Monday, September 2, 2013

The Waiting Game, Part 2 (AKA Welcome to Limbo)

The time between my Feb. 21st JET interview and the U.S. results being released was just over a month, but it felt like a year. I knew at this point that my future with JET was entirely out of my hands, and that month of helplessness was hard to handle.

That being said, there was a bright spot in the middle of March—shout out to my friend, Trish, who got pulled for early departure! She had just a few weeks between her notification and departure, and she has been living her dream in Japan since early April. (She also got an unbelievable placement right near both the ocean and an onsen. She’d be the kind of person you’d love to hate if she wasn’t so nice).

I hadn’t applied for early departure, so I knew I would have to wait for the regular results.

I got my interview results on April 2nd—alternate status. I really wasn’t sure how to feel about that; I went back and forth between heartbroken disappointment and cautious optimism. Officially, alternate status means that you have all the desired qualities for an ALT and you have a decent chance of getting upgraded if someone else drops out. Unofficially, it means you’re stuck in limbo until the absolute last chance for an upgrade comes and goes in December. I swallowed my disappointment, submitted the alternate acceptance documents, and settled in for a wait.

Though an upgrade can technically come at any time, there are generally three large waves of upgrades between the release of the interview results and the August 1st new JET departure. The first of these waves happens in the first couple weeks of May, when the deadline for replies has come and gone. Due to people declining their offered positions or missing the reply deadline, positions open up and a lot of upgrades happen quickly. I let myself wait until that first round of upgrades was over. (Side note: I had a minor heart attack when my phone had an accident (i.e. fell in the toilet) and I was without my primary contact method for the first few days of that week).

When that first wave came and went without a call, I started seriously looking at my back ups. One option was Interac, a dispatch company with which I’d be doing the same job as JET—going into the public schools as an assistant English teacher. There are a lot of differences between JET and Interac (government-run vs. private company, salary differences, different pay schedules, etc…), but I figured I could be happy with Interac and submitted an application.

Shortly after that, I was scheduled for an “interview.” I say “interview” in the very loosest sense of the word, because it consisted of a 5-minute phone call. The man calling verified some basic information from my application, asked if I had any questions, and then invited me to a seminar (Interac’s hybrid information session/interview/videotaped demonstration lesson). The next seminars weren’t until the fall, meaning the soonest potential hiring period for me would have been early 2014. I kept Interac on the backburner and looked for other alternatives.

In Japan, there are two main categories of fulltime English teachers—ALTs and Eikaiwa employees. As previously explained, ALTs work in the public schools as assistant teachers underneath a Japanese teacher. As an ALT, you work with the public school curriculum, which focuses on a lot of written grammar and repetition. Eikaiwas, on the other hand, are private schools focusing on English conversation. Students ranging in age from preschool to adults pay for weekly classes focusing exclusively on spoken English. Outside of JET, Interac, and a couple other dispatch companies, the ESL/EFL teaching options are mostly at eikaiwas.

Using Dave’s ESL CafĂ©, Google reviews, and my minor obsession with spreadsheets, I narrowed a myriad of options down to a few that really interested me.

I sent out some emails, fielded some positive responses, and had a couple phone or email interviews. Somewhere in here, I got a notification that my fingerprints for my JET background check were rejected for poor quality and I’d have to have them redone. With Interac on the backburner and a couple other potential jobs in my inbox, this was about the time that I officially gave up on JET. I stayed on the alternate list, but I stopped letting it define my future. One way or another, with or without JET, I was going to teach in Japan.

Shortly after I made this decision, I got an email from an eikaiwa in which I was particularly interested. It was in Nagoya—as opposed to the others, which were mostly in Tokyo—and the head teacher wanted to interview me. I sent a jubilant email back and, because of the time difference, dragged myself out of bed for a 7 a.m. phone interview. Like the JET interview, the questions were mostly what I expected and I wasn’t all that nervous. My interviewer was very nice and, based on her accent, British, which I wasn’t expecting. I felt like it went pretty smoothly, with a couple minor hiccups when asked about grammar nuances I hadn’t studied since middle school. She also asked me if I had any questions about the school and promised I’d hear something within a week or two.

Not long after, I got word the director of the school wanted to interview me! This time the interview was at 9:30 p.m. my time. The director was Japanese, and I was a bit nervous about understanding him through his accent. Though we had some technical difficulties, I didn’t have any trouble understanding him, which was a relief. He even used a fair amount of slang, so I could tell he works with native English speakers! Again, the questions were pretty much what I was expecting and, again, he offered to answer any questions I had about the school. I flubbed a bit when he asked how my answers would differ on a specific question from children or adults, but he was very nice when he corrected me and took the time to explain what he was looking for. All of this—the openness about working conditions, the gentle corrections, the friendly manner of the both interviewers, and the wealth of detailed information on the website—convinced me that this was really where I wanted to be. The interview again ended with a promise I’d hear something soon.

On June 9, I woke up to an offer of employment in my inbox! Having gone through all of the paperwork and jumped through all the hoops, I am now less than two weeks from departure! In addition to talking with the director for the last few months, I’ve also been emailing back and forth with my predecessor, and she has been lovely about answering my millions of questions. I can honestly say I am ecstatic. Though I think I would have been happy with JET, I am VERY excited about my new job. I can’t wait to start the next chapter of my life!

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