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Saturday, February 28, 2009


This isn't exactly an "origin story", but that's a pretty catchy title, right? So today I'm gonna post up the Statement of Purpose (SoP) I wrote for the JET application, and I'll talk a little about the application itself too. For those who are unfamiliar, the SoP is a 2-page max essay, double spaced, in which you do your damndest to sell yourself to the people at JET.

The three questions you have to answer are basically, "Why did you choose JET, what can you offer us, and what do you hope to get out of the program?". It's pretty much a perfect setup for your standard opening-body-closing style essay, and it's a pretty important part of the application so putting a little effort into it isn't a terrible idea. You'll find that most people spend quite a few hours on it, revising it over and over, letting others read it, revising it again, etc. For my part, I did one rough draft, let it sit for a week and a half, reread and rewrote it once, and that was it. I probably spent a total of 2-3 hours max on it, but not everyone can do that and still end up with something they're happy with.

Just for context, on my application I didn't fill in any teaching or international experience whatsoever, because I don't have any. I'm an English major with a minor in Japanese, I've been out of school for 3 years, I didn't get stellar grades in college, and my actual college isn't all that prestigious. And despite all that, I was still able to get an interview. I do work for a company chock full of Japanese folks, but I can't imagine that had a huge impact on my application. So if anyone reads this and they don't have a ton of pertinent experience, don't lose hope! If you can put together a good SoP and get some good references, you've still got a good chance of getting through to the next round.

Okay! For those of you still suffering through this post, here comes my SoP in full! This had a huge hand in getting me my interview, so I had to have done something right. Enjoy!

"My first conscious exposure to Japanese culture was during my first year of college, when I discovered the works of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. I was mesmerized by his presentation of Japanese landscapes and people and his insights into the mentality of his country. This triggered my love for ancient and modern Japanese culture, and rather than acting as a substitute for my own culture, it has become a supplement and counterpoint to my experiences in the United States. I find an earnest pleasure in studying language and helping others understand and love words the way that I do, and I believe the JET Program would provide me the opportunity to share my passion and knowledge with others, which will hopefully in turn help those around me cultivate that kind of interest and passion for another culture.

During college, I took naturally to material, especially in those classes focused on linguistics and language structure, and often found myself explaining difficult concepts to classmates when other explanations may have gone over their heads. In my Japanese program, I spent weekends interacting with exchange students, helping edit schoolwork, and simply trading cultural experiences. I especially enjoyed working with Japanese foreign speakers, watching the way their faces would light up when they finally grasped a difficult word or concept. This combined with my natural love of the Japanese culture is what drove my interest in JET.

And as much as I learned during college, my most valuable experiences have come since leaving school. Within a month of finishing my final class, a friend and I had moved from our small town of Hastings, Michigan (pop. 7,500) to Orange County, California (pop. 3 million). Neither of us had any relatives in the area, no business contacts, and no jobs lined up. But we were excited to try something new and threw ourselves into it head-first, just like I would if selected to participate in JET. I soon landed a job with a small Japanese video game localization company, where I spent every day editing translated text and interacting with native Japanese speakers. Not only am I well versed in taking written text from another language and transforming it to become culturally relevant to other Americans, but I also spend every day instructing and conversing with Japanese speakers on the ins and outs of the English language and culture, both in a formal and casual capacity. Beyond this, my extensive experience directing voice actors has given me an intimate understanding of the nature of spoken language, including intonation, speech patterns, regional differences, and so on.

I was also lucky enough to be asked to travel to Japan for a week and be part of a group representing my company to affiliates in Tokyo. Although my time there was short, it cemented my devotion to creating a bridge between the two varied cultures. It also showed me that even if you are not fluent in the native language (as I am not, since our office is officially English-speaking), you still have ample opportunity to communicate, to teach, and to learn from those around you, no matter where you find yourself.

My understanding of JET is that it is more than just another language tool for Japanese schools – rather, it gives students and teachers alike the chance to experience an entire culture, be it through language, literature, history, music, movies, or whatever else one might want to know about a foreign land. My goal is to bring that culture to students in as many ways as possible and in a way that encourages students to become involved and keep asking questions. And I hope that they will do the same for me, and give me a deeper look into their lives and way of thinking, which I can take with me and draw from no matter what I choose to do once I move on from JET.

Given my intense interest in teaching and in Japan as a contrasting culture, my past experience working daily with Japanese speakers and the English language, and my desire to inspire curiosity in and appreciation for foreign language and culture in my students, I believe I offer a unique and valuable skillset to the JET program."

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Friday, February 20, 2009

--HE SHOOTS, HE...!--

Won't know if he scored until the end of April!

So I had my JET interview today up in Little Tokyo. All in all, not a bad day. Traffic going up was nice, coming back was slow but not terrible. Here's a summary I wrote up while I could still remember. Beware: it is quite long and probably not all that interesting. But maybe anyone else interviewing in LA next week will find something useful in here.

First of all, if you're coming from the east side of LA, around the 101, DON'T take 1st street. The bridge was closed when I got there and I had to skip down to 4th street and come back up.

Anyway, I got there on time and the former JETs there were really friendly and easy-going, so everything was fine. No JET video playing, by the way. The interesting thing about my panel was that, unless I'm mistaken, there was no former JET in the room. They were all Japanese, two middle-aged women and one younger (early 30s?) man. The man and one woman had slight accents, and the third woman was a USC professor. I freely admit that I might be wrong, as my mind was busy gearing up for interview mode.

So my panel was really friendly and there was no sort of good-cop/stone-face/see-if-he-cracks attitude at all. They were sitting at one of those fold-out buffet-style tables, and i was maybe 3 feet away sitting in a tiny cushioned fold-out chair. Onto the questions, in no particular order!

-Tell us about yourself and how you became interested in Japan. (Basic life summary here, did okay as a history lesson but I could have sold my qualities harder).

-If you had to do a lesson about a holiday, and a lesson about an American historical event, what would it be? (I was SO glad when she said this instead of "please do a sample lesson". I picked Halloween, which I'm sure they'd heard plenty. For the history lesson, I told them I would teach about the civil rights movement because it shows the very best and worst of what can happen in a highly diverse society. I think they liked that answer a lot, and there was much note-taking.)

-It seems like you have a stable, fun job. Considering the economy, why would you choose to leave in order to join JET? (I expected this so I was prepared and gave a sappy-sweet (although totally true) answer about how pursuing my own happiness is more important than money, and how despite the economy it was the perfect time for me personally to try something new. Another good response from them.)

-You marked on your application that you would not prefer working with children. Why is that? (Part of the reason I'm doing this is because I'm thinking of becoming a high school teacher here in America, so Japanese high schoolers would be a better test. I do enjoy kids, I just didn't want them to think that was my first preference.)

-You studied some Japanese in college. Do you remember any of it? Could you do a short self-introduction in Japanese? (Thankfully they were sympathetic and seemed happy that I even had one prepared. I stumbled through it but in an entertaining way and got a couple chuckles from them. I did forget a verb and stupidly left off 'yoroshiku onegaishimasu' at the end though. D'oh!)

-What kind of after-school activities would you be interested in running or participating in? (I mentioned obvious stuff like English Club, and also I'd enjoy doing something with American films or something. I was vague but oh well. Also mentioned the standard kendo-taiko-archery stuff.)

-Looking at your application, your placement preferences are all fairly urban (Numazu in Shizuoka, Osaka prefecture, Saitama prefecture). Do you have any good reasons for choosing these locations? Note: This was one of only a couple questions the male interviewer asked, and when he said it he had this sly smile on his face that basically said "Come on, we know what you're trying to pull. But go ahead and feed us the BS". (I explained sister city stuff, and how I'm really interested in non-standard regional dialects and would love to live in the Kansai area to learn more about the dialect. Nothing super impressive, but it was something.)

-Do you have any teaching experience? (Part 1 of the Two Questions of Death. In fact, I have NO formal teaching experience, nothing even close. The best I could do was talk about how it was common for me to tutor friends in college, and also help teach my younger cousins various things. Extremely weak answer though, and if I don't get in I blame this and the next question.)

-What experience do you have traveling abroad? (Part 2 of the Two Questions of Death. Aside from a week in Tokyo on business, NO experience abroad. I tried to make up for it by explaining how much traveling I've done within the states, from the sprawling LA metropolis to the internet-less backwoods of Arkansas. Another very weak answer, however.)

-While visiting Tokyo, were you shocked or surprised by anything? (I honestly wasn't really, because I don't shock easily, so I told them that. The only thing I could come up with is that stuff in Japan is very...small. Weak answer, but one lady laughed and said "yeah, very true". So better than nothing!)

-Do you have any health problems/allergies? Are you single? Do you have a criminal record? (These all came from the man, who spent most of the interview thumbing through my application. No idea why he wanted to confirm them with me out loud. Stupidly, I mentioned my childhood asthma and how sometimes in really cold weather my breathing can be affected.)

-What can you tell us about the purpose of the JET program? (Standard answer about grassroots, local-level internationalization here.)

-And what kind of cultural significance do you think you can bring to the program? (I answered this one *okay*, but I left out a couple of major themes I'd meant to incorporate. I tried to play off of the fact that I come from a tiny town in Michigan but also made my way in the mammoth SoCal expanse. But I focused too much on what I've been through and not enough on why that makes me a "good candidate". Oh well.)

-Sometimes it’s common in Japanese culture for younger female staffers to pour tea, etc. for older staffers. If you saw this, how would you respond? (I honestly didn't understand this question, and my first thought was "I'm not a girl, why do I care?" So I explained that I've seen my (Japanese) coworkers do it for my boss, and it's part of the culture and doesn't really bother me. Hopefully that's what they wanted.)

So that's basically it. The interview lasted almost exactly 20 minutes, and they were backed up so that's the max any of them went I think. I didn't ask any questions since as far as I know none of them were JETs, and those were the only questions I'd prepared. Notably, they didn't ask for an actual lesson demonstration, no singing, no current events, no follow-up questions in Japanese, no "what one thing would you bring/represent America with", no "what would you do if students/teachers didn't respect you", no really difficult questions at all. Which is kind of bad in a way, cuz while I didn't blow any questions, I'm not sure I did enough to "wow" them and give them reason to rank me in the top 25% to get a placement.

But it's over now, and I don't have anything to worry about till April. If I don't get in, I'll definitely chalk it up to lack of teaching/international experience and try to get as much of that in before applying again next year.

Now that the interview is over, my next post is gonna have my Statement of Purpose and pertinent info from my application, so you guys can get an idea of what it took to actually get to the interview stage. Ta ta!

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Friday, February 13, 2009


I think there's an Internet bloglaw that says if you don't post in your blog for one full year, you give up all rights to that blog and anyone who wanders in and starts squatting gets official rights to it. I first read about this bloglaw on Bob Loblaw's Law Blog.

Anyway, a fair bit has changed since my last post from the innocent and halcyon days of early 2008, and I'm going to be taking my little slice of e-pie in a new direction. So in that spirit, let's perform a little bit of that voodoo that you do, shall we? Ahem...

Arise! Arise, ye damned bloated corpse of a blog, laying stranded and alone on the trash-strewn shores of the online ocean, and live again! Stretch those legs, shrug those shoulders, and get that ass in gear!

Ahh, there we go. Now, onto new business. Assuming anyone ends up reading this again, it will almost certainly be by people who already know me, either through the magic of dark technology or because of that "Otherworld" plagued by the burning ball in the sky. That being said, I'm gonna approach this as if you know very little about me and care just about as much.

I have an interview coming up a week from today to join the JET Program(me) and teach English in Japan starting this summer! I sent in my written application in November and found out I'd been chosen for Part Two: Apply Harder a couple weeks ago.

At this point I have roughly a (consults made up statistics) 40% chance of being accepted, and I'll find out for sure in April. In the meantime, I'm planning on using this space to discuss my written application and, once the shit goes down, the interview itself (aka the Crucible aka the Thunderdome).

If I'm lucky enough to get accepted, then I'll continue on talking about my zany adventures in Japan featuring samurai and throwing stars and Godzilla singing karaoke. If I don't get accepted, then I'll happily serve as a cautionary tale and continue on with my life as a game writer! No big whoop! So that's it for now. If you're reading this, there's a good chance it's well after the fact, so go ahead and scroll up to see how it all turned out!

PS - if you read the post before this, you'll see me talking about a couple of games that were on the cusp of release. Here it is a year later, and those two specific games still haven't been released. Meanwhile, we've released something like half a dozen other games. Games industry, huh?! CRAAAZY!!!

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