The past couple weeks at school have been all about goodbyes. Not just for the third years, but for some teachers too. All teachers in Kagoshima prefecture are required to fulfill their “island duty” at some point in their teaching career. They are expected to dedicate five years to their island school! Some teachers even stay for longer. My school is saying goodbye to nine teachers this year, and two of them are from the English department.
We had our English department soubetsukai (farewell party) at our favorite yakiniku place. We also had our English bonenkai (forget the year party) here in December. My JTEs are awesome and know I prefer to eat fish, so they ordered me a plate of scallops, squid, and shrimp that I could have all to myself. We also had fried onigiri and it was FANTASTIC.
The first and second year students competed against each other in soccer, tag rugby, and volleyball. I spent most of the day in the gym watching the volleyball matches and teaching my students how to cheer in English. I even played in a couple games, but I learned fast that I much prefer watching than playing. Because volleyball HURTS. Class matches were a great opportunity to interact with my students and I realized they are more comfortable to talk English with me in a casual setting. I really bonded with a few of my students who enjoy English a lot. I talked with one of my first years for a good 45 minutes entirely in English.
We also had a farewell lunch with all of the ladies for the head of the English department, a wonderful, composed sensei who is loved by everyone. After her five years, she is headed back to Kagoshima. Her farewell speech was gracious and heartfelt. We all were sniffling.
The students had an hour of cleaning time in the morning and it reminded me of when we would clean out our lockers at the end of the year in high school. Then we had closing ceremony for the end of the school year. The winners of Thursday’s class matches went on stage to receive certificates from the principal. I didn’t know this was happening, otherwise I wouldn’t have told my two very-devastated second year boys that it wasn’t a big deal that they lost in the semifinals to the first years…oops.
I can’t believe today was closing ceremony. It’s like I blinked once between opening ceremony and closing ceremony this year. Time is really flying now.
I am grateful one of my JTEs told me to wear a suit and arrive early to my school’s soubetsukai, because by the time I got there, nearly everyone was already seated, dressed to the nines in their suits. The teachers who were leaving sat at a long table set apart from the rest of us. The principal made brief speeches about each individual teacher and announced where they would be teaching next in the prefecture. Each teacher took turns giving speeches at the podium as well. (And my JTE made everyone cry again.)
After dinner, we all stood in a giant circle, put our arms around each other, and then swayed back and forth while singing our school song. Even the most stoic of teachers really got into the performance. This was arguably the most kawaii thing I have been a part of since coming to Japan.
I sat next to one of the Japanese teachers at dinner, and he asked me if we have soubetsukai in America, and I told him no. This was my first time experiencing this kind of goodbye ceremony.
It’s pretty incredible to witness the way people lend a helping hand when others need it most on the island. Before and after the party, I knew all of the teachers were helping those who were leaving finish packing, moving boxes, and cleaning their apartments. I also helped my neighbors–two close friends from our eikaiwa–finish moving out on Saturday. We washed windows, painted, and passed down boxes to an assembly line of students who loaded up the moving truck.
We had another farewell ceremony for the leaving teachers. This time though, it was so they could say one final goodbye to the students. Many of the third year graduates showed up in suits, and I didn’t recognize them because they all had dyed or cut their hair! Many of the boys dyed their hair auburn, and a few of the girls had bleached their hair blonde. One of my students who had a long braid down to her knees had cut her hair to her shoulders!
I left with the English teachers at 12:30 so we could go to a seaside restaurant for Keihan, a local Amami dish. We did the same thing for my predecessor the day he left the island too. We still had an hour to kill before we needed to be at the airport, so we went to a nearby gelato shop with the math teachers. We all sat out in the sun and ate our ice cream. It was a beautiful island day and it was really nice to just relax in the sunshine with the other teachers for the first time ever. I taught them the slang meaning for “chill.”
I think almost every teacher showed up at the airpot for the final goodbyes. The departments with teachers leaving had made huge banners for them with pictures. Everyone made speeches of course.
We weren’t the only school sending off teachers to the mainland. It was like we had to compete with the other schools for who could have the loudest goodbye. I think my school was only rivaled by the group of singing elementary students behind us.
As if saying our final goodbyes wasn’t sad enough, we all watched said elementary school students bid farewell to their beloved teacher. He had about 20 little ones climbing all over him and clutching onto his arms so they could get in one last hug. Watching this unfold was heartwarming yet heartbreaking. Many of us started to tear up. Back home, it’s usually the teachers who have to say goodbye to their students as they graduate, but seeing the reverse melted my heart. Many elementary schools on the islands have a tiny number of students. I know of one school that has only four students!
Once the teachers passed through security safely, we all paraded upstairs and waited for their plane to take off from the roof deck.
You can’t tell from this picture at all…but we saw some whales jumping in the water! I think they were there as a good luck sign for all the teachers embarking on their new beginnings.
It’s crazy to think that I’ve been here for almost eight months already. I also can’t believe that this time a year ago, I was about to be notified of the JET Interview Results.
JET Interview Results
I received my JET interview results around 5 pm on March 30th. I had been short-listed for the JET Program! I remember neurotically refreshing my email every day to see if I had something from the Japanese consulate in Boston, and the email I had been waiting for was finally here and I could breathe. Truthfully, when I got my results, I felt more relieved than anything. I finally knew what I was doing for the next year. I had a plan. I had put so much stock into doing JET. I actually screamed louder when I was selected for an interview in February because I really didn’t think I had an iceberg’s chance in hell making it on JET.
So what does it mean for you if you’ve been short listed? Please note that I am no expert on the JET Process. This is just my input and my experience. Every country and city within each country is different too, so everyone won’t receive their interview results on the same day.
You are 99.9% on your way to living and working in Japan! Congratulations! Omedetou! Once you hand in your reply form, CLAIR will begin the process of placing you with a contracting organization somewhere in Japan. I finally found out I was placed in Kagoshima Prefecture on May 14th.
I recommend joining your prefecture’s JET Facebook group, as well as checking to see if there are any official blogs you can follow. This helped me to get excited about my placement (especially as a prefectural ALT) and learn more about where I was going.
What is a prefectural ALT vs. a municipal ALT?
It took me forever to figure out the difference between the two, so to the best of my knowledge, here is the difference:
You likely won’t find out your exact placement in the prefecture until late June July. (I found out I was coming to Amami on June 27th, just 5 weeks before I departed with Group B.)
If you are prefectural, chances are you’ll be working at the high school level and you will have a small number of schools, or in some cases, just one. I am placed at my one and only academic high school, and the ALT who lives next door to me also only goes to her one technical high school on the island. But I have two friends on the island who are also employed by the prefecture and they visit other islands once a month for teaching.
If your consulate contacts you with your specific city placement (the email that happens after the initial short-list email), then you are a municipal ALT. You will have a base school/office, but you will likely be visiting multiple elementary schools, middle schools, possibly a high school, and maybe even kindergarten! I have met municipal ALTs who have anywhere between 7-22 schools! But I also have a friend who is employed by a city, but his only school is a junior high school. A diamond in the rough, perhaps?
Wait Listed/Not Accepted:
If you’ve been waitlisted, please don’t give up hope. There will always be people who turn down the short list position and a spot may open up for you. But if that doesn’t happen for you, or if you just didn’t make it onto the program this year, I urge you to try again. If you made it as far as the JET interview, that is really saying something. I understand that we all put everything we have and more into the JET application and process. If you want it badly enough, I truly believe you can make it if you try again. I’ve seen it happen before.
If you have any questions about interview results, please feel free to comment below!