I realise I've been neglecting the JET side of this blog for the past few posts, so I want to tackle a subject I know is an important part of the JET experience, and a tough topic for many: recontracting.
To recontract or not to recontract is a big decision for most people. Certainly there are people who come to Japan with a set amount of time in mind and manage to be unwavering with such a plan, but the majority of JETs come either with an ideal amount of time they would like to stay, or no idea at all. For these people, the recontracting period can be a difficult and stressful time of year. After having gone through the process myself, (and having searched for blogs with advice with little success) I want to share my thoughts and tips on it with you all.
First things first - how does recontracting work?
Barring any unforseen circumstances, you will be offered the choice of working on the JET programme for another year (August - August) any time from November to January of your first year. You will be given a piece of paper (usually by your supervisor) on which you are to indicate and sign YES you will recontract, or NO you choose not to recontract. Depending on when you receive the paper, you will have anywhere between months and weeks and sign and return the form before the deadline, which your supervisor should tell you.
Generally, JETs can recontract twice, for a total of 3 years on the JET programme. With the agreement of one's base school and Board of Education, teachers can in some circumstances recontract up to four times, for a total of 5 years on the programme. I've met many fourth and some fifth year JETs in my prefecture, but they are rare - that's why some people in the JET community refer to them as "unicorns" :P
|Round two. Ready? Fight!|
Aside from signing the form, there's nothing much else you have to do. That makes it sound so simple, doesn't it? But in my case, the decision was probably the biggest I'd ever made in my life, and I had a lot of trouble coming to it. Of course, I ended up signing on for another year (I'm three months into JET: round two right now) but how did I get here? What strategies might help you make your own decision? I'm going to share some of my best recontracting decision tips with you now!
- Consider your pre-JET goals. What did you want to achieve by coming to Japan? Have you made significant progress towards them, or achieved them? If not, is it realistic that will next year?
- Do you have significant and supportive relationships in your workplace and social circles?
- Do you feel you are contributing something to your workplace, town, or the lives of others around you? Basically - do you feel useful, and with purpose?
- Do you feel challenged, and as though you are learning new skills?
- Are you avoiding responsibilities in your home country, or avoiding making decisions about your future?
- Is your time on JET relevant and/or are the skills you are gaining useful with regards to your future career?
Answering questions alone may not help bring you to the decision you need to make. For some people, the consideration and reflection that comes from answering these questions may be enough to come to a conclusion. For the rest of us, here's a few more strategies to try out:
- Old faithful...make a pros and cons list! It may seem childish or over-simplified, but in the end, it can be a useful way to visualise and organise the different factors affecting your decision.
- A friend of mine tried the following strategy: at the end of each day, think about the day from beginning to end, and think about your mood. Based on your feeling at that moment, would you be willing to stay in Japan another year, or do you want to go home? Record your results for a month (or as long as you like). This method is fairly useful in that we can often be distracted by overwhelmingly good or bad days, and forget what the day-to-day experience of living abroad is like. No matter what your original feeling is, this can provide some surprising information either way.
- This is a big one, but if you'll be going home after JET, consider going back for a visit before you have to decide. If you've got a visit locked in for Christmas or something, great. When you're back home, think about how you feel. Consider what's changed, what you've missed, what you haven't missed, what you would be doing if you were there full time. As for me, I went home in August, after I'd already committed to staying for another year anyway, but the trip really opened my eyes to how I felt about my hometown.
Be aware that there comes a time when recontracting will be a big talking topic with your JET friends. It can get tiresome talking about it a lot, but it can also be incredibly useful to externalise your thoughts, and listen to those of your friends. Some people may need a fresh take on it, or just someone to rant to, so try to be supportive, and you'll find that others will be there for you, too. I also feel like I can't wrap up this post without acknowleging that some people find their communities judgemental about their decision, and can feel pressured to choose one way or the other. Above all else, make sure you make the right decision for you.
Do you have any more recontracting tips? Are you preparing for the decision this year? Share your thoughts, and let it off your chest in the comments below!