October 7, 2009

Tokyo Orientation

Congrats - you've made it to Tokyo! Take a deep breath, look around and give yourself a solid pat on the back for a job well done. You deserve it, after all, for surviving the grueling nine-month ordeal of waiting and more waiting that is the JET application process. Now that you're here, don't screw it up.

You're probably thinking, how hard can it be? Well, harder than you might think. Picture this - a hotel filled with 1,000 foreigners, most of them fresh out of college. For many, it's their first time in Tokyo and all they want to do is get out and explore the city. As tempting as is to get drunk with your new friends outside the combini and terrorize Tokyo, be smart about it. Show up to the meetings you are required to go to (there are at least a couple where they take attendance).

You are being paid to be there. You are officially 'on the clock' from the minute you wake up after your first night in Tokyo. Absences will be noticed and noted. People have been sent home before. Honestly - how much would it absolutely suck to spend all that time and effort getting to Japan only to have them send you home because you proved within the first 24 hours that you are completely unable to handle the responsibility of working in a foreign country. Pretty damn sucky.

But as long as you are smart about it, there are lots of ways to have a fabulous time in Tokyo. Your nights are free to do as you please, and for those of you who are placed in certain areas or don't plan on driving in Japan, many of the talks and presentations won't apply to you in any way. That's valuable free time for you to catch up on your sleep (because yes, jet lag is a bitch), or go explore Tokyo. Personally I took some time to go to some bars/karaoke at night and to see Tokyo Tower during the day and had a great time. So just be smart about it.

But what exactly does Tokyo Orientation entail? I can't speak for those who get upgraded and arrive in Group C, but those Group A and Group B here's a bit of a run down. The first day that you arrive in Tokyo you will be shuttled from the airport to the hotel by (literally) an army of helpers. They will all be wearing the same coloured t-shirts and carrying signs pointing you in the right direction. The bus from the airport to the hotel takes about 2 hours so if you're feeling sleeping, catch some "Z"s. Once you arrive you check in and then your night is free and clear. You can go out on the town, explore, sleep, eat, whatever you like.

Day One of the orientation starts pretty early - around 9 am if I remember correctly. You must attend this meeting. I can't emphasize that enough. They arrange your seats by prefecture and take attendance. It's a great way to meet all the people you are going to be working with over the next year, as well as your Prefectural Advisors (PAs). The meeting itself was decently entertaining. They had a few speakers from MEXT, a few from CLAIR, the guy from the JET Life DVD got up to do a talk, and they had some helpful tutorials about how to bow correctly and how not to get deported for using drugs in Japan.

(You will be told this over and over again at Tokyo O - Drugs are bad. If you like doing drugs at home that's fine, but do not do them in Japan. Being caught with drugs or associating with people who are using drugs = criminal charges and deportation.)

Day One they also serve up a nice lunch. Ours was a chickpea curry and it tasted delicious! The afternoon was filled with various talks you could go to, most of them based around different aspects of living in Japan.

Day Two is a lot of the same.There is no attendance taken at the info sessions, but you are expected to attend them. There was also a helpful information fair in the afternoon where people could find out about volunteer works in their area and how to get internet in Japan. In the afternoon there are assigned meeting times for each prefecture where you find out information about how you are getting to your placement, shipping your luggage and what time you are leaving.

Do NOT miss this meeting. Attendance IS taken and the meetings are usually in small groups. If you are not there everyone will know, so keep that in mind. Some people are required to fly to their placement, others take the train. It's important to know how you are getting there since depending on how you are travelling there are luggage weight restrictions and super early departure times (I know a few people who had to leave the hotel day on Day Three at 5 am).

Day Three is the day you depart for your prefecture and finally see where you are going to be living for the next year. My advice is to get a good nights sleep the night before and don't show up hung over. My first day I met two of my JTEs and a few other important people so you don't exactly want to make a bad impression fresh off the bat. Be on time, dress appropriately (usually business casual) and put on a happy face. Even if you are hung over and jet lagged and feel like rubbish stick it out for the day. You only get once chance to make a first impression so make it a good one!

Next up is what to expect at your placement. I've been at mine for about a month now so I can offer a few minor insights but like the JET manual says ad nauseum, Every Situation Is Different.

Until next time...

July 27, 2009

JET Program - Placement

JET placements are sort of like the stock market - random, unpredictable and the selections don't always make sense. That's how it can feel to an applicant anyway.

When filling in your JET application, the form asks you to list up to three placements you'd ideally like to have. Being both lazy and unsure about most of Japan's prefectures, I chose Kyoto Prefecture, Osaka Prefecture and Kanagawa as my top three choices (though Hokkaido was a close 3rd). I got none of the above, and looking back I'm really not surprised, but what I did get was a compromise.

At least from my experience, it seems like JET makes some attempt to accomodate your placement requests, even if they don't give you exactly what you asked for. I wound up being placed in Mie prefecture, a long, narrow prefecture on the east coast of Japan that borders Kyoto Prefecture and is only 30 minutes from Nagoya (Japan's 3rd largest city) and a couple hours from Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo by train. All in all, I think I got pretty lucky.

Placements can be one of the hardest waits throughout the entire application process, particularly if you're chosen (like me!) as a Prefectural ALT. When you're a prefectural ALT it's up to the prefecture to decide where exactly they need you, so placements can take a couple weeks longer than other ALTs.

I found out which prefecture I was going to be placed in when I received my notification of short list letter in the mail. My response was "Mie? Where the hell is that?!", followed quickly by a Google search. Finding out exactly where in Mie I was going to be living was another thing entirely. It was literally weeks of waiting with no word - nothing from the school board, nothing from my predecessor, just silence. It was very unsettling. I watched the weeks count down, and as each one went by without any word I started to get antsy. Were they going to wait until I arrived in Japan before letting me know where I was going to be staying? It seemed unlikely, but that's how it felt at the time.

I finally heard from my predecessor in the first week of July. They let me know the city I was going to be living in once I arrived in Mie, as well as anything I could possibly want to know about my apartment and the school. I would recommend asking your predecessor whatever you can, while you can. Some are more helpful than others, of course, but I was lucky enough to have a very helpful pred. Some general questions you might want to ask are:

- How close is it to the school, grocery store and train station (walking, biking, driving distance?)
- Does any furniture come with the apartment?
- Is your pred selling any of their old stuff?
- What are the monthly expenses like? (Your pred can give you a much better idea of how much it costs for rent, utilities, etc.)
- Is there anything you should know before you get there? (bug problem? mice? etc.)
- What kind of internet access is available? (dial up, fibre optic,etc.) And how long will it take to get it installed? (My wait will be a month, some are longer or shorter)

- How many schools do you work at?
- How many classes do you teach a week?
- The names of the different teachers will you be working with (and an idea of what they're like is nice too!)?
- What grades are you responsible for teaching?
- How academic is the school?
- Are you required to work Saturdays (if the school has Saturday classes), or join specific clubs (English club, etc.)
- What is their day like at the school (just so you can have an idea of what you're in for)

- Good contacts to know (Prefectural Advisor, helfpul neighbours, etc.)
- Location of good restaurants/bars in the area they can recommend
- Any particuarly interesting touristy things in the area they would recommend

The next big step after you find out where you're headed? Packing and Tokyo Orientation! More details will follow about Tokyo Orientation and what to expect once I get there myself - less than a week left to go!

April 11, 2009

JET Program Part 3: The Results

If a JET applicant ever tells you they weren't nervous in the days/weeks leading up to receiving their results, they are a liar. A true bald faced liar. Feel free to give people like this a solid kick to the shin because everyone who applies to the program gets nervous once results come out.

Two months of waiting, and it all comes down to one letter/email.

If you thought the over-analyzing post-interview was bad, it's nothing compared to this. Many people I've talked to, all strong applicants mind you, were convinced they'd been rejected outright or maybe (maaaaybe, with a sliver of hope) chosen as an alternate. I'm definitely part of this group.

I spent many a sleepless night going over and over my interview in my head, convinced I had screwed myself. After all, why would JET want someone who taught in their mock lesson that the sun is yellow when EVERYONE knows that in Japan they say the sun is red? (-1000 points for cultural awareness.)

Oh, and let's not forget that when they asked you 'what's interesting about you and what talents can you bring to your community in Japan' you answered, "Well... I'm a history nerd but I guess that's not really a special talent. Uh... I can play guitar?" (Fail.)

There was a lot of this going on, especially once the results were released and I watched on the ITIL forum as member after member posted their shortlist designations. One by one, the people I'd come to know from the Applying forum announced their shortlist status and as I congratulated each one of them the anxiety over my own results intensified. What if I didn't get in? It was a very real possibility.

I could picture it perfectly - everyone departing come July/August for a year of fun times and cultural experiences in Japan while I was left behind to decide whether I'd even bother applying next year.

Thanks to the Canadian consulate's decision to send out results via snail mail, we had to wait an extra few days. Someone called the consulate - the letters were mailed Tuesday. The waiting game was on. I didn't expect to see anything until Thursday but then Wednesday hit and I still held my breath as I opened my mail box slot.

Inside was a conspicuous white envelope from the Japanese consulate. I was expecting a package if I got in and a letter if I didn't. Right away, I said "Well, damn." and thought the worst. But as I was walking back to the house I noticed that it was a rather thick envelope. I'd heard of the Japanese penchant for long-windedness, but I was still left thinking, "If this is a rejection letter, it's the longest rejection letter I've ever seen!"

Was it possible that me, lil' ol' Canadian with the crappy interview, had possibly gotten in?

I didn't even make it into the house.

Standing on my front porch with an open can of Red Bull in hand, I tore open the envelope and got as far as "We are pleased...*skim* shortlisted" before I jumped, screamed with excitement and wound up dumping half a can of Red Bull on myself and my letter (oops...)

So after all that waiting - I'm going to Japan. Shortlisted, no less.

I'm absolutely thrilled, but my family - not so much. Mom and Dad are happy for me, of course, since they know how much I wanted to do this, but they're not thrilled with the idea of me being out of the country for a year or more. They've both been moping around the house for the past few days, giving me long looks with sad faces. Sara's been a bit more supportive and a lot less angsty about it but I know she'll miss me too (and I'll miss her).

Leaving my family and friends behind will be one of the hardest parts of this whole process. I'm going to chronicle a bit of the journey on here - emotional and otherwise - that takes place between now and August 1st so you guys can have an idea about what happens after The Letter.

Right now though, my biggest concern is the medical check that's required to be submitted with your acceptance letter. They only give you until April 24th to have a health check done - including a chest X-ray to screen for TB. Now, anyone from Ontario knows how hard it is to get in and see a doctor on short notice.

I went Thursday to a walk in clinic to see if they would help me. They refused. I went to my family doctor who was all booked up for next week but managed to see the other doctor who works with her as a walk-in patient. He did some of the tests and gave me the requisition for the chest x-ray. I now get to take time off work so I can go back
next Monday, the only time my doctor was available, to get her to finish off my paperwork so I can mail it in to the consulate on time. Because it's not just that you mail it in by April 24th, your letter has to be at the CONSULATE by the 24th upon pain of disqualification (of course).

I have a feeling the next three months are going to be a lot of running around like a chicken with my head cut off but that this point I'm too happy/excited to care.

Japan, here I come!

February 20, 2009

JET Program Part 2: The Interview

"With great power comes great responsibility."

Uncle Ben was a smart guy. His words of wisdom helped Peter Parker become Spider-man, but they won't help you ace the JET interview. Sorry.

If you're anything like me and actually care about getting on the JET Program, it's hard to describe the JET Interview process as anything but nerve wracking.

I spent weeks (okay, months...) prior to my interview researching the program, preparing answers to interview questions, and thinking about how I would respond to some of the trickier scenarios they might throw at me. I also spent a lot of time lurking around several JET Program online forums. In particular, found the
I Think I'm Lost Forum to be a big help because of their dedicated sections for applicants and interviewees - complete with past questions, advice and FAQs (available here).

I'm not sure how many other people prepared this way, but that's just how I went about it. Going into my interview I felt confident, certain that I was an ideal candidate for the position and determined to impress my interviewers. I left the interview room feeling less certain about all of the above, but more on that later.

I think my first problem might have been lack of sleep. Because I was stressing about the interview I got about an hour of sleep beforehand - under eye bags aren't the best way to make a good first impression. So after ice packs on the eyes, lots of make up and donning my sharp Executive-esque suit I headed to the University of Toronto to plead my case.

For the most part, everyone in the waiting room was very quiet and everyone waiting in the hall outside their room looked a nervous wreck. They had a video playing for us to watch in the waiting room. It was about the JET experience as an ALT and CIR. It was actually pretty good and I got some ideas from it that I used later in my interview so you should probably pay attention to it.

After the video there was a really awkward silence as the group of us realized we had 10 minutes to kill before we headed to our interview rooms. I decided to talk with one of the girls at the registration desk who happened to be a former JET. She was really nice and we had a good chat about what it's like to be the only white person living in a rural town in Japan. I believe her name was Andrea and she was incredibly nice - exactly what I'd imagine a former JET to be like. I felt really good after talking to her and totally ready for my interview.

When the time was right, I headed up to my designated room where they were waiting for me. There were only two people on my panel - a female former JET and a male member of the Japanese Consulate. The female JET was very friendly and the gentleman from the Consulate was very stone faced, but I'd kind of expected that going in so I was prepared for it. (Even so, it does a number on your nerves!)

The interview was about 25-30 minutes long and they asked me a variety of questions, with some of them being a little odder than others. I was one of the lucky (or unlucky?) few who got to do a teaching demonstration. More on that later as well.

Their first question to me was "How did you hear about JET?" Followed by, "Tell us about some of the research you've done into the program and Japan."

After those preliminaries were out of the way they focused primarily on my teaching experience. They asked what my most rewarding experience in the classroom was, as well was what my most challenging experience was. One question I thought was a little strange was they asked me to give an example of an instance in the workplace where I'd put my code of ethics into play.

They also asked the following in no particular order:
  • what my Japanese speaking ability is
  • what Canadian landmarks I'd show to people in Japan
  • what three things I'd bring with me to explain/share Canadian culture
  • how I'd combat homesickness
  • how I would feel if I didn't get my first choice of placement
  • what my special skills and hobbies were
  • how I would get involved with the community
  • what volunteer work I'd done
  • what experience I had working with/teaching young children
  • what aspects of Japanese culture I wanted to explore
  • what qualities I had that would make me a good applicant

There were also several scenario questions they threw my way. One had was getting me to describe what I thought a typical day as an ALT would be. I gave a pretty detailed answer and they seemed pleased with it. For Scenario #2 they asked what I'd do if my friends and I made plans to go out on the weekend, and we wouldn't be back until late Sunday night, but I had a big day on Monday at school.

All in all I think my answers were okay to all of the above - showing that yes, I'd done my research, I had a brain and I could be an excellent ambassador to Canada.

Then came the dreaded lesson.

"We want you to demonstrate your teaching ability to us," they said wearing knowing smiles. "We're you're students and we know very little English. Teach us about colours."

Teaching about colours is easier said than done when all you have is a chalkboard with white chalk and 10 seconds to prep. Needless to say I think my lesson sucked hard. My drawings were horrible and overall I thought it wasn't very engaging. At one point I added a happy face to my deformed sun just to make it look somewhat better. By the time I finished the former JET looked like she was holding in hysterical laughter (not the good kind) and the member from the Japanese Consulate was stone-faced. They did participate when I asked them to though, which was merciful of them. I have to thank them for that!

Once the interview was over I asked them a couple questions of my own. I asked the former JET about what one of the hardest things about moving to Japan for her was and then I asked them both about what my chances of working with younger children were since I knew the BOE's are planning to introduce the English language program at the elementary level and I really wanted the opportunity to work with children. They basically said that it's up to the BOE wherever I got hired.

And that was it. I got up, thanked them, shook their hands and was ushered out the door.

I spent the entire rest of that day mulling over all the things I wish I'd said/done differently, things I should've told them, ways I could've done my mock lesson differently... Honestly I was driving myself crazy until I realized that at this point it's entirely out of my hands. If I'm accepted, awesome! If not, I'll move on to Plan B. Either way I'll be in Japan teaching English at some point next year. If it takes me a little longer to get there it's no big deal.

I'm glad to have the interview behind me and I'm ready to go on with life as I knew it before my JET application (while I wait for the final results to come out in the first week of April).

My advice to prospective JET interviewers is this - be friendly, SMILE (seriously it was stone faces everywhere when I was waiting), be enthusiastic, and know yourself. Know what you want, why you want to be in the program and all the reasons why you'd be an ideal candidate. And for the sake of doing better than me, prep yourself for several different styles of mock lessons (colours, national holiday, self-intro, lesson on your hometown/state/country, etc.). Colours was the one mock lesson I
didn't prep for and that oversight just might have screwed me, so it's better to be over-prepared than under-prepared :)

Best of luck to everyone who still has to interview or will be interviewing next year. I've given you all the advice I can, now go forth and impress. With any luck I'll see you in Japan ;)

- The Genki Canuck

Onward to Part 3: The Results

January 29, 2009

JET Program Part 1: The Application

In a world filled with uncertainty, the one thing that can be universally agreed upon is that the application for the JET Program is one giant headache.

The application itself is a three-part process: the paper application, the interview, the short list.

Paper applications become available usually in September/October and are due in the end of November. The 2008 application in Canada was available Sept 22 and due Nov 18th (just to give you an idea of the time line). This may seem like a significant amount of time to get one little paper application together. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that way! Between writing your Statement of Purpose (and re-writing it a dozen times), getting copies of transcripts or proof of enrollment, the necessary medical documentation (if needed) and obtaining the two reference letters you need to apply, you will be lucky to get your application into the Japanese consulate on time.

I started working on my application the first week of October and was able to submit it a week early, but I know a lot of people were down to the wire and here's why:

Reference Letters.
The biggest threat to your deadline is your reference letters - so take care of those FIRST. And be VIGILANT. One of my references was great - got everything into me well ahead of time. The other I literally had to email half a dozen times and then call to get the letter in time to mail it in. It's different for everyone, of course, but just be conscious of the fact that asking for a reference letter last minute doesn't look all that great on you (it makes you look disorganized) and not everyone can work to your schedule.

Transcripts/ Letter of Enrollment.
With the transcripts and letters of enrollment, it's usually college/university bureaucracy that puts the brakes on this one. Some schools have fees, others won't print transcripts at certain period in the semester, sometimes it takes a few days to get the documents printed... basically they're a huge pain in the ass and will wind up costing you if you don't take care of them early. At least if you tackle them at the start of the application process, they're something you can get out of the way and not have to worry about when it comes to that fast approaching deadline.

The Statement of Purpose.
Oh the Statement of Purpose, how I loathe thee. The SoP is a two page (max) essay detailing all the reasons why you want to participate in the program and why you'd be a good candidate. Writing that thing was one of the hardest compositions I've done to date because you simply don't know what they're looking for.

Are they going to appreciate your quirky sense of humour or your self-professed sushi obsession? Or is that going to be an immediate black mark? Should you focus on your teaching experience or international experience? Should it be formal or informal? Just how strict IS that page limit anyway?

Writing the SoP is no easy task and from what I've heard it can make or break your application so here are some things to consider-

At the end of the day, you're applying for a job - just like you would with any other company. Given that, professionalism seems to be the safest route to take. So if you're trying to decide between a formal or informal approach, go for formal. Treating the application seriously is a good indicator to the review panel that you are serious about the position and they should bring you in for an interview.

(On a side note, you should probably also refrain from mentioning in your SoP that you're an OMG! A DIE-HARD Naruto fan!, or that you have like absolutely EVERY Inuyasha volume ever published because it's like the BEST MANGA EVER! If you're a fan of anime and manga that's cool, but if it comes across that that's your reason for wanting to go to Japan they're going to move on to the next candidate. Save the fanboying/fangirling for once you're there).

Answer the question. I can't emphasize this enough. The JET application lists specific questions they want to see answers to in your SoP so it is a wise idea to use those as a guideline when you're writing. Mainly they want to know what your interest in Japan is, why you think you'd make a good candidate and what YOU can bring to the program. One of the biggest mistakes people make is talking about all the great things the JET Program will do for them. WRONG! This goes back to the whole "think of it like a job interview" thing. Your prospective employer doesn't want to hear how the job is going to make you a ton of money or give you worldly experience, they want to hear what you're bringing to the table and how you're going to improve their bottom line.

Edit. Edit. Edit. You're applying to be an English teacher so your SoP should be near perfect in terms of style, grammar and flow. Don't leave the SoP to the last minute thinking you can just whip something off and hand it in. You're setting yourself up for failure if you do that. Though there may be a gifted few who can write beautiful poignant perfect two page SoPs in an hour no problem, most of us need more time to gather our thoughts, get them to paper and then edit them.

I re-wrote my SoP half a dozen times before I was happy with it - the final version ended up being written the night before I submitted my application. I had at least three different people read over my SoP for spelling, grammar, flow and just a general sense of how well I answered the questions supplied by JET. This is where getting your SoP started early comes in handy!

Having a working SoP is also a great tool to give your references so they have more info on the program and your specific reasons for wanting to be a part of it. I gave a working copy of my SoP to both my references and they not only appreciated it, but were able to make reference in their letters to specific things I'd mentioned in my essay - so being organized works!

The Application
So you've got your letters of reference, transcripts, nicely polished SoP, medical forms etc. You're in the home stretch right? Not quite. Next comes the actual paper application which is an absolute mammoth 60 pages of reading. Some consultes still give out actual paper applications, the UK uses online forms and many others now provide workable PDF documents.

DO NOT (I repeat, DO NOT!) skip over the Application Instructions. It's easy to sit there and say to yourself, "how hard could it possibly be to fill in an application? I can't believe they have instructions for this!" Bad idea.

With the number of applicants the JET Program receives each year, they're looking for ANY reason to cut you. Those application instructions and your ability to follow them ultimately determines whether they consider your application or not. Why would they hire someone who is incapabale of reading and understanding simple instructions?

Right. So if the application instructions say "use paperclips, not staples" - use paperclips. If they say "be sure to answer every question, or write N/A" then answer every question or write N/A. It's not that hard, but you'd be surprised at the number of people who get simple things like that wrong and wind up with their application getting tossed.

I'd recommend reading the application instructions closely and then filling out a "test" copy of the application. I actually had a couple test copies going in case I changed my mind about something or made a mistake in a ceratin spot. The Canadian PDF this year gave a lot of people, including myself, trouble so we wound up having to fill it out by hand which took forever.

The actual application itself is around 14 pages long. Most of it is basic info like name, address, etc. the rest is work experience, international experience and your exposure to Japanese culture. Don't leave these last sections blank. If you have ANY experience, even if its minor, include it. The paper applications are graded on a point system so having nothing in those boxes gives you 0 points as opposed to the few you might get for having minor experience there.

Part of the paper application deals with placement requests. Placements are something that JET applicants seem to think a lot about when they really shouldn't. The application asks you to list up to three placement choices (cities or regions where you would like to be located within Japan). These by no mean determine where you'll actually wind up. It's better to think of them as "suggestions" or something to keep you busy while waiting to hear application results.

Your placement is entirely up to the Japanese BOE who hires you. Most successful JET applicants end up teaching at Junior or Senior High Schools in the rural our semi-rural countryside. The odds of actually being placed in the urban sprawl of Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka are very slim (Tokyo, for example, only has 2 spots available). If the thought of living amongst rice fields in a town of 2000 makes you cringe, JET may not be the right option for you.

Okay, so now that you've spent countless hours putting together your application, making all the necessary photocopies, etc., triple checking it to make sure you've checked every box and answered every questions, it's time to send it off.

The JET application instructions include a detailed (with a picture) list of exactly HOW they want everything arranged inside your envelope. FOLLOW THIS CAREFULLY. How much would it suck to go through all that effort only to have your application chucked in the bin because you put your reference letters in the wrong spot?

Just a reminder - there is absolutely NO exceptions made for late applications. They will not be read, opened or even looked at. If it was submitted past the deadline it goes straight into the bin - better luck next year!

Now comes the hard part. Waiting.

It is a loooong two and a half months between submitting your application and hearing the results. Each consulate is different, but this year the Canadian consulate mailed out letters to successful applicants. The American consulate provides you with an applicant number and posts a PDF listing the numbers of successful applicants.

I was one of the lucky ones so I will be heading to Toronto on Feb 18th to plead my case. I'll update you then on the interview process, along with some of the questions they asked me.

Wish me luck!

Coming Soon: Part 2: The Interview!

January 28, 2009

Getting to Japan

Japan - the home of sumo, sushi and Assistant Language Teachers from the world over.

If you're interested in exploring Japan, there are about a thousand and one ways you can get there. One of the easiest and most cost effective is to work as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). There is no shortage of ALT positions available in Japan, or companies willing to hire genki foreigners to teach them.

If this sounds good to you, there are several of links posted below to various companies and helpful sites that will help you get on your way.

I chose to apply through the JET program - also known as the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program (http://www.jetprogramme.org/). The JET Program takes applicants primarily from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom (but I've also seen participants from various parts of Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa).

The only main requirements to get into the program are that you're from an English speaking country (English is your native language) and you have a post-secondary degree from an accepted College or University (or will have acquired one by the time you depart). The program itself is highly competitive. At any one time there are approx 4500 JETs employed in Japan (this includes new applicants and previous applicants who have decided to re-contract for another year). Just to give you some perspective - this past year there were 4500 applicants within the United States alone and less than half of those were offered an interview.

Right. (That was this genki canuck's reaction too...)

If you make it through the interview and are accepted into the program, you're offered a 1 year contract to work as an ALT, usually in a rural area, for 3.6 million yen a year. This is more than enough money for you to live comfortably and have savings (depending on how good you are with your money). The added bonus of the free flight to Japan and home, courtesty of JET, means that JET is one of the better options, financially speaking, for prospective ALTs.

I thought I'd give you guys a chance to follow my own journey through the JET application process. If I'm not successful I've got several other options I'm willing to try, and I hope you will too!

Some Helpful Links:
I Think I'm Lost (http://www.ithinkimlost.com)
Big Daikon (www.bigdaikon.com)
Dave's ESL Cafe (http://www.eslcafe.com/)
Gaijin Pot (http://www.gaijinpot.com/)

Non-Jet Options:
Westgate Corporation (http://www.westgate.co.jp/)
Winbe English School (http://www.tact-net.jp/winbe/english/)
Amity (http://www.amityteachers.com/)
ECC Foreign Language Institute (http://recruiting.ecc.co.jp/)
AEON (http://www.aeonet.com/)