One of the great things about JET is they make efforts to provide you with a variety of resources to utilize in preparation for your time in Japan. There’s Facebook and Google groups, events and alumni all to help you answer the inevitable hundreds of questions you may have before going to live in Japan. One of the things the San Francisco Coordinator has put together is an Ask an Alumni series, which has a sizable list of alumni in various towns and cities around the Bay Area that are willing to talk or meet with you one-on-one to share their experiences. You can look up JET’s that are close to where you live, or JETs that were placed in your prefecture. It just so happened that the stars aligned and there was an alumni who not only lived in the city next door, but also was placed in my soon-to-be prefecture! Kind of a jackpot if you ask me. So the day after I got my placement, I went straight to the list and emailed my local JET alumni to set up a meeting.
I was fortunate- she was incredibly quick to respond and set up a time and place to meet with me. She even brought along her boyfriend, who she’d met during her time as a JET (they both did the program and both lived in Okayama). So I managed to get a two-for-one deal as she asked to bring him for our meeting. They were so gracious and dealt with my laundry list of questions with no complaints. It was obvious from the way they spoke about their experience that they had had a wonderful time. Their excitement was contagious, but they also didn’t pretend it was all sunshine and rainbows either. They were honest about the challenges they each faced, and gave me some great heads up about some things to expect (i.e. cold winters worsened by lack of central heating, having to determine whether you’re going to stay more than a year by January, the challenges of the whirlwind first week). They helped relieve a lot of my anxieties about going, and made me focus on more realistic challenges rather than the big uncontrollable things (that I’ll inevitably worry about anyways). At the same time, they also reassured me that although it will be lonely at times, I won’t be alone. There are a good number of other JETs going to my prefecture, and what I thought was a small town that I’m placed in, is actually quite sizable compared to some other potential placements. They reassured me that the program is the best to go with and that while there are a fair amount of variables depending on your contracting organization, there will be someone to help you navigate through whatever you need (i.e. housing if it’s not provided or passed on from a predecessor, getting a cell phone, setting up a bank account). And when I asked if there was anything they wished they knew before going to Japan they both responded: “I wish I knew more Japanese.”
The meeting was exactly what I needed to feel more secure about my placement. Although I mentioned disappointment in being in a smaller area, I think what made it even more challenging is that it was hard to find information about the town, and the prefecture is not a highlight of any tourist book. But hearing such positive reviews from people who have lived it, survived it, and can look back so fondly on it, made me excited and hopeful for this upcoming year.
I can’t believe it all starts in less than 2.5 months!