Special Feature: What the JET Experience Has Meant to Me

This experience hasn’t been easy, but it has easily been the best and most rewarding experience of my life. Always being a commuter student, this was the first time I had truly been on my own. Unlike a lot of participants on the JET Program, I had already been to Japan several times and had an intimate familiarity with this country. Despite that comfort, it couldn’t prepare me for what it was like to be wholly autonomous in my finances, in charge of the state of my physical as well as emotional well-being, and for fulfilling the expectations I was hired for: an area in which I was not professionally trained.

In all honesty, over the course of two years, I haven’t handled these changes perfectly or even gracefully at times. There were months when I found my paycheck only just arrived in time. In the winter months I succumbed to a previously unknown sedentary lifestyle, huddling under blankets and drinking hot chocolate. I let myself become distraught as holidays approached and important events took place back home. And although I had my trepidations, I felt like I had satisfied the job expectations, but fretted over not feeling personally fulfilled by my work.

However, even if I didn’t handle all these things perfectly, I did handle them and in time, flourished. Just being accepted into the program gave me a sense of accomplishment as I had fulfilled my long-time goal of moving to Japan. When those early setbacks happened I was able to reach deep down within myself and together with the support of loved ones, have seen this dream through. Being from a tropical climate and given my aforementioned obstacles in the cold-weathered, event-filled season, I began to greatly identify with and embody the famous quote from Albert Camus, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

So what has it meant and what will I take away?

This experience showed me what it’s like being on the other side of the special bond shared between teachers and students. It made me identify more than ever with my country, hometown, and upbringing, thus realizing how grateful I am for them. I was given the opportunity to give something back to this country that I love so much when I volunteered in disaster-stricken Tohoku. It taught me that people from all over the world really are more alike than they are different and that learning about our differences is fascinating. It allowed me to travel to some truly beautiful and wondrous places that I never imagined I would be able to see. It showed me first-hand that strangers who are different in every way can find themselves in a situation together and, as unlikely as it seems, will in time become their own small dysfunctional family (that’s a shout out to you, my most adored Tamba family). It fleshed out the most important relationships I have with people back home as we mutually strove to maintain our bond across the globe. It reassured me that in life, things really do get worse before they get better. It forced me to grow and mature as an individual, bringing me closer to being the person I want to be.

The JET experience has meant I can smile when I look back on my life knowing that when I got this chance, I took it; when it changed my life, I let it. In two short years, it pleases me to think I’ve seized the day more times than some people have done in a lifetime. In other words, as cliché as it may sound, the JET experience has meant the world to me. What my world is now is because of it.

by Jen Garcia, a high school ALT in rural Tamba, Hyogo Prefecture

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