For numerous people the days are counting down to the first big meeting of new incoming JET participants. Packing has likely been a total mess. Heck what does one even call the essentials anymore. Stress and worry are peaking as time comes down to the wire. So many questions, so many uncertainties. Many participants are excited for the life changing experience they are about to fly off into. While others are still a little unsure of what they have fully gotten themselves into.
I remember what my last few months in America had been like. I spent a ton of money on new clothes and travel gear. I worried about work outfits and day clothes. I worried a little on whether I would fit in. I spent days nibbling away at my bottom lip thinking about all this and more. Especially language, my Japanese skill had been lacking big time! They haven`t gotten much better either.
A little advice from a ALT Senpai:
Try not to worry!
I know many if not everyone will be saying the two words “don’t worry,” but it is true. Everyone I have encountered while being an ALT has been kind and more than welcoming. If you need help, people will be there to back you up. You can always ask your predecessor and current ALTs questions before and after you arrive. We have and will be been asked dumb questions, guess what we have dumb answers. Your main JTE and/or supervisor will be great assets to you as well. Even if they don’t know an answer they will hunt it down for you. I emailed my JTE often before I even arrived.
Don`t pack to many clothes, you will go shopping anyway.
There are two parts to this one. First off, no matter what you pack you will find a reason as to why it isn`t the right outfit for the job. Be it to smothering for Japanese summer heat or you fear you stand out to much (bright colors), something will make you buy more clothes. Hey I love my bright salmon thin shirt, wear that sucker often during the summer. I for one do not mind standing out in a crowd.
The second reason you should pack light is that everyone looses weight once they arrive in Japan. I had been working hard myself to lose weight before JET. I have continued to work hard since then. I have lost more weight and thinned out through exercise and eating better portions. While other ALTs naturally lost weight. The reasoning behind it is not only the change in diet, but because many are walking more and moving around more than they had before. Some of the new ALTs will get a car, but many will choose public transportation options.
Just be warned, I bought all new clothes before arriving. Hardly any of them fit anymore, some shirts I am swimming in. I am a heavier set woman and wear about a size 12 pant/dress now. I also am more busty than most. I can still find things in my size, just have to look harder than my skinny counter parts. H&M, UNIQLO, and GU are good places to shop for clothing. I personally like to hit up Shimamura because it is cheap.
There are a lot of seminars.
Before you leave the country there will be a few pre-departure meetings. They are set up to help you better understand what you are getting into, but in all honesty they are hard to sit through. Yes, some of the information is useful, but a lot of it is common sense. Pay attention but try not to let the information bog you down. You have several more meeting and seminars after pre-departure. Let me just say this Tokyo Seminar, you will understand later.
Once you arrive in Japan try to remember:
YOU ARE THE FOREIGNER!
Remember that this is not your home country, things are going to be different from the way things are back home. Try to go with an open mind. Remember that you will be learning how to live in a new environment with new rules. It is okay to ask questions, but don`t assume that you will know everything about the culture. Just because you watched some anime or Japanese dramas you are not an expert. Every persons situation is different. Be tolerant and willing to learn. If you do that you will go a long way.
This is not a trip, it is a Job!
You have been hired as a government employee working within the school systems. You are expected to behave as a respectable human being. There will be ample time for trips and traveling. Just remember to respect your students and teachers. They will reciprocate in kind.
Remember that you stick out, everyone is watching you.
We ALTs can make or break the image we hold for ourselves and the country we represent. Most of us will not be able to blend into a crowd. Let’s face it, we stick out like a sore thumb. I have walked down the street and have been stared at multiple times, not for my clothes or new hair cut, but because I am foreign one, I am different. No matter how many other foreign people are in the are you will be special. They will look at you like they have seen nothing like you before. This is just the way it is. Unless you are in a heavy populated area like Tokyo or something. Strange things are normal in that region.
In the end regardless of anything you do or do not take from these points remember this, you are a guest here. Respect others and they will respect you. I always cringe when I see those who are miss behaving and making the reputation for foreigners a dark shameful stain for everyone. It only takes one person to mess it up for us all. Please try not to be that person. Just sit back and relax because you are in for one totally amazing ride!