In nine days I go to Atlanta. In ten days I get on a flight to Narita in Tokyo. In thirteen I get on a train to Gifu prefecture. Then I meet my new supervisor, and arrive in my new home for the next year.
Applying to the JET Programme
Late last year I started the application process for the JET programme (you speak English in a Japanese classroom, they give you money). Around the beginning of December (give or take a month) I sent off my completed application packet. It was about ten pages, done in triplicate and not stapled under the threat of eternal damnation. So you take your angrily crafted packet, drive to the local post office, and you give them a bill slightly larger than you expected for guaranteed (this is what we commonly refer to as a lie) delivery and a tracking number you'll never check. You are now a number.
Speaking of numbers, lets put things in perspective: (note: despite my great efforts at investigative journalism these numbers are moderately less reliable than divining the future from bird entrails) at one point I calculated the numbers and about nine thousand people applied for JET in the United States. Those applicants are narrowed down to about 1,500 who receive mystical job offers. Take these numbers with a grain of salt because I like to do really off the cuff mental calculations that reveal to me great truths like a dollar in 1950 is worth a two thousand today (false). The secret is to keep stringing together semi-coherant exchanges until you arrive at an answer, any answer really. You then cherish your newly found number knowing it is the product of false assumptions and brief mental lapses, and is thus truly yours: it belongs to you in a definite and pure way that nothing else may ever belong to you again.
Anyway, you send your application off to the nearest Japanese Embassy.
Four months later they either tell you that you got an interview, or they tell you to jump off a cliff to preserve your family's honor. My fake statistics suggest that half of the applicants in the U.S.A. get an interview. You get really excited, and then you realize you have to schedule your interview, on a weekday. So you schedule it on a Friday and get assigned Tuesday. You didn't want to go to that Statistics class anyway.
So you jump in your trusty Subaru and drive to Atlanta (please replace all references to 'Atlanta' with a city you find terrifying, like "You jump in your trusty Subaru and drive to Baghdad"). You make some killer cds to listen to on the way down (which, by the way, does not under any circumstances include The Killers). Five hours later you get into Atlanta at 4 pm and check-in at the cheapest hotel you could find. You realize it is 4 pm. You sit in your room and use free wireless internet connection because
Atlanta scares the shit out of you.
You don't know anyone in Atlanta.
If you die before your interview tomorrow you're definately not getting into JET.
You watch some bad tv and eventually fall asleep after fanatically rechecking the alarm clock to ensure you set it right. The night passes quietly.
You wake up. Take a hot shower, get dressed in your new interview suit, and you go eat a complimentary breakfast. You return to your room and pack up your bags. You realize you have nothing to do for forty minutes. Immediately afterwards you realize you have to leave now or you'll be late.
(At this point my story wildly diverges from what could even theoretically be considered to be the norm, so I will exempt this portion, but it involves: walking instead of driving (i.e. catastrophically bad decisions), rain, being lost, being late, discovering a friend of an old high school headmaster, and being plucked from the jaws of failure by the kindness of strangers.)
You run into the Japanese embassy and page through a list looking for your name. You sign in and sit down. You talk to another JET applicant. You realize that they are running six minutes behind schedule and you came in five minutes late. About thirty seconds after sitting down someone walks out and calls out your name. You stand up and smile at them and try to be charming.
They stare at you briefly and ask for a form of id to prove your identity. After vetting you for hidden weapons they then escort you into their interegation cell... conference room... whatever. Upon entering the room you see three interviewers:
Surly Japanese employee of Embassy. Doesn't like the JET program, may or may not acknowledge you at some point during your interview (is probably really likable when not forced to evaluate JET applicants for eight hours a day in uncomfortable looking chair).
Knowledgable ex-JET who would flay you if you let on you thought she was distractingly pretty. Will assess you on your ability to not make a complete and total ass of yourself in simple situations.
Person who is totally unaffiliated with the JET program but is inexplicably jovial. Possibly came to JET embassy seeking Emeril's Restaurant downstairs, but found the atmosphere intriguing and decided to hang around. They were later drafted into being part of your JET interview committee.
At this point you will be peppered with questions with a shockingly high degree of difficulty like:
Why are you interested in Japan?
Do you speak any Japanese?
What are your long term goals?
How would participating in JET help you grow?
Have you been to Japan before?
You get into your happy little charm zone, answering with reassuring grace, and everything is going great. Then they ask you something that is not embarassingly simple and it throws you off balance:
If you had to bring three items to explain the United States to your class what would you bring?
This is such an easy question, what the hell am I doing.
"First I'd bring stickers of some of the Presidents, because democracy and the constitution is very important... only they don't care... because they are ten years old. So I'd bring stickers."
What the fuck am I doing???
"I'd also bring some posters of sports, I am a big sports fan, and I think that some sports like American Football and Baseball are uniquely American. And they love baseball in Japan too so the kids would be interested."
Wow. That was lame too. What the hell is a third item. What is a third item? Crap. Quick, blurt something out.
"I'd also bring a cowboy hat.*
WHAT THE FUCK??????
"I don't know why, I just have this mental image of a cowboy hat coming up right now."
American judges start cracking up in their seats. Japanese guy is not amused.
Afterwards you go shake everyone's hand again and leave. You walk back to your hotel. It rains and your new dress shoes give you a blister. But you don't care. You finished your interview. Hell, you nailed that interview! You know you got in. Yeah. Its certain. Yeah. Just going to brush up my resume in a corner for a couple of days...
Waiting For Rejection
Then the interviewers (and a bunch of other people, who mostly live in Japan and don't care about you or the JET Programme) spend a month forgetting your interview and trying to figure out who is least likely to completely fuck up. At some point they will give up and draw straws. Afterwards they send you an email (you'll get a written copy two weeks later, unless their mailing budget has run out, again) saying one of three things:
Accepted. You appear to exceed our minimum unreliability threshold. We would insure you if we were an insurance company, but we arn't... thats Nova's gig.
Alternate. You are not reliable. We do not want to insure you. But we need to reach a quota, so we'll lead you on incase someone else drops out. You'll pay for the entire cost of all our dates together, and you'll buy me an expensive necklace that I'll keep when I later decide you arn't my type.
Rejected. No. No. No. No. We are the proud JET Programme, not makeinu (loser dogs, catchy new Japanese pop-culture term for women over thirty who are unmarried. hint: this is where someone harpoons me for not worshipping at the alter of cultural relitivism).
At this point you:
Celebrate by getting a beer and a long island ice tea at Applebees. You then go home when it closes at 11 pm and are generally obnoxious to people who still tolerant your presence. You feel awkward around people you know who are wait-listed. You smile and nod when they discuss what an awful program you have just been accepted into and how they didn't want to do it anyway.
You go find someone who was accepted and read off scientifically proven and infallable researches that conclusively reveal the JET Programme is truly awful, and that you're glad you didn't get in. Your pillow takes several days to finally dry off.
You go burn a Japanese flag. Your pillow is charred after the flag burning goes awry.
You feel really excited for a few days. You remember you still have to graduate. You start doing your work again. A few months pass and you graduate. You get a job, or you don't. You consume the summer in your various hobbies (you might, for example, spend your summer writing blog entries about arcane programming topics... and by "you might" I mean "I did", and also "you probably think thats kind of weird").
Then all the sudden you realize that you're going to Atlanta in nine days. You turn the music in the headphones up a little bit. You start packing.