Queen’s and UBC) as well as the school I attended on exchange in Maastricht, The Netherlands (UCM).

I’m sure you could get your transcripts ordered and delivered within two months, but you must also account for time to mail your application to the Japanese Embassy in your country. For me this meant I had to account for the time it would take to mail my application package from Vancouver to Ottawa. And in the winter, mail can be delayed by weather (and even if they say “it’s okay as long as the date stamp shows you mailed it before the deadline,” do you really want your first impression to the JET selection committee being one that you are a person who struggles with deadlines? No, I don’t think you do. AND I don’t even know if they do accept that, they may require it to be RECEIVED by end of November, so watch that!).

It was reassuring that I had already ordered all my transcripts ahead of time meaning that I had fewer items to keep track of and stress over.

The Application/Was I Eligible?

It was a beast of a thing. Seriously. I don’t remember exactly how big it was, but they wanted copies of everything e-mailed, as well as originals mailed (original transcripts were mailed but obviously I held onto things like my diploma, passport, and ID documents).

First, I had to figure out if I was even eligible and I was. I had never applied to the JET programme before (you cannot apply if you have already tried from what I understand), I had a university degree, I was an English native speaker, I didn’t have any ESL teacher training (you do NOT need any to be accepted), and I was enthusiastic!

I don’t think I ever saw it recommended during the application process but as a federal public servant, I’ve learned keeping records is super important and useful. I made a complete second copy of my application before I mailed it off, and kept it in a folder. This came in INCREDIBLY handy when it came to the interview process later because I could easily refer to what I had said in my application, as well as see what kinds of questions they were asking.

So I guess if I look back at my application, my advice would be to make copies for yourself of everything you submit, and to be timely in your submissions.

OH! Because one of the other requirements was that they wanted 2 Reference Letters, 1 being preferably from a teacher or professor. Now again, thanks to planning in advance, this didn’t screw me up at all. But it could have because when I applied in October 2015, I hadn’t been in a University class since December 2014! Thankfully, I had read somewhere that they would be requiring reference letters and already in February when I started thinking about applying to the JET programme, I had asked one of my favourite professors from the previous term if he wouldn’t mind being my reference, and that I would be e-mailing him again in the fall to actually request the reference letter to be written. I kept in touch with him a couple times in the mean time and when the Fall rolled around he already expected my request and was ready to write my reference.

Again, way less stressful because of pre-planning.

The Wait for an Interview

After the application deadline, there was a (very very very) long wait until candidates heard weather we had been accepted through to the interview stage. The deadline was at the end of November, I didn’t know that I had an interview until maybe the very beginning of February. (Okay it’s not THAT long, but when you’re waiting it feels really long).

And once they told me I had an interview, I had only about 10 days to prepare.

But I made it through! And I prepared by looking over my application, seeing what I had written about my interests, and going over “Why I wanted to participate in JET”. And thank goodness I did, because guess what the icebreaker question in the interview was…

“Why do you want to participate in JET?”

Duh! It’s a gimmie question. But at the same time, I think this is where you have your first chance to prove you really are right for the job. And as much as it’s a gimmie question, I took the question very seriously and I think had I not, I could’ve had a very different result.

I arrived for my interview, I was a nervous wreck… because I wanted the job so much! I think I eased up part way into the interview, but I was super worried I hadn’t presented myself as the confident, capable speaker I know I can be. But I think despite my nerves, it was probably my answers that helped my interview go well, because I had really taken time to think about why I wanted to participate.

To the icebreaker question of “why do you want to participate in the JET programme,” I gave three main reasons (and my answer seemed to really set the tone for the rest of the questions I was asked):

One, I like teaching. I think it’s critical that you prove you actually know what the program is all about. It’s not just some chance to go on an extended vacation, nor is it because you love anime and want to be around it all the time, nor is it because you love sushi and want to experience Japanese sushi (LOL you likely wont unless you want to drop a few bills…). This is a teaching job, and I think if you don’t show you’re taking the job of being a teacher seriously, you probably won’t seem like a great candidate in their eyes.

I had taught sailing at a sailing school for 5 summers between the ages of 16 and 22, so I knew I liked teaching people, and I especially loved teaching people a tangible skill that I could help my students really work on and use for their own benefit. Sailing is fun! And so is being able to speak to someone in another language! So I drew parallels to this in my interview. However I don’t have any TOEFL or TESL certifications and I was open and honest about this. It clearly didn’t prevent me from being accepted.

Two, I made it clear that I was very interested in learning more about Japan specifically and not just other countries in general. I have been to Japan twice, once with my parents and older brother for a week only in Tokyo, and once with my boyfriend (who is half-Japanese) and we met up with my boyfriend’s Japanese father as well. I don’t think you have to have already been to Japan, but I think they seemed happy to hear I was interested in Japan specifically. I explained that I had been on a year-long exchange before, and enjoyed learning about the specifics of my Dutch heritage while living in the Netherlands. I think this also showed my commitment to the year-long programme.

There are lots of things a person can do if you’re only interested in “learning more about the world.” You can go on volunteer trips, exchanges, travel, take courses… And that’s not what the JET programme is for. I feel like they are trying to screen-out people who are only there for fun, or typical tourist interests (like seeing Tokyo!! OMG!!! So fun!! Go on your own, JET isn’t a travel agency). It’s to foster links between Japan and other native English speakers and their countries from around the world. And I think they were happy to hear my enthusiasm for being a part of that specific relationship.

I’m interested in painting, so I told them I was looking forward to learning about Sumie Japanese Ink Brush painting, things like indigo dye, that I was interested in learning more about Japanese dynastic history (part of the reason I requested the Nara prefecture area because of it’s historical significance), and that I hoped to learn Japanese so I could foster strong relationships with people in my community, were I to be given the opportunity to be a JET ALT.

I think giving evidence that there are specific qualities about Japan that interest you is key. Sure if you love anime, don’t lie, tell them that. But maybe do some research and give them specifics about your interests to prove you’re not just another Otaku.

My third element to answering the question of why I wanted to participate in JET was to explain how I hoped the JET programme would be relevant to my future employment and life goals. I told them about my studies in political science and international relations, how I was already working as a federal government public servant, and how my interest in working internationally with policy and government relations would benefit greatly from working in Japan and learning about how other governments and cultures operate in relation to Canada.

Obviously each candidate will have their own reasons as to why they feel participating in the JET program will be enriching and helpful towards future endeavours, and I think explaining this about yourself is just further proof of how you’re taking the job of being a teacher seriously. What I read from other blogs, and from my impressions during my interview, it seems to be quite important to show you’re committed to really sticking it out for the whole year. I guess there are people who get homesick or don’t like their placement and leave part way through. They seem to be really looking for evidence that you will stay throughout the year, even if you encounter difficulties.

The Rest of the Interview

They asked me about differences in culture between Canada and Japan and tried to put me on the spot by identifying cultural situations that are common in Japan but quite uncommon in Canada, and how I would react if/when I encountered situations like this.

They asked me, if I were to encounter/meet a person briefly who had never met a Canadian, what impression would I hope this person would be left with regarding Canada and Canadians.

They asked me if I spoke Japanese. (I didn’t)

They asked me why I like teaching.

They asked me how I might help a student who was struggling with their english learning and practice.

I feel like they were trying to get a sense of wether or not I’d shut down when things get tough, or if I’d be able to muster through it. I doubt they use the same questions for everyone but I think this gives you a bit of a sense of what types of questions they care about. I tried to answer in ways that showed that I could still be polite and kind even if a situation was uncomfortable and new, I tried to show that I have a lot of enthusiasm for learning, and I tried to show that I’m an open and supportive person.

Think about your best qualities, and then do some research about the differences between Japanese customs and the customs in your home country. Then think about how your best qualities will help you be positive while you navigate these new experiences. (Maybe this is obvious but regardless, I think it’s really important to reiterate).

The Next Waiting Game

After the interview there was more waiting. I really didn’t think I passed the interview because I had felt pretty nervous. But because I had prepared, I guess my nerves didn’t get the better of me and I was able to show the kind of resilience, and enthusiasm I have.

I found out at the end of March that I had been accepted onto the final “shortlist” of candidates they called it. That meant that I had passed the interview and was now expected to hand in more paperwork while I waited for JET to match me with a contracting organization.

The paperwork was things like getting a police record check, a certificate of good health, and additional evidence of my diploma (maybe I didn’t have to send it in my initial package? I know I could look at my copy of what I sent but it’s filed away right now and I’m lazy).

These deadlines are much less stressful because by this point, most of the time-consuming paperwork has already been submitted, so it’s just about going through the hoops of doing the doctor’s appointment and getting your police check going. My check took two weeks, and my doctors appointment took about another week of little tests to complete. And they give you a good amount of time to get these things done.

Getting Placed

And then, just yesterday into my inbox arrived the e-mail stating that Katano-shi, Osaka-fu, Japan was my placement location! (May 19th)

They restate in this most recent e-mail that placements cannot be changed and so if it is not agreeable to you, you are asked to withdraw immediately. (Like I’d do that!)

But yea! So that’s the stage I’m at now. I’ve received my placement, and I’ve been told now to keep an eye out for correspondence from my contracting organization (CO). It will be my CO who decides how many schools I’ll be working in, and all the rest of the regular employer-employee things (will I be in elementary/high-schools, time off, responsibilities at the schools etc… I SUSPECT). I shouldn’t say too much more about timelines and expectations because at this point, I’m still learning what the process will be like.

So since February 2015 until now, May 2016, I’ve spent time preparing, waiting, preparing, filling out paperwork, and doing more waiting. It’s a process for sure and I think the more you do to prepare mentally for this, the better you’ll fare along the way.

Now I get to do the fun stuff like Googling Katano, seeing what trains are close, seeing how many schools I can find on GoogleMaps, and thinking about what kinds of learning materials I’ll want to bring with me, or at least mentally prepare before I arrive.

From what I’ve read, it’s a major bonus to prepare a little presentation about yourself, where you come from, and what your home town/city/country is like. It seems like this will be one of the first things I will be expected to do (present myself) and I’ve read how others had contacted their mayors, city halls, local tourist offices to get materials to bring with them. I think it’s a great idea to bring real materials about where you come from, and I also know bringing gifts in Japan is a sign of respect or at least is seen as a good thing. I want to make a great impression, so now I have to figure out what presents I can bring that don’t fill my suitcases completely!!

(Canada pins? Ugh I mean yes, likely I’ll bring a bunch but pins are such a typical thing to bring, I wonder if there are any other small, cute more unique things I can bring to represent Vancouver and Canada… I’ll keep thinking about it).

I don’t know when I’ll write more, but hopefully for you future JETs, there’s been some helpful tips in here!