With the 2017 application window open for the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme, we asked some recent returnee JETs to share their experiences with us. Our first article is from Catherine White who was placed in Hiroshima 2013 – 2016.
Please note that the deadline for applications is Friday 25 November 2016.
Hiroshima: A Story of Overcoming the Japanese Humidity
After graduating, I knew I wanted to go abroad. I didn’t really care where or what, I just knew that living in a different country was a richer experience than just travelling. I had already done a year in America as part of a university exchange programme, and that taught me that just because you’d visited a country before, didn’t mean you knew how to live there. However, the initial culture shock I suffered in the states was then outweighed, a hundred times over, by the friends I made and the experiences we shared. I was hooked; I had to live abroad again.
I had absolutely no knowledge of Japanese or where anything was in Japan before I left. Being placed in Hiroshima, I knew of it, but I really went into the adventure with no expectations.
This may have been slightly unwise, but then again, I may have had second thoughts if I’d known that Japanese summers would be like living inside a sauna.
Hot, sweaty and jet-lagged I arrived in the small town of Saijo, 35mins by train from Hiroshima city. I had wanted to live in a city, but like most people who wanted that, I quickly came to realise the huge benefits of living somewhere that gave me much greater access to a community. Settling in had its challenges. I found the heat and just small everyday things that weren’t the same most stressful; ATMs closing at 8pm, decent cheese being hard to come by, not being able to pay by card, things that looked like chocolate, but actually turned out to be sweet red beans, could all mount up if I was having a bad day.
However, the support network I had really was amazing. I had other JETs in my immediate area and also around the prefecture. I was orientated within an inch of my life when I first arrived, and for me, the three supervisors I had for the 3 years were beacons of positivity. I was very well looked out for.
Throughout my time in Japan I was lucky enough to travel to many of its beautiful prefectures. I can’t even name a favourite, all my trips have been so different; from the buzz of the Osaka metropolis, to the paradisiacal beaches of Okinawa. Japan has a lot to offer. I also managed to throw in other countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, China and New Zealand (fulfilling my Lord of the Rings dreams) into the travelling mix!
But the people were what made my time in Japan so great. I wasn’t really very keen on teaching previously; I wasn’t sure how to interact with teenagers, let alone interacting with teenagers in a foreign language. However, teaching was the most rewarding part of my time in Japan. The students made every day different, challenging and, most importantly, fun.
Saying goodbye to them was sad but it was great to look back on the good times in class we had together. It was also sad saying goodbye to my friends in Japan; my fellow JETs, teachers and other people I connected with along the way.
Japan was a fantastic country to spend 3 years in, and any challenges I had living there have done nothing but help me learn. I am happy to have called Japan home.
Catherine White, Hiroshima 2013 – 2016