Well, for those of you who did not attend the JET Wellington Alumni Meeting, which is most of you – here is the long list of what was discussed.
The meeting was broken up into the following sections, Pre-Departure, Settling In and Making the most of life in Japan. I have listed some of the questions asked and their answers in the respective sections.
Section One – Pre-Departure / What should I take?
Clothing. Bring summer clothes as you will be literally walking into a sauna. Be prepared to wear formal clothing for at least the first week due to meetings and so on. Don’t go over the limits (20kg baggage, 7kg carry-on) because previous JET’s have been stung with additional baggage costs. If you are a shoe size 7 or lager, bring shoes (as you will find it near impossible to get shoes larger than this). Other than clothing, it was suggested you buy other necessities in Japan, such as shampoo, etc. It was also recommended that you take antiperspirant deodorant as there isn’t a large selection in Japan (and it is also only a deodorant). Bring along toothpaste if you like the flavor. For people with big feet like me, grab some slippers as the ones you will need to wear inside school will fall apart due to them being 10 sizes too small. Don’t take any winter clothing as you can have it shipped to you (DHL was recommended as they deliver to your door in Japan). Expect to pay between $200 and $300 for around 20kg ($NZD).
Souvenirs. There were a few ideas thrown around about what to take to give as gifts. Little things like 5c coins, stamps etc are great to give to the students. Stuffed kiwi’s for teachers etc and maybe a book on New Zealand for the principal. Anything goes, so be creative. Take a lot as gift-giving is almost expected in Japanese culture (and its a great way to make friends). Take along some foods that may not be in Japan (i.e. Vegemite – uugh!) for interesting lessons.
Money. As most JET’s are poor (graduated students) we need to know how much we might need to take. The ex-Jets said that $2000 would be sufficient as many do not need to pay rent up front for the first month. (Remember though, Everyone’s situation is different) It also depends on what you expect to buy, but for those of you used to living like a student it shouldn’t be a problem.
Also be prepared to discuss through email with your predecessor about purchasing their old stuff (for lack of a better word). Sometimes you get a good deal, and other times you can get jacked. So if you are considering buying from your predecessor make sure you know what it is, and what condition it is in. If possible, suggest paying for the goods upon inspection, so you can decide if you want to buy them when you are there. Another JET suggested you may not want to purchase anything from them, and that you can find almost anything you need on street corners that is in near new condition or garage sales for cheap.
Read more for the other two sections
Section Two – Settling In
Tokyo orientation is about two days of sessions, meetings and such, so you will be expected to wear formal clothing (be prepared to sweat like a pig) After this you will leave via train/car to your local area where something else will happen. We didn’t go into too much detail as this should be covered during the official JET meeting on the 9th. It was suggested that during the orientation you take down details of other JET’s that may be in your area and trying to get into the social network via email etc to stay in the loop. Your predecessor should have similar information that will be useful, ask them. I had asked what the likelihood of being placed far away from your school/s was and many were within 15mins commuting distance, while one was more than an hour away, once again, it all depends on the situation.
Most of the new JET’s present were concerned with the setting up of bank accounts, phone accounts etc, but you will be taken through all these steps with your supervisor after the Tokyo orientation.
Banks are only open 9am till 3pm, and you may ask the school to let you leave the grounds during lunchtime to do your banking, some schools will let you leave if you have no further classes (yet again – everyone is in a different situation). Post offices are open 9am till 4pm, so you’ll still need to ask to leave school to do your post office business (withdrawing money from cash cards etc). The doctors can have differing schedules, so be sure to check the local times for when you need to go the doctor. Pharmacy: Not too sure on this one, the ex-JET’s present said there would be no problem finding a 24/7 pharmacy as many accompany supermarkets, but I’ve heard otherwise something to look up on arrival.
Be prepared to give a self introduction in front of your school/s (can be more than one thousand students) when the school term starts again. You have about 5-6 weeks after arrival to perfect it. Note: many students will still be at school during the time before your teaching time actually starts, use this time to get involved in the clubs and so on. Most of you will probably be required to turn up every day even though you have nothing to do, although some lucky JET’s are on holiday for the first six weeks, and only need to touch base once a week with their supervisors.
Section Three – Life in Japan
We didn’t cover too much here that most of you can’t find out by yourselves. Travel was discussed, as many JET’s use their holidays (varies – some jets have more than six weeks a year, others just get the bare minimum) to travel to Korea, China, Vietnam and other Asian destinations. Keep an eye out for travel agencies that discount foreign travelers, as you can find great travel deals.
Getting accustomed to your new position in your school can be challenging, but you may find that you are treated as a simple replacement to your predecessor. There have been cases where a person from the same country/state with the same name has replaced their predecessor (a lot easier on the kids, no new name to remember) and you may find you also inherit their duties (clubs etc) and friends. You may or may not have a lot in common with your predecessor, but do not feel pressured to take on their responsibilities. It will take a while, but your school will adapt to the new gaijin on the block. Also, as you may be one of the first foreigners to meet with the students, make a good impression as you may be the last foreigner they meet.
If you have little visitors come visit you at your place (kids will be kids) make sure you have someone else present. Its just common sense. Set a precedent before it happens to avoid conflict. Home visits by students are not a good idea.
I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of what we discussed but I covered the most important points. If you want to know more, feel free to leave a comment.