Last Friday and Saturday my local Japanese Embassy hosted a Q&A weekend for all incoming 2013 JET participants. There are three of these events held in New Zealand, so JETs from all around the country can travel the closest event to take part. It's a great opportunity to meet lots of new people, and I was really looking forward to it for a long time! Here's a run down of what we did over the two days:
Friday 1pm - 6pm
We turned up and had a quick mingle with everyone. There were about 40 new JETs at my embassy's event, so even after the whole weekend there were still people I (regrettably) hadn't gotten to talk to! We also picked up a whole lot of books and things, like the JET General Information Handbook (GIH) and Japanese for JETs.
We then had introductions and greetings from a few of the programme coordinators, a talk from an ex-JET, a talk about NZ tax and student loan repayments, a beginner's Japanese lesson, and a travel information talk. There were plenty of breaks in between to stand up and stretch and chat to those around you. Finally, we had a 1 hour Q&A panel with four former JETs. After this, there was an optional dinner at Wagamama (yum!!!), where some members of JETAA joined us. It was a really fun day, and I learned so much. Many of those little niggling questions I'd had in the back of my mind were answered, and on top of that, things I hadn't even thought of (but should have) were brought up and discussed too!
Saturday 9am - 6pm
Ahhhh, 9am on a Saturday! I was definitely not used to that, haha. Saturday was a long day, and it seemed like there was even more to take in.
From 9am - 1pm, we had more Japanese language learning. I appreciated this so much. I studied Japanese for one year at university, about four years ago now. While I loved the language, the university course was just far too intense for me. It was hard for me to accept, especially when I was studying Chinese successfully at the same time at uni, but I made the decision to stop learning Japanese. I assumed by now I would have forgotten what little I thought I had learned at uni, but I was proved wrong! In just a few hours, a lot came back to me. These beginner lessons really gave me a positive feeling about learning more Japanese before I go. Hopefully I can share my top Japanese learning tips on the blog soon too. :)
After 1pm, the former JETs we had talked to on the Q&A panel the previous day returned to do one hour workshops with us. The workshops covered a range of useful topics, including: self introductions, classroom activities, work relationships, and life in Japan. These workshops were presented so honestly and were so informative - I think it was really great of these former JET participants to give up their weekend time and work hard to give us really useful, practical tips. The workshops actually ran over time, but I didn't even notice because they were so engaging! There was a final Q&A session for any further questions, but unfortunately I couldn't stay for this as I had arranged to be picked up.
If your embassy offers some kind of Q&A or induction weekend, I strongly recommend you attend. I also suggest you bring some paper and a pen to take notes - there is far too much information to remember with memory alone. This was an invaluable experience for me, and it's really made the whole programme seem a lot more "real", as well as making me feel more prepared.
I feel like this has been a really long overview of the Q&A weekend, but I do want to leave you with some of the tips I noted down during the talks etc:
- Call your bank(s), and your country's tax service to notify them that you will be moving overseas. Take a bank letter, and/or a bank statement from your home country with you, so you have all your home bank details easily available in Japan.
- Prepare for the fact that you will need to make the decision about recontracting sometime around January. At this stage, you will have been in Japan for about 6 months. It can be a hard decision, so prepare for it, and think it through.
- Bring slip on shoes, or buy some in Japan. If you end up working in many schools, and even in general, you'll probably be switching shoes more often than at home. Laces can get tiresome.
- Be careful when commiting to clubs and after school activities. Japanese clubs can require intense commitments, and these are taken seriously. It is okay to go and visit/watch a club for one night, but make it clear that you're not joining.
- If you're considering buying things when you arrive in Japan (furniture, cellphone, fan and so on) - don't take too long thinking about it. You might as well buy things at the beginning to get the most use out of them!
- A safe, easy and reasonably priced way to send money home is GoRemit: https://www.goremit.jp/index/en
- There are three terms in Japanese schools. School breaks are generally around April (2 weeks), August (1 month) and December/January (2 weeks). Try and plan any travelling around these times - after checking with your supervisor first, of course!
These are just a few of the most useful/non NZ specific tips I wrote down. Of course I still feel like I have loads more questions, but I'm always going to feel like that. This weekend answered many of those I already had!