Where are they now?
This month, alumnus Kevin Shannon from Ireland tells us about his 2007-2008 Hyogo experience when he worked ‘up north’ in Hamasaka and Kasumi, and how it has affected his life and work post JET.
What did you do immediately after leaving JET?
A lot of not very much really. I did the JLPT level 3 pretty much straight away. Then I helped sell nuts and seeds for my brother-in-law in shops and at festivals while I applied for jobs – everything from reporter to car driver to supermarket manager. Eventually I decided to do the New York Bar exams and spent a couple of months studying for them. A week after I paid my course fees I got offered a job at a Japanese company. Had it been offered a week earlier I would have taken it and my life would have been very different.
After the New York Bar Exams I moved to London and did the English Bar before taking a year out to teach English in Honduras.
Why did you decide to teach English in Honduras?
Very simple really. I had a year before my law job (aka ‘the real world’) started to London so I wanted a last adventure. I couldn’t afford to just travel and I liked teaching so that was the job decided. I figured I’d been east (Japan) before so now it was time to go west. I applied for lots of jobs in South and Central America and the job in Honduras was the first one to get back to me. I didn’t know anything about any of the countries in South or Central America so I thought ‘Honduras – why not?’ The answer was, of course, ‘because Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world’, but I’d arrived in Honduras before I discovered that!
What were the main differences between teaching English in Japan and Honduras?
In Honduras I was a proper teacher – classes all to myself with curriculums and textbooks etc. I was no longer the ‘fun’ teacher who made exciting games to play but the teacher who told all the students to sit down and learn grammar. It was hard teaching things which I knew were boring and to keep control of a class where the students’ behavior was pretty terrible. The level of responsibility was much higher and the successes and failures of each class much greater.
The whole school organization was complete chaos which was so different to the regulated system in Japan where the bureaucracy would drive you mad. School trips appeared without warning, students would disappear because the school needed them to make chairs, I lost my last two classes each day for a month so the children could practice Christmas carols and we had so many random school holidays – School Anniversary, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Independence Week and (my personal favourite) ‘Clean-the-Roof’ Day.
The other big difference was the students. In Japan all the students were so cute and seemed so young; the 18 year olds acted like they were 15 and the 15 year olds acted like they were 12. In Honduras it was the opposite. The young people grow up very quickly and it is common to have 15 or 16 year olds with their own children and it was easy to forget that the students were so young. Also, while the Japanese culture is shy and reserved the Honduras culture is loud and brash. If trying to get my Japanese students to talk was a challenge, trying to get my Honduras ones to shut up was an even greater one.
Did you experience the dreaded reverse culture shock upon returning home?
Not really. After the first time I’d been away (a year studying in Australia) I did experience massive reverse culture shock and was very depressed for a long time but this time I felt I left Japan with my eyes open and ready for what was back home.
What are you doing now?
Working as a barrister (the type of lawyer you see in the silly wigs) in London. I’m also trustee of a charity called Football Action.
How has the experience of living in Japan helped you?
In many different ways. Once I learnt how to sell the experience it was very helpful in terms of getting jobs – it set me apart and made me more different and interesting than other candidates. However, the real difference it has made has been personally. My openness to other cultures, to different ways of thinking and doing things and my patience with other people has increased and it has opened up my horizons. Without it I would never have gone to Honduras, would never have met my wonderful JET friends and I wouldn’t have the same lack of fear of new places and new challenges.
How do the skills learnt on JET help with your work as a barrister?
Firstly, as regards speaking in court, other barristers sometimes struggle with nerves of speaking in public but after giving speeches to the whole school in broken Japanese those nerves are gone forever!
Secondly, as regards thinking on my feet, a skill vital for every barrister as you never know what the judge might ask you. There is nothing like standing in front of forty children looking expectantly at you after your JTE has, with no warning, just said ‘Teach fun game’ or ‘Make grammar lesson’ for teaching you to think on your feet.
Finally, as a barrister self-control and patience is vital. No matter what the judge, the other side or your client says you need to remain calm and professional. If there is any better training at patience than JET I’ve yet to find it.
I wanted an adventure. I definitely got one. Naked man contests, drunken BBQ parties, Fuji Climbs, weird road-trips, my village and its beautiful oddness – it was an absolutely cracking adventure.
What do you miss about Japan?
So much. My wonderful students (and the not so wonderful ones), my little fishing village, country life, the daily adventures of Japanese life, the newness of everything, learning Japanese but, probably most of all, my amazing JET friends. I had such a wonderful group of friends and I really, really miss them.
What is your favourite memory of Hyogo?
A Friday near the end of my time there I had a near perfect day. My classes went amazingly well, I was chatting away in Japanese to my co-workers all day and then had a great English club meeting with some of my favourite students. Then in the evening some friends came over and we had a campfire on the beach and got drunk and it was absolutely wonderful. Had I been given the re-contracting form then I would signed straight away.
Leave on your own terms and make sure you do and say everything you wish to before you go. I spent almost two weeks at the end of JET in Japan saying goodbye to all those people who meant so much to me as I knew that I might not see them again. I gave some co-workers/friends presents, I took others out to dinner and with others just went to the local izakaya and we got really, really drunk. It was all different but it meant that, though I was incredibly sad when I left, I felt I left on the best possible terms I could and had very few regrets.
Questions: Charlotte Griffiths