You've been checking your email feverishly every day. Refresh, refresh, refresh. When will it come? Finally, you open your inbox and there it is. An email from the Japanese embassy.
Inside is the news you've been waiting for. You passed the interview stage and are now shortlisted for the JET Program!
Being shortlisted means you're effectively there. You'll be an official JET participant with just a little more paperwork. Piece of cake. After the application, no amount of paperwork can scare you.
Shortlisted, Alternate, and Early Departure
First there are a few terms to clear up. All candidates who are accepted onto the JET Program fall into one of the three categories: Shortlist, Alternate, or Early Departure.
Shortlist candidates are the majority. They are accepted to the JET Program and depart in late summer. Being shortlisted means you are tentatively accepted to the JET Program, provided you complete the final paperwork. It's like being 98% there. Just fill out some forms so you can enter the country and work. Shortlist candidate depart with Group A or B.
Alternate candidates are those that scored below the cutoff score set by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but high enough that they could still enter the program if someone else drops out. There are always several shortlist candidates who do not accept their placement. So more than a few alternates will get to go on JET. Alternate Candidates depart with Group C.
Early departure candidates are those that requested early departure on their application forms and want to depart for Japan in April rather than July or August. To qualify as an early departure candidate, you must request it on your application, prove your graduation before departure, and hand in your FBI Background Check and Certificate of Health at the time of Interview. Early departure candidates depart by themselves and are not assigned a group letter.
This timeline applies Group A & B JETs (shortlist candidates) and not to early departure or alternate candidates. Early departure candidates have to do all this same stuff, just earlier and alone. If you're an alternate candidate, you do all this stuff later with Group C.
Early April: You get your letter
Hooray! You are now shortlisted. Remember, shortlisted doesn't mean you're in. It means you've been accepted but still have some more paperwork to finish before getting into JET.
May: Submit requested forms to your JET Coordinator
After getting your acceptance letter, a big ol' envelope from your consulate will arrive filled with stuff for you to do, as well as pamphlets and maybe even a DVD. We'll get to the paperwork in the next section.
May-June: Non-Mandatory Pre-Departure Q&A
Not all consulates and embassies provide this but most do. This is an informal Q&A/Training Session/Panel/Food Party where your JET Coordinator and some JET Alumni present workshops, answer questions, and eat food with the outgoing JETs.
May-July: Receive placement notification
Depending on your contracting organization (CO) and the needs of schools, your placement in Japan can come to you any time between May and July. This contact will likely come from the prefecture or town iteself.
This is all you. You can do this whenever. If you're a super minimalist, you can do it all the night before you leave. Otherwise, give yourself some time to get things together.
June-July: Mandatory Pre-departure orientation the day before you leave
If you are Group A, you will depart July 25. If you are Group B, you will depart August 1. The day before you depart, you are required to attend a mandatory pre-departure orientation. This will include workshops and Q&A, but is mostly to give you vital details about your flight and travel situation.
July-August: Get on the plane!
July 25 or August 1, most likely.
July-August: Tokyo Orientation
Upon landing in Tokyo, you will be taken to the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku for a 3 day conference (2 days if you're group C) which includes speeches, panels, workshops, and a reception.
Some panels are required, but you are largely free to choose which panels you wish to attend. Attend as many as you can. JET gives a lot of things, but training isn't one of them. Use this time to soak up knowledge and prepare yourself before you're deployed to your new job.
Dress for this conference is formal, and not just any kind of formal. Japanese formal. Be sure to pack at least two suits or formal outfits. There should be an iron in your hotel room to de-wrinkle them after the flight.
July-August: Picked up by Contracting Organization
During Tokyo Orientation, you'll meet everyone else who is going to your prefecture along with some nice boss-types who will take you to your new home. You are now officially on JET and attached to Japan at the local level. Wave goodbye to CLAIR, MOFA, MEXT, and all the nice people that brought you here. Bye, nice people!
August-September: Prefectural Orientation
Sometime after arriving in your home prefecture, you will regroup with the new JETs for 3-9 days of workshops and training for your new life and work in Japan. Again, soak up this knowledge, take notes, and most importantly ask questions!
Surprise! You actually started work as soon as you landed.
Stop Being Shortlisted and Become a JET Participant!
Before embarking on the exciting timeline above, you have a few tasks to complete, the most important being paperwork. As a shortlist candidate, you need to send a few documents to you JET Program Coordinator to be fully accepted on the JET Program.
Below is a guide to the forms most participants are asked to submit. Notice that I said, most. You will get explicit instructions from your JET Program Coordinator regarding what they need from you, so follow those instructions above all others.
The best part about this stage is that you are now in contact with the JET Desk at your consulate, and the JET Program Coordinator is someone you can talk to and work with when you have issues with any of the instructions. You're beyond the cold bureaucracy phase and onto bureaucracy with another human being.
Forms you'll need to fill out
These six paperworks are all that stand between you and total JET acceptance. Compared to the application, this will be a breeze. Follow the instructions below and (above all) the instructions of your JET Coordinator. Ace these and relax. Because you still have to pack.
- Reply Form: This the main form. Completing it means you accept your placement on JET. Attach two identical passport size photos to this bad boy and you're good to go.
- FBI Background Check: There is a way to apply for this listed on the JET website, but that method is for early departure candidates. The method for shortlist candidates ususally varies. Wait to apply for the FBI Criminal Background Check until advised to do so by your consulate or embassy. Following the method used for early departure candidates may result in needing to apply for it a second time. Direct any questions about this to your JET Program Coordinator.
- Certificate of Health: The same advice from the FBI Background Check section above applies here. The method for obtaining the Certificate of Health is different for shortlist candidates than it is for early departure. Follow instructions and direct any questions to your JET Program Coordinator.
- Visa Application: You will be sent a visa application, which you will fill out and send back with your passport. Don't worry. You'll get your passport back before you depart. Make sure to send this in as soon as possible, as it takes time for the consulate or embassy to talk with Tokyo and get your visa squared away.
- Tax Forms: This will vary from country to country. In the U.S. you need a Proof of US Residency form from the IRS (form 6166) to qualify for tax exemption during your first two years on JET. Many other countries also have a tax treaty with Japan, so check with your JET Program Coordinator for proper forms and procedures to qualify.
- Proof of Graduation: If you're getting your first degree before July 1 of your departure year, you have to prove it was received before that date. If you can't provide proof in time, you will be disqualified so send it in as soon as you can!
Get in Contact with your Predecessor
Your predecessor is the JET ALT whose position you're taking over. You are taking over their job and, in most cases, their apartment (hopefully fully furnished). Sometimes, there will be no predecessor as a town may be getting a JET ALT for the first time. This has especially been true in recent years as JET has been sending ALTs to Tokyo for the first time ever.
Getting in touch is completely up to the predecessor. Your contracting organization tells them to get in contact with you and it's their responsibility to do so. If they don't right away, remember they are wrapping up their life in Japan and have a lot on their plate as well. Since you're both incoming/outgoing you have different responsibilities and priorities.
Thankfully, with our beautiful internet, making a connection isn't as difficult as it used to be. Most AJET organizations in a given prefecture will have some sort of Facebook group, Google group, wiki, or the like on which you can ask around about who your predecessor might be.
Get some Skype time if you can. Email is great too because you have answered questions in searchable text form. However you get your questions answered do it. Your predecessor has has a lot of insight into what you will face, how to handle situations, and what your life will be like.
Below is a list of questions to ask your predecessor:
- What is the apartment like? (ask for pictures if possible)
- How much are rent and utilities?
- Do I need to pay key money for the apartment?
- What kinds of things are you leaving me?
- Where are the nearest JETs in the area?
- Will I need a car?
- Can I buy your car? (Note: Only do this if you feel comfortable. It can be risky buying sight unseen.)
- What is the weather like?
- Where is the nearest shopping?
- What did you do for meals?
- What kind of schools will I be teaching at?
- How many schools will I be teaching at?
- What did you do for lunch each day?
- What is the school environment like?
- What are the start or end times of school?
- What are the clubs at school like?
- What is the dress code for the ALT position at each school?
- Who are my supervisors?
- Who are the Japanese teachers I'll be teaching with?
- What are some nice local attractions?
- What will you miss the most?
- Why did you stay the length of time you did? (Ask this at your discretion. Maybe build a little rapport first.)
Take your predecessor's advice with a grain of salt. This is a person you've never met before and their experiences and reactions may be completely different than your own. They're beginning to mentally and emotionally detach themselves from a life they built from scratch. They may be overly negative or overly positive. Take what they say into account, but don't let it pre-color your idea of your placement. Everyone's JET experience is unique even if two people taught at the same schools and lived in the same apartment.
Regarding Your JET Coordinator
Be nice to your JET Program Coordinator. He or she is doing a lot of things for a lot of people between the time you get your acceptance letter and the time your fly off for Japan. Give them patience and professionalism when asking questions and working out details. You have one life to organize and send across the world. They have forty to sixty.
Get Ready to Pack It In!
After the paperwork and basic contact with your placement, you'll be ready for the real work: packing. In the next article, we'll cover what to pack, not pack, and how to brace for the dive into JET life.