Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Re-Contracting Fiasco

On the JET Program, the ALTs and their schools decide in February whether or not to renew the ALT’s contract.  Some ALTs only want to be on JET for one year, others change their minds and decide to stay another year, and some plan on staying several years the day from the first day that they arrive in Japan.

I fall into the middle group.  I was certain that I would stay only one year in Japan.  However, by October I was toying with the idea of staying for a second year.  When the time came, I made a pros/cons chart to weigh the factors contributing to my decision.  Here’s a summarized version:


  • Excellent Yen-USD exchange rate that works in my favor
  • Easier access to travel
  • Language – I’m just starting to “get” Japanese
  • Starting to develop relationships with Japanese people and coworkers
  • Some days I really enjoy my job
  • Enjoy the extracurriculars that I’m in charge of – English Club, English College Study Session, and I am looking forward to the new English conversation session I’m starting called Lunch with Kim-Sensei)
  • Living in, and learning about a different culture, is fun
  • Resume – it would be better to stay two years than just one
  • Makes financial sense – I invested in a car and 2-year phone contract, low rent
  • Job security – the job market at home is brutal
  • Concerned about U.S.’s political & financial future – what I’ve been reading in Japan about politics at home – including the demonizing of public employees on the one hand, and the irrationality, hypocrisy, lack of respect, and the overtly misleading pandering of most of our political leaders on the other hand– makes the U.S. a much less attractive place to return to (for someone who someday wants to go into public service)

  • No real summer break (year round school)
  • I’m missing a lot of family holidays
  • Miss my sisters
  • I had a huge support network of friends, family, and acquaintances in Sioux Falls, and a much tinier one in Kitami
  • Aside from rent, things are expensive in Japan
  • I’m in the “middle of nowhere” area of Japan
  • No Starbucks or Starbucks-equivalent coffeehouse in Kitami (yes, seriously)
  • I am sometimes bored at work
  • Kitami lacks entertainment options for young people
  • I’m not really independent here – I have to get help for everything from making appointments to fixing my apartment
  • Often lonely

Honestly, I probably would have returned to the U.S. if the job market was promising and the political environment less toxic.  Since that wasn’t the case, I thought the pros outweighed the cons.

Unfortunately, this past month has been fraught with problems regarding my contract renewal.  All the schools I visit increased their requests to have me for the next schedule, but I found out after the deadline to contract that my base school (my “headquarters”) didn’t want to be a base school anymore.   They said that they didn’t understand the JET program and that having an ALT was too much paperwork.  Essentially, they liked me and wanted me to visit, they just didn’t want me as a permanent placement.   So, for a few weeks after they told me, I thought I was going to be transferred to a different school.  In fact, I was guaranteed a transfer.  At first, I was disappointed because it would require moving again, but I started to look forward to leaving Kitami and going to a school that wanted me and (hopefully) to a city that has some life to it after 8pm.  

In a dramatic reversal, a few weeks ago I was hit with the news that I was revoked a guaranteed transfer and would have to stay at my current base school (that doesn’t want to be a base school anymore).   Essentially, my base school was told that they have to continue being a base school, even if they didn’t want to be anymore.  For them, it’s easier to keep me than have me leave, so suddenly I was having meetings with the English department and the principal who were encouraging me to stay.  This, combined with some other issues that came up in the same period, made the decision to stay extremely difficult.

Although I know that these are good people, who for some reason I still don't understand, just want to change the current situation, they have made me feel like I don't belong. Because of that, it was tempting to leave and “teach them a lesson.”  I certainly was angry enough with how the whole thing was handled to do so at some points.  Yet, I decided to stay.  At this point in time, I can guarantee that it will only be one more year.  They (my base school and the Board of Education) haven’t been able to provide me with the information and answers that would guarantee that this wouldn’t happen again next year, so there’s no way I’m going through the re-contracting process again.  It was stressful enough this year.

So, for those of you who are interested in visiting Japan while you know someone here, you’ve got an extra year to do so…but only one more year.


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