To Third Year or Not To Third Year

Sunday, January 20, 2008

It's Sunday morning. It's drizzling outside and I'm freezing and alone in my apartment debating if I should stay in this place for a third year. It's something I've been rolling around in my head since before Christmas. It's not as easy of a decision as I think it should be so I'll explain things here and maybe it'll become more clear to me.

When I was still in college I knew that the JET contract was able to be renewed twice giving me a total of three years in Japan. It was an easy decision to make! I hadn't even left yet and I was already willing to give JET my full three years without hesitation. I was only more thrilled to find out that as of the year that I was accepted, JET changed their policy to extend up to five years. It was too good to be true!!!

Then I got here. And for anyone who actually read my essays of posts that were my first 5 or 6 months of life here in Kochi, you'll know that things didn't really work out how I had planned. Maybe that was my problem. I had too many plans and expectations. I doubt that they would have been met regardless of where I lived, but here in the countryside that extends the entire prefecture, they were even less likely to be met. Still, I had goals. There's nothing wrong with that.

Even though the contract I have runs from August to July, my decision to recontract or not has to be made in early February. Last year, I was miserable. I didn't go home for Christmas knowing that I'd intentionally miss my flight back and never return to Japan. I'd be bitter and sad that I hadn't accomplished anything but instead let the inaka (countryside) dash my hopes and leave me a broken woman.

So it was easy to decide to stay. I wasn't going to let the inaka get the better of me. And I knew that things would get better. They could only get better! And all my hopes hadn't been crushed. There were still plenty of things that I wanted to do and see and accomplish before my time was done in Japan!

And I was right. I'm worlds happier here. I enjoy my life here :) My Japanese has improved, I've made plenty of friends and I even look forward to going to work occasionally.

Ahhhh work. I never wanted to be a teacher. I still don't want to be a teacher. It's funny because most of my friends in High School aspired to be teachers and I always fought them. I hated the idea of standing up in front of bratty kids lecturing at them and wasting my time while they slept at their desks. I didn't even realize it, but it was worse than I had ever imagined even then. Ironically though, I became a full time teacher before any of them. *sigh*

But with that said, I learned that teaching is more rewarding than I had originally imagined. Everyone knows that my class is worthless. At least the way the curriculum is set up (another rant for another day) but my students get something out of my presence. I'm not completely worthless to them. Many of my students really look forward to my classes and sometimes I actually make a difference to them. I just don't know it because they don't tell me. But I think that's something that happens in all schools. Not just my little on in the inaka of Japan.

I've learned to work with my kids and my teachers. I get along with people. It took a long time to learn how to write lesson plans and entertain my students so that they'll get more out of my lesson than some day dream. I've come a good ways from where I began.

But these are skills I don't think I care to use later on in life. I don't think I'd like to be a teacher. Even now. I wasn't born to be an entertainer. That's really what the job of a teacher is. I could sit down and teach you about everything I know. I'd get a real kick out of it. But that doesn't mean that you'll understand or even care. A teacher had to take knowledge and present it in an easy to understand and interesting way. Basically, an entertainer. I just don't see that as fun.

But I digress...

So now it's that time again this year. Should I stay or should I go? Have I accomplished everything that I set out to do? Kinda. If I stay, will I be able to accomplish those things still unfinished? Probably not. If I go home will I be able to accomplish those goals still unfinished? Not really.

What wishy washy answers!!!!

If I go:
I'll go back to my parents place and live there until I can find a job that will pay the bills. Buy myself a car, find an apartment and move out. Pretty much start a new life just like I had to do here. Only it'll be easier and harder in different ways. I'll be able to speak the language and take care of myself in ways I can't do here. But the job won't be handed to me on a silver platter. The job market isn't good back home and I don't see it getting any better. My degree (Liberal Studies) doesn't help me out either. I only have skills as a retail assistant manager and teacher. And lord knows I don't want to do either of those things.

Still, I think there are a number of jobs that I could do. The only catch is that I actually have to like the people that I work with.

In all honesty, I'd love going to work everyday here. I would love working with my students and I'd enjoy lesson planning if I were actually friends with any of my coworkers. If we ever had conversation that were more than just what lessons to plan and how the weather is. Maybe in a perfect world things would be better...

So basically, there's not a lot waiting for me back home except for the beginning of another uphill battle. Both easier and harder than life here.

If I stay:
Welp, right now, I'm making a pretty good income. I can tell you this because everyone on the JET program gets paid the same amount so if I didn't tell you here, you could just go look it up. So it's not rude ;)

I get paid about $30,000 a year. Yeah I know, small beans right? Well I don't get any taxes taken out of that because I am not living in the States and I'm not a Japanese resident. A friend of mine went back home and is now getting about $40,000 a year and after taxes, he's getting the same thing I do. Only he's almost in debt since he had to buy all new furniture (I didn't) and he's had to lease a car (small cars in Japan are way cheaper and the gas is pretty much the same price these days) I know that both of these incomes aren't that great, but for someone fresh out of college, I think that's pretty good!

At the same time, after my second year, things change and I'll have to pay Japanese taxes. I've heard rumor that they give me a raise to make up for it but I can't be sure about that. Also, when I leave, I get a pension which is a nice sum of money :)

But speaking of raises, that's a downfall of the JET program. There is no future here. I can't work my way up to anything. I come and I go and that's all. All this time spent will amount to nothing in my future.

Next, I can learn Japanese here. My Japanese isn't improving nearly as much as I'd like it to. But I can guarantee that if I go back home, it won't improve at all. In fact, I'll just forget it all. Thing is, I just don't see myself going back to school for Japanese. It'd almost a lost cause.....

Next, a lot of my friends will be leaving this year. Every friend that I make here will eventually leave. Or if they stay, then I will eventually leave them. Nothing is permanent to this place. But at the same time, if I stay, the friends that leave will be replaced. Maybe I'll meet someone new and interesting. Maybe I'll like them better ;) Is it worth the gamble?

Next, if I stay, I'll be going back to the same job every day like I am now. I don't see it improving too much. Can I tolerate that a third year?

Finally, if I stay, to help give me a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, I think I'll apply to be a Prefectural Adviser (PA). There are three PAs in Kochi and two of them will be leaving this year. They don't get paid anything extra but CLAIR will pay for them to learn how to council others on things like homesickness, culture shock and coping skills. I think as a third year, I could help other new JETs with most of the problems they'll come across by living out here in the inaka. I think I have a lot of advice to give and I think that helping out will really make my third year worthwhile.

Assuming that I stay of course...

5 shared their love:

Deborah said...

A difficult decision! Some things to consider...
* As you said, the job situation here is not good. Giving the U.S. Economy a year to get in better shape may help a lot.
* If you could get the prefecture job that would add a lot of job skills to your resume that could make a big difference as to what type of jobs you could get
* Becoming more fluent in Japanese could be helpful too - have you thought about a translation job? Or maybe teaching Japanese to businessmen (I am thinking like the company we had come in when we tried doing Japanese lessons at the school.) once again, more job possibilities!
* If you stay do you have to stay in Kochi or can you transfer? Maybe if you could transfer to a more urban area that would help
Good Luck - I am sure you will make the right decision!

jessica said...

It sounds like you have a great opportunity in your third year with that ability to counsel others. What you have to ask yourself is what will you be coming back to in the states jobwise? What would you want to do here? Would staying a third year help build your resume for that kind of work? And if you don't know what you want to do, would counseling others during your third year turn you on to what you really want to do? So many questions, either way I'm sure they'd be lucky to keep you and we'd be even luckier to have you back! Love you!

Nina said...

> Will a year be enough time to let the job market get better in the States? Or will it just get worse? Something tells me, things are only going downhill from here in that department.

> I can't transfer. It's possible, but the circumstances have to be quite dire to warrant it. (Sexual harassment, marriage, personal health, etc.) I could get a different teaching job in Japan but it's not worth doing. I don't enjoy teaching enough to become a professional at it and any other ALT job will mean a pay cut and a entirely new area to learn how to get around in.

> Becoming fluent will mean going back to school and some very intense training. I'm not sure that I want to devote so much of my life to that. I enjoy Japanese, but am I still obsessed? Maybe....

> I'd really like to be a PA. I think it'll be great on a resume, it'll give me something new to devote myself to. I'll let me work to my potential as well. It'll be a good challenge. But applying doesn't mean I'll be accepted. Personally, I think I'm a good candidate but there are no guarantees.

> I have no idea what I want to do when I go back home. Japanese was my passion and I thought I'd be getting more out of living in Japan. Thanks a lot reality! Let me down again :-/ Now I'm not sure what's next...

Deborah said...

No matter what you decide I think your time in Japan will serve you well - you have learned many things that may not be obvious at first. You are a confident, self sufficient person who I know will handle whatever comes next well. It does sound like going for the PA position would be one of your best bets.

Emma said...
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