What is the JET Programme? Application Tips and things you need to know

Hi friends! As you may know, me and Harrison are moving to Japan and I am very fortunate to have been offered a place on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. I haven’t started my placement yet however I thought it would be useful to explain why I applied to the programme, how I’ve found it so far and any tips I can offer for applying for the JET Programme. I posted a more general ‘why we’re moving to Japan’ explanation here – be sure to check it out!

The JET Programme is a run by the Japanese government and the scheme offers English language assistant teaching positions to people across the world in an effort to improve international relations, diversify Japan’s communities and improve foreign language teaching in schools. The idea is that an assistant language teacher (an ALT – that’s me!) will assist a Japanese teacher of English in the classroom as much or as little as required. The contract is initially for 12 months and the programme arranges all my visa paperwork, health insurance, teacher training and much more. The application process was a little daunting at first but with the right attitude and organisational skills, it can be low-to-no stress!

Stage 1 – the written application

I won’t lie, the whole process will involve a bit of cost, a lot of paperwork and writing a <2,000 word essay, but this is all intended to filter out candidates that may not be serious about participating on the programme. My main advice would be to read everything thoroughly and at least twice! There are parts of the application form that are different to how your home country may ordinarily complete forms and enter data. My second piece of advice would be to give yourself time. Set aside a few hours to complete and review your form and ensure you have time to draft, re-draft and finalise your personal statement. Top tip for the personal statement? Back up what you’re saying with facts, stats and examples and accept that it will not be ready in one draft.

Ensure you’ve got all your information correct and be completely honest in your application – it will eventually come out if you’ve lied, and that may risk your place on the programme. There are really specific rules about how to send the paperwork to the embassy or consulate – ensure you tick off as you go along how many copies you’ve got, whether they’re original or photocopies, etc. and ensure this matches with the application guidance provided.

Stage 2 – the interview

There’s not much I can say about the actual content of the interview. I can tell you it’s about 20 minutes and you should dress like any other job interview – full suits, shirts, the lot! On my interview day a woman turned up in jeans ripped at the knees, white daps (plimsoles to those outside of the South West!) and a red leather jacket. She looked UH-MAZING, but did not look like she was about to attend an interview for this job. It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed! Try not to stress too much about the interview – be prepared for questions about everything in your application and again, be honest.

Stage 3 – the results

Congratulations or commiserations – either way, you’ve done really well for getting this far! The JET Programme will either confirm you are shortlisted (i.e. you’ve been accepted), that you’re an alternate (if someone drops out, you’re on a reserve list and could be accepted in the next few weeks) or that you were unsuccessful.

If you’ve been successful, you’ve got quite a bit of paperwork yet to do and the same rules apply as stage 1 – read everything carefully and multiple times. There is almost no discretion or flexibility with the Tokyo office once your paperwork is in and there isn’t a lot of time to fix issues. One person I have been talking to sent in their medical form with their weight written down but no measurement was indicated (i.e. lbs or kgs) which meant the form was rejected 2 weeks before the deadline. She had to try and get an emergency appointment with her GP to complete a whole new form which is a nightmare and a completely avoidable extra stress. Do whatever you can to ensure all of your paperwork is perfect. My medical form only cost me £60 – the cost of the x-ray – but others have had to fork out hundreds in fees so check what these are in advance. Book an appointment with your GP ASAP once you’re accepted so they can review the form and start the process for obtaining your x-ray, urinalysis, etc.

If you’re an alternate, be prepared to move quickly as they might email you 3 weeks before the deadline seeking your paperwork. I haven’t experienced the alternate process so have a quick Google to see what advice other JETs can offer.

If you weren’t successful, fear not! There are other teaching positions through private companies and other programmes – again, have a quick look for others’ experiences and see if there’s anything else you could apply for. Failing that, definitely try again next year. You’ll have learnt so much about the process which will put you in good stead for the next round of applications. As far as I know, JET do not offer feedback on unsuccessful applications so if you plan on applying again I would recommend reviewing your application to see where you could change things to boost your chances next time.

Stage 4 – pre-departure

Pack your bags! Once all your paperwork is in, you can relax a bit and start getting excited for your new life in Japan. Researching your town and your school, meeting other JETs, deciding what to take – it’s a really exciting time but also kind of a surreal time. I know it hasn’t felt very ‘real’ to me that I’m going in a week (yes, it’s next weekend…!).

I’ll be going to Tokyo (my first choice – hooray!) to teach senior high school kids (15 – 18 year olds) and it sounds quite a responsible placement – writing exams, setting homework, having a lot of say on the content of lessons. My school is really central too – next door to the Imperia Palace! If you don’t hear about placement until mid-July, don’t panic – we didn’t find out until the 2nd week in July.

I’ve been talking extensively with other incoming and existing JETs (both UK and abroad) who have been an invaluable source of information, reassurance and support. My predecessors have been super helpful in providing specific information about the school, my co-JET seems super friendly (some Tokyo schools will have two ALTs placed) and there’s even an entire Wikipedia for Tokyo JETs full of information about apartments, schools, and other unique quirks to being placed in Tokyo. I’m looking forward to my placement and thankfully there are no more bits of paper to sort! My Yakkan Shoumei certificate for importing medicines is done and my GP will be giving me a signed prescription to take with me for getting inhalers over there. Now comes the task of apartment hunting…

If you are thinking of applying to JET, I would absolutely encourage you to do so. It’s a long process but it’s super exciting and I’ve already made lots of friends in the form of other incoming JETs before we’ve even left the UK! The application process will open around late October and close by the end of November. You may want to get ahead of the game and find an old application pack to understand what they may ask you for so you can start preparing now. JET is really helpful wherever it can be but it has around 5,000 applicants each year to get through so you have to be patient with them if you do send over any queries (and it would be great to get a head start!).

Going forward I hope to post further blog content on the JET programme, teaching English abroad and life in Japan, and I’m toying with the idea of vlogging about being a Tokyoite too! If you have any questions on the application process, let me know and I’ll see if I can answer them. I leave for 日本 next weekend (literally don’t believe it) so it’s going to be a pretty hectic few weeks but I’m hoping to keep the blogging going!

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