Saturday, 12 June 2010

Getting out of dodge

It occurred to me that I haven't really put down my reasons for leaving Japan, despite naming the blog in such a way to suggest the importance of this as an event. Actually, it might come across to name the blog 'Life after JET' because it implies my time on JET is going to define the rest of my life, despite it only being three years. For some, JET hardly constitutes an event in their lives - there are those who have no special interest in Japan before they come, and then only stay for a year. But then there are so many others that stay for the maximum duration of their JET contract, then get themselves hired privately by a board of education, or find work at a language school, or marry a Japanese person and set up their own language school. They never leave. Or, at least, they put off leaving for as long as possible.

I so understand this temptation - I used to think I might end up staying here forever. It's really easy to live here. But I realise that that's not enough. In a sense, I think it's getting too easy. I'm too comfortable. I don't want to be one of those people who never leave. One of the ALTs here, from England, talks about how he so doesn't want to go home and become a couch potato - sitting watching TV most nights then heading off to the pub and chatting to the same old crowd as always. I think the same thing happens here. I see them at the usual foreigner haunts - the long-term residents. They live exactly the same sort of life as my friend talked about - they've just managed to find it in Japan. What's worse here, though is that when you're a part of the transient foreigner community, you have to watch new people come and go every year. People who are living their lives faster and better than you. People who are able to move on.

I wanted something new. When it came time to choose to recontract (or not) for a fourth year on JET, I applied to change from an ALT to a CIR (a co-ordinator for international relations), which requires a high level of Japanese and doesn't involve teaching. I've been studying Japanese since I got here and I'd passed Level 2 of the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) and I thought I'd be a strong candidate. I didn't even get an interview. In fact, no one got an interview. The Prefectural Office made a unilateral decision not to allow any ALTs to become CIRs. This struck me as an entirely idiotic principle, because this year both the CIRs responsible for looking after the new JETs that come to Tokushima are leaving. The CIRs that replace them will be brand new from overseas, so they wont have any more idea about what's going on than anyone else.

I didn't want to be an ALT for another year, since the good teaching experiences are often outweighed (in mind if not in actual instances) by the bad ones. I signed the form in February saying that I did not plan to recontract. Didn't know what to do with myself once my contract ran out, but I did want to stay in Japan if I could. At a conference for returning JETs in March, I heard about positions opening at CLAIR - one of the organisations that runs the JET Programme, and decided to apply. Again, this required a high level of Japanese, but since I'd got my test result saying I'd passed JLPT Level 1, I thought I could at least make it to the interview stage. I didn't. I thought I'd be a shoe-in, since I had my JLPT, had stayed in Japan for three years and I was British (we'd been told at the conference that they had no British people working there at that time) - so I thought I'd have a greater chance than the many American JETs there are in Japan, if only via a kind of affirmative action. But no. I got a letter saying I hadn't gotten past the first stage. I was so disappointed and so angry when read it. How dare they reject me - they don't even know me! I like to believe, for my own sake, that I've never failed at anything that I cared about in which I actually had the chance to prove myself. Well, I didn't get that chance here. I felt betrayed, in an odd way. I felt like Japan, and more specifically the JET Programme system that had brought me out of myself, cared for and nurtured me, had come out and stabbed me in the back. For what, now, had I been studying Japanese for three years? CLAIR so seemed liked the next logical step, but someone pushed a button and then all the steps turned into a slide and I went flying into a pool of piranhas.

Since there are so few job opportunities outside of teaching here, I decided the best course of action was to move on. If I can't do something new, better to go somewhere else. So that's what I'm doing.

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