By Joe Meadows
JET needs you. I firmly believe the JET Program is what you make of it. At one extreme, you can do your job everyday and come home and spend the rest of your waking hours surfing the Internet, looking at things in your own language and from your home country. Or you can be one of those people who is always involved with Japan’s culture and language, participating in school clubs and JET activities. These are the people who always seem to be exploring the depths of this sometimes strange, but always unique, experience.
One way you can take advantage of your time in Japan is to get involved in some of the structured leadership positions available on JET. Several opportunities exist to build leadership experience at both the local and national levels, from becoming a Prefectural Advisor to taking on responsibilities through Hiroshima AJET or National AJET (Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching). These can be excellent resume builders and networking opportunities. I talked to many of the people in these leadership roles to learn more about how they got their position and what they do. For the first-year folks, this article will be a bit of a primer on what opportunities are available, and for everyone else this may clear up how things work and what the jobs actually entail.
What is a PA and what do they do? Primarily, the PAs organize the orientations (with city and prefectural ALTs having separate orientations), serve as liaisons between the Board of Education and other JETs, and try to help JETs with any problems or questions they may have. Prefectural Advisors spend part or all of their time working in the Board of Education office in Hiroshima city.
There are three Prefectural Advisor positions: two for Hiroshima prefecture and one for Hiroshima city. This year, the PAs for Hiroshima prefecture are Greg Beck and Natalie Oram and the PA for Hiroshima city is Daryl Sato. On the prefectural side, there is always one male and one female advisor. One of the advisors must be able to communicate in Japanese well enough to take the CIR position that comes with it. Our current PA/CIR, Greg Beck, originally was an ALT in Kure, so he made a request to his supervisor to apply and then did an interview in Japanese.
Why should I do this? PAs get good experience dealing with people, resolving conflicts and doing public speaking at the annual conferences and other events. If you enjoy being in the mix of things and helping your fellow JETs, then this job is for you.
How can I become a PA? You need to express an interest early and express it to your supervisor, the Japanese PA (Shinosuke Teraguchi) and the person currently holding the PA position. Actually, express an interest to everyone you can find, because there is no formal announcement that the BOE is looking for a new PA. The BOE forms its own applicant pool and then asks those people to apply. So once you’ve expressed interest, the BOE may or may not ask you to submit an application.
What is it? Hiroshima AJET is a social organization for current Hiroshima JETs. It organizes events throughout the year for its members’ enjoyment, including enkais, the annual Mt. Fuji climb, the trip to Fukuoka to watch sumo wrestling, and more.
What are the positions? Currently, there are four Hiroshima AJET representatives. The responsibilities of each representative are determined each year when the new leaders take the reins. These responsibilities are considered separate from a JET’s job, so the work that representatives do for Hiroshima AJET is on their own time.
What do the jobs entail? Representatives organize activities and trips for their fellow JETs. That means coordinating events, working with vendors, making reservations, dealing with money matters and handling the gripes and praises from the fellow JETs they tirelessly serve.
Why get involved? Heading Hiroshima AJET gives you the chance to mingle with other JETs you may not have met otherwise, and you’ll get to help make other JETs’ experience in Japan more fun. And, of course, event planning is a nice boost to any resume.
How can I get involved? Usually around May, Hiroshima AJET will send out the call for those who are staying for another year to take over leadership. In this case, answer the call or be proactive and contact them before they even ask. According to Hiroshima AJET’s entry in the WikiJET, they are always looking for help and are perennially shorthanded. In the end, the current AJET organizers pick their successors.
What is it? This organization is a support and social network for current JETs. It provides peer support services, organizes the Tokyo Orientation for incoming JETs, and represents JET concerns to CLAIR. National AJET also provides some opportunities to get involved with charity organizations.
What are the positions? AJET National Council is made up of the executive committee (the chairperson, vice-chairperson and treasurer) and a group of 11 regional representatives. These positions are elected by all JET participants. There are also appointed positions for translator and webmaster.
What does each position entail?
Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson – The chairperson and vice-chairperson organize and coordinate all the projects that National AJET is involved with, such as AJET publications, AJET events at Tokyo Orientation (the AJET Information Fair and the AJET Centre), the Teaching Awards Programme and the Internationalisation Awards Programme. The chairperson and vice-chairperson do most, if not all, of the delegating, setting deadlines and coordination for these projects, Vice-Chairman Joe Schott told me.
“Honestly, the reason an executive is needed here isn’t for bossing people around and cracking a whip over their heads, but just to do the all of the organizational work and coordinating that is necessary when we have this many projects running at once,” Schott said.
With all the glamour of a National AJET post, there are some sacrifices that have to be made. Jennifer Park, National AJET Chairperson, said that depending on what events are going on, the workload can be a bit feast or famine. “In my first year on National AJET as vice chair, I worked 20 to 30 hours a week (in addition to my ALT job). Now that I understand what is going on and have been doing this for over two years, I work about 10 to 15 hours a week,” she said. “I have to plan around AJET for vacations, work ahead before vacations, and catch up when I return.”
Treasurer – While the chairperson and vice-chairperson organize the events, the treasurer keeps an eye on the finances, paying bills for things like publishing, printing, lodging, and other related matters, as well as speaking with confused BOEs who ask why they should send their JET to Tokyo on business trips periodically throughout the year.
Regional Representatives – Besides the executive committee, there are 11 regional representatives (also known as block representatives). Hiroshima is part of Block 9, which includes Okayama, Shimane, Tottori, and Yamaguchi. Our current representative is Caroline Ideus. She said her responsibility is to send information from the national level to the local level. “If the JET members in my block have questions about National AJET, I am to field the questions and requests. We are always open to comments and suggestions on how National AJET can improve our image and services,” she said.
Why get involved? Besides the obvious resume building reasons, you gain a much better understanding of how the JET Programme works and meet people within the Japanese government and other JETs – meaning it’s an excellent networking opportunity. Ms. Park, Chairperson of National AJET, says, “AJET is a professional non-for-profit organization that works with corporate companies, professional organizations, government representatives/bodies, and with JET individuals and groups.”
How can I get involved? If you are interested in taking on a leadership post through National AJET, the best idea is to first get involved at the local level with Hiroshima AJET. Start taking an active role in what is going on in Hiroshima and perhaps some of the other prefectures as well. Learn more about the position you are interested in on National AJET by contacting the person already holding that position. Though it may seem counterintuitive to ask the person whose job you want how to get their job, in the true spirit of the position they are supposed to provide you with the information you want, within reason (Plus it is part of the election rules.). Once you’ve read the election rules, submit a platform and start campaigning!