Japan · JET Programme

JET Limbo — All the Feels

I’ve officially entered JET Limbo- that time where you can’t really plan or prepare too much because you still don’t know where you are exactly going, all your forms have been submitted, and you just feel stuck.

I guess I’m kind of lucky though, as I have 6 weeks of classes left to help me kill some time and keep me distracted. But I only have 10 weeks before I leave. God, that feels weird to say.

Day to day, I’ve kind of become numb to my feelings about moving half way around the world. I think that it’s because every time I do think about moving, I’m overwhelmed by too many emotions and all I want to do is cry.  I’m just kind of maneuvering on autopilot.

Now don’t get me wrong — I’m so freaking excited to be moving. I’ve spent so long dreaming about living in Japan and imagining what my schools might be like, that sometimes everything feels like a dream.

But I’m also terrified. You don’t appreciate how simple life is until you’re facing a whole new way of life. I’ve done extensive research as to the differences between Canada and Japan’s different systems– medical, insurance, government, etc. Heck, adults have a hard enough time dealing with these things in their home countries where they speak the language. I’m terrified to leave the simple behind. I’m also kind of excited, because it will really challenge my Japanese skills, but that won’t come until I’ve settled a bit.

There isn’t much that I’m upset about leaving (apart from family and friends). My city isn’t anything spectacular, I’m not leaving a job I’d consider for my career, and my relationship with my boyfriend would be over the end of June/July anyways (he’s moving to Vancouver, I’m moving to Japan).

I think the most difficult thing about moving abroad, is having to leave your friends and family. I’m super close with my mom and sisters, and I know I’ll be able to Skype them (heck, I’ll probably even talk to them more when I’m in Japan than I do now), but Skype can’t replace a hug from your mom when you’re having a really bad day.

I always feel bad when I bring up Japan around those I’m closest too. My mom always tears up when I talk about Japan, even though she is also the one who encouraged me to follow my dreams and is just as excited as I am.  My friends are the same way, they tell me how excited they are but I can still tell they are sad.

I think JET Limbo really forces you to think about what you are giving up, because you still don’t really know what you’ll be getting at the other end. All I want is to be able to pack and plan and prepare myself for my new life in Japan. I want a tangible location to tie myself to, while I slowly give up my old life in Canada.


Lost in Japan — Part 3 — Kobe

Day 3, our tour guide took us to Kobe. We did some sightseeing, but our main purpose was to scout out the school that I’d be going to for my study abroad. We were even lucky that the dorms I was staying at let us in to see my room before I started school in the next few days. We met our tour guide in Kobe, as that’s where she was from and were able to take her mini van to our destinations. We first stopped at my school, affectionately known as Kobe Gaidai. It’s actual name is Kobe City University of Foreign Studies. The campus was very nice, with an outdoor pool, tennis courts, archery range, and a pretty large library. We didn’t stay long, since I would be back in a couple days.

Our next stop was to check out my dorm room. We hadn’t actually contacted anyone there, but when we showed up the front desk people were more than welcoming and not only let us in, but showed me my exact room I’d be staying in. It was a small, one room dwelling. I walked in and there was my bathroom (shower and tub room with a sink). Next to it was the actual toilet room. Across was another sink, mini fridge, and some cupboards for food. Then the actual “bedroom” was a single bed with a cupboard at the foot of the bed and a desk against the wall across the room from the bed. It was small, but it worked. There was a shared kitchen with stovetops, microwaves, and large sinks for washing our dishes.


After we left the dorms, we went to the Akashi Kaikyo Suspension bridge which is the longest suspension bridge in the world.  It was amazing, especially since my hometown has the worlds longest bridge over the shortest body of water.


I was lucky to see the bridge light up at night when I was at my homestay during my study abroad program. It lights up with rainbow lights and with no lights from the skyscrapers to disrupt the view, it’s pretty spectacular.

We finished our day at Harbour Land, which is kind of like an outdoor mall, with an actual indoor mall just up the hill. There are tons of specialty shops, for things like Snoopy, Hello Kitty, and even a giant store for Anpanman complete with it’s own Ferris wheel.

I’m not kidding.


I kind of wish I was, but this is Japan we’re talking about.

After eating all the ice cream and visiting the Studio Ghibli store, we finally said goodbye to our wonderful tour guide and returned to Osaka.




Lost in Japan — Part 2 — Kyoto

My second day in Japan saw us in one of the most beautiful cities in Japan — Kyoto! Kyoto is one of the few cities that has buildings and roads from before World War 2 and the atomic bombings. It was ridiculously hot again that day, plus even more humidity. Our goal for the day? Besides not dying… involved some major temple and shrine hopping.

Our first stop was at Kiyomizu dera, a Buddhist temple which also has a Shinto love shrine there. The Shinto shrine was particularly interesting as it was home to something called the “love stones.” The concept is you walk from one stone to a second stone a few meters away with your eyes closed, without help, and if you make it, you will find true love. Of course, try doing this with huge crowds pushing and bumping you while you are walking with your eyes closed. I’ve been here three times, and the crowds are always ridiculous. My mom even spent way too much time trying to inconspicuously help those trying to walk the love stones. (“It doesn’t count if they don’t speak English”).

After a 30 minute trolley ride, we arrived at was another Buddhist Temple, Daihonzan Tenryuji. It was very peaceful and beautiful, with rock gardens, monstrous koi fish, and fields of green leafy plants. This temple lead us up to Arashiyama (a pretty famous tourist destination) and the bamboo forest.  Out of all the places I have visited, the bamboo forest is the most surreal. You are transported into a different world, and if you manage to go when students are studying for final exams (which we did) you won’t have to battle the sheer number of visitors.


Like actually, you try getting a photo without people in it. It’s a lot more difficult that it sounds.

We finished our day by climbing down the mountain that the bamboo forest is on down to the main part of Arashiyama before finding a taxi and riding back to a train station in Kyoto that would take us back to Osaka.

We were quite lucky, as while we were on the taxi we got to see a Maiko (a young Geisha-in-training) and with my super stellar camera skills, I managed to get a blurry shot of her back. So skillful.


Still counts though.



Lost in Japan — Part 1– Osaka


April 2013 was when I found out that I would be travelling to Japan to study abroad in Kobe for 3 weeks in late July-August.

The first time I visited Japan, I knew I wanted to live there.  It wasn’t that flickering “oh this place is really neat.” It was like I got hit with this overwhelming sensation that I had found home and that I really belonged.

July 2013 I departed from Canada with my mother on an international adventure, leaving Saskatchewan, stopping in Vancouver, then again in Seoul, and finally landing in Osaka around 9pm or so. Even at 9, it was incredibly humid and hot out. I don’t think I’d ever experienced anything like it. Thankfully, my mom had booked a hotel room at the airport so we could sleep before starting our adventure the next day. We both woke up fairly early (around 5am?) (yay, jet lag). And what an adventure it would be. Prior to this trip I had taken only two beginner level Japanese classes at my University, so my knowledge was limited to saying things like, “this is a pen,” “where is the train station,” “I like food.” Nothing super helpful when trying to figure out trains and schedules written primarily in Japanese. Every so often, a sign would have some English which I think is the only way we made it to our next hotel, only after I dumped my suitcase down an escalator.

Side note: Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka, Nara) people are incredibly kind. When I dropped my suitcase, about 4 people came rushing over and brought it up the escalator, asking if I was okay and if I needed any help.

Side, side note: I’ve spent 90% of my time in Kansai, so I’m probably biased.

Finally my mom and I got on the right train, and ended up at our train station. For those of you who haven’t been to Japan, train stations are often home to other businesses– like giant freaking department stores and malls. The colours, the sounds, the smells overwhelmed me as my mom and I had to walk through this train station/mall with our giant suitcases looking exactly like lost tourists as we tried to find the right exit for our hotel.

My feet were sore, it was hot, and my bags were heavy. We were very close to finding a taxi when we took our next exit and looked at all the high rise buildings and found the name of our hotel flashing fairly close to us. Our hotel was fairly nice, both my mom and I were ecstatic about the blue yukata pajama’s laid out on our beds. Starting the next day we had a tour guide who was going to show us around Osaka, Kyoto and then finally in Kobe where I would be spending the next 3 weeks.  We started in Osaka, visiting shrines and temples, the Osaka castle, a historical museum where I tried on my first yukata and got to wander around ancient buildings. We even got to see the beginning of a local festival where students (high school) would play a taiko drum while carrying a giant, portable temple through the streets. All traffic lights became irrelevant as the temple bobbed through the intersection on the backs of teenagers.

We ended our day in Osaka by visiting the red light district where I got to meet a cross-dressing actor. This is an old form of theatre in Japan and you will often come across females portraying males and males, women. I also got to try plinko which is Japan’s version of gambling, without actually gambling (which is illegal in Japan). It’s a bit like pinball, but after you get a certain amount of points you take your receipt with your points to the next door building where you can trade your points for everyday items and food. See, not really gambling.

This is also where I first almost got kidnapped. Well, probably would have been kidnapped.

My mom and the tour guide were looking at a shop and I was just a few meters away looking at something else, when an old man (like, dinosaurs were still around when he was a teenager) came up behind me and put his arm around my shoulders while pulling me away from my mom and tour guide, repeating “kirei, kirei.” (It means, pretty). I was able to pull out from under his arm and my tour guide came running over, hitting him with her fan (legit straight out of an anime) and telling him no. I don’t think I was ever in any real danger, but considering all of my almost kidnapped stories happen in Japan, this one had to be included.

After leaving the red light district, it was time for our tour guide to return home. She had told us about a fireworks festival tonight, gave us directions, and then left us to enjoy the popular shopping area.

We went to the festival and experienced the famous train squishing, where guards would force as many people as possible onto the train. Surprisingly it wasn’t as awful as I’d thought it would be, since the train was well air conditioned and everyone was doing their best to keep their hands away from uncomfortable areas.

The fireworks were amazing, at least 3-400 people were crammed onto a tiny bridge, with another 6 or 7 bridges filled the same way and thousands of people lining the sides of the river.  Bright, colourful boats floated down the river while fireworks lit up the sky with smiley faces and hearts. Unfortunately, jet lag had finally caught up with my mom and I, so we made our way back to our hotel on a nearly empty train.

And here I will leave you, with my trip to Kyoto for next time!


JET Programme

JET Programme — Part 4 — Results

I thought I cried a lot when I received my email about getting an interview.

Well nothing would have prepared me for what happened when I read the line, “We are pleased to inform you that you have been Short-listed.” I couldn’t even finish the whole email before I started hyperventilating (I kid you not) and crying while trying to find my phone to call my mom. I couldn’t talk and she started panicking until I barely mustered out, “I’m in. I got in.” Of course she knew what I was talking about and even she started crying.  After I hung up with her I started calling my sisters, friends, boyfriend, everyone. My mom wanted to prevent any more heart attacks and texted everyone (including me) “if Meggie calls you, it’s good news”. So I purposely started each conversation with something like, “I have bad news… I won’t be here for your birthday.”

I don’t think I would have had such an intense reaction though if it hadn’t been for the intense and horrible hour and a half wait.

The Embassy of Japan in Ottawa had posted on Facebook that the results would be released — about an hour before I saw it. So I messaged two other people I knew who had applied. One girl had gotten a response and was an alternate, while the other girl had no response yet either. Of course this was happening the day before a test, when I was supposed to be studying and instead I had my phone turned up all the way, and had my email opened up on two computers. After about 30 minutes of waiting I had started to accept my fate — I didn’t get in. I figured that they wanted to tell those getting in first, so that they could message their respective consulates if they had questions. So between comforting the girl who got Alternate status, while also speculating what was taking so long with the other girl, my emotions skyrocketed. I just couldn’t imagine what would happen if I got in, or even if I didn’t get in.

For reference, there are 3 results you can get; Short-listed (guaranteed position), Alternate (if people drop out, you might get called), and of course not accepted.

The first ping came from my phone. Second, laptop. Third, the other laptop. “New Email from JET DESK.” I almost didn’t open the email.  I wanted to puke and cry from nerves. Thankfully I clicked the email, read half of the first line, and well you know the rest. With this email comes a bunch of forms that need to be filled out and mailed (yes , stamp and envelope) by certain dates along with a few other things that you need to get yourself.  I mailed almost everything in by the end of the week. Again, pay attention to specific details when you submit things (no staples).

Unfortunately, after you get your results you still have to wait again for your placement, which is the stage I’m at right now. Literally any day now I will find out where I’m going and who I’m possibly teaching.

I’ll update more once I find out 🙂

JET Programme

JET Programme — Part 3 — Interview

I cried when I got the email that said I was selected to be interviewed. I didn’t even care about the $500 plane ticket for a day trip to Vancouver either. I read somewhere that only 50% of people who apply (in Canada) get interviewed, and then only a further 50% of people interviewed get accepted. Of course this could all be made up numbers since JET doesn’t actually reveal their statistics.

But there I was, January 13th, bawling over the phone to my mother while also trying to check out flights. With only two weeks notice, I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. Thankfully I had started preparing on the off chance I did get an interview.


Seriously, the best way to prepare yourself is mock interviews. Again, just like with your statement of purpose, get different kinds of people to interview you. Have them read your statement of purpose, give them a list of potential questions (just google, there are lists upon lists). Don’t just focus on your answers, also pay attention to body language and any nuances (like, ummm). If you can, record yourself. My biggest struggle was I waved my hands around like a little bird. I still ended up waving my hands in my interview, but being aware of it helped decrease how much I did it.

I was interviewed by three people — a Japanese man affiliated with the JET Programme some how, a previous JET who lead the interview, and a Japanese teacher who seemed very intimidating but was actually really sweet.

I walked into the building with my best genki face (super happy, outgoing, friendly)(I swear the word “genki” will one day make it’s way into frequent use in Western societies). I made small talk with everyone — other candidates, other interviewers (which set up a fun tone with my actual interviewers). I’m pretty sure I was a little delirious by this point — I’d been awake since 2 am Saskatchewan time, and my interview was at 3pm Vancouver time, about 5pm Saskatchewan time. I had flown in from Saskatchewan that morning and basically wandered around Vancouver the entire day.  Maybe my exhaustion added to my genki-ness?

Anyways, so while I was waiting for my interview, a couple other interviewers went to get coffee and chatted with my interviewers. One of the men, when he came out, jokingly told me to watch out for the “sensei” (teacher). This was great because it created a connection with her once I entered as she laughed when I told her the man’s warning. I was ushered to a side table to put my things down, show them my ID (don’t forget this) and shake hands with everyone. I sat down at the lone chair in front of them. Not gonna lie, this was super intimidating. Everyone was super friendly though, and most of the questions they asked me were found on the lists I’d seen online.

-Why JET?

-Why Japan?

-Why your placement and what will you do if you don’t get it?

-How would you deal with misbehaving students? (Bonus, read the ALT handbook on the CLAIR website)

Some questions that weren’t on the lists

-If a JET close to you gets better benefits (better apartment, subsidized, car, more holidays, etc) how would that make you feel?

-Say you bought a ticket to a once in a life time event on the weekend, but the school needed you to come in, what would you choose?

My most memorable question was if I knew of any recent events in Japan. I read the Japan times every weekend, but for some reason I completely blanked at this question. The only thing I could remember was a story I’d read a few months before about a 40 year old man tormenting the guys who bullied him when he was 10 by sending over 500 pieces of garbage in the mail. The best part? He put their address as the return address so he didn’t pay a cent for shipping. Surprisingly this story went over very well and everyone was laughing a lot. I’m pretty sure the more your interviewers laugh, the better your points will be.

I also had to do a mini lesson on a song I would teach to elementary school kids. I picked “Head and Shoulders” and got all the interviewers to stand up and participate. Thankfully I only had to go through it once, because the room was large and echoed and it was just a super awkward experience trying to teach adults pretending to be children, children songs.

Overall the interview was actually a lot of fun. Typically, interviews are supposed to be between 20-30 minutes maximum but I ended up staying for over 40 minutes (good sign?) and after I walked out, I was really glad that I was just able to be interviewed.

Until March hit (when results are announced), and again the refresh button on my email became my new best friend.

JET Programme

JET Programme — Part 2 — Applications

So now you’ve thought about why you want to apply to the JET Programme. Are you ready for what lies next?

Hours… and hours… of paperwork. Thankfully most of it is online. I’m not going to go into specifics of the application, you can find that almost anywhere. The basic process is the initial, half online half handwritten application. Start on your application as soon as the portal opens. You will need all the time you can get. In Canada I believe the portal opened either September or October. But applications were due the second week of November. Between all the referral letters, transcripts, medical notes, and everything else, you will need to commit a lot of time to collecting everything. Even more if you decide to do Early Departure.

Pay attention especially to the tiny, specific, itty bitty details that are on your forms (like don’t staple it, use a paperclip). Small things like not following directions can get you disqualified before they even look through your application.

The only thing more nerve-wracking than the sheer amount of paperwork is the Statement of Purpose. This should be the first thing you start when the application portal opens. Have it proof read a billion and two times. I’m kidding, but have all kinds of people read it — academics, friends, family. They all have something they can contribute to it — your friends and family know different sides of you, and academically inclined people can check for grammar and if everything flows smoothly. I had about nine people check over my statement before I sent it off. A big tip is to try and make yourself memorable, as well, leave them wanting more. Them=the people reading your statement. I don’t mean leave a super awful cliffhanger, just tell them a brief story that will peak their interest and gives room for them to ask more questions. But keep in mind, you only get two double-spaced pages. Be concise, make sure you answer all the important questions. You can elaborate later in your interview.

Make sure to send everything in before the due date, and then it’s time to play the waiting game. Try to keep busy during this time, because checking your email every 5 minutes will consume you. I know. It consumed me until I finally got the notification on January 13th that I was accepted for an interview.