Nothing is more alienating
or frustrating than living in a country and not being able
to speak the language. The Japanese language is hard. Study
it. Learn it. Use it. When you know even a little of the
language it helps tremendously.
Homesickness is a
real thing. It can creep up on you sometimes when you least
expect it and always when living in Japan is really frustrating
you. Several things you can do to ease the pains of being
away from home: keep in touch with family and friends, make
new friends in your area and stay active.
while polite, aren’t overtly warm and take a great
deal of effort to get them to open up to you. Read between
the lines when you aren’t sure what they are saying,
Japanese are characteristically non-confrontational and
will go to great lengths to avoid or sidestep volatile issues.
Talk about your experiences with your fellow JETs and work
out solutions together.
If you are placed
in a small town your isolation will be very pronounced,
as you may be the only foreigner around for miles. Make
friends with your neighbors and keep busy. Get out to see
other JETs whenever you can.
aspects of Japan can make just about anything a maddening
challenge. You may discover upon moving into your new apartment
that your shower is located out on your balcony, or you
may find that you have no shower at all. You might have
a Japanese “squatter” instead of a Western toilet.
You will most likely be hanging your laundry out to dry
instead of loading it into your Maytag clothes dryer. You
might not have a microwave or a large conventional oven.
Some of these things you may be able to do something about,
others you will not. Think about how you will handle these
challenges ahead of time so you are prepared if they occur.
The diet of most
JETs changes drastically once they arrive in Japan and find
that many of their favorite foods just aren’t available.
Before you start stocking your refrigerator with toaster-oven
mini-pizzas from your local grocery store, ask the advice
of your teachers and friends and find easy things you can
cook that are nutritious. Then move onto more challenging
Most of Japan is
very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. With
no insulation or central air conditioning in most of the
apartments, this leads to a very uncomfortable situation.
Do what you need to do to stay comfortable. Buy electric
or kerosene heaters. Buy rotating fans or get an air conditioner
installed. And be prepared to suck it up and just endure
what you can. Don’t worry, misery loves company and
no one hates the weather in Japan more than the Japanese!
at first. It’s like you’ve just turned into
a famous actor or singer. Everyone seems to know you or
at least turns to look at you. You might hear your name
screamed from down the block by an admiring fan. After a
while it might get to you, though. People seem to know what
you’ve purchased at the grocery store or what you
rented from the video store the night before. Take it in
stride, have fun with it, but try not to let the lack of
privacy drive you crazy.
One of the biggest
challenges a JET will face is the silence of the students.
They seem shy, monotonous, even apathetic. Getting students
to relax, open up and participate in class can be frustrating,
but very rewarding. Japanese are scared to death of making
mistakes and it’s up to you to prove to them that
making mistakes are all right.
JETs are always astonished
to discover that there is no structured disciplinary system
in Japanese public schools. In the West, a student can always
be threatened with detention, suspension, and if all else
fails, expulsion, but they just don’t do that in Japan.
A scolding is pretty much the most that can be done, but
if you have a student who’s “immune” to
scolding, it gets a little more difficult. I used to make
my students write lines, talk to the principal, in addition
to the JTE scolding if I thought it merited, but you’ll
find it very hard to give them detention or make them do
an assignment they just don’t want to do.
Teachers not keeping you in the loop
Because of the language
barrier, you’ll find that there are things happening
at your school that you have no clue about. Try and stay
up to date as much as possible, asking teachers now and
again if anything is coming up that you should know about
or what was discussed during the morning meetings (held,
of course, entirely in Japanese).
Stuck in the office
Sometimes a JET will
have a rotating schedule, but for some reason, your supervisor
will want you to be in your office at the board of education
or the prefecture office for two or more days a week. Maybe
you are at your school, but your teachers only assign you
to instruct one class per day. If you’re at your desk
too much instead of in the classroom where you want to be,
talk to your JTEs, principal or supervisor about it.
Upon arriving to
Japan you might find you have a unique problem that none
of the other JETs in your area have. Maybe your supervisor
doesn’t speak any English, or the apartment you’ve
been set up in is a real sty. Talk to your prefecture advisor
about it and see what can be done if it really bothers you.
There is always a solution or a compromise that can be reached.