Welcome to the first of what I hope will be a series of interviews of successful JETs living and working in Japan. The first interview is with Marc Mundy a Jamaican JET who arrived in Japan in July 2014 (almost a year to the date of the interview). I met Marc during the send-off reception for the 2014 JETS, similar to the recent one I went to for the 2015 JETS from Jamaica.
Marc is a very friendly person with a great personality and we share an interest in gaming and and love for Japan which started with anime/manga etc but expanded as we matured. I’ve been following his time in Japan primarily through his Youtube Channel. My favourite video of his so far being the tour of his Apartment in Japan.
1. How would you compare life in Japan vs life in Jamaica?
Life in Jamaica generally feels more laid back while life in Japan feels a bit more fast paced, especially in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka. In Japan I don’t have my close friends or family around, so it can feel a bit lonely at times. Food in Japan is great but over time can begin to taste quite bland, at those times I miss the variety of flavours and spices in Jamaican cooking. Japan has a completely different culture and it is on the other side of the world from where I grew up, so there are many changes in lifestyle and the things around me that I need to adapt to.
2. Briefly tell us about your professional background
After completing my undergraduate degree at The University of Technology Jamaica, I worked as a software developer at Management Control Systems for two years. I then went to America to pursue my graduate degree at Carnegie Mellon University. During that period I spent a semester in Osaka, Japan working on a mobile app prototype. For my final semester I did a cooperative education study working as a Game Designer at Schell Games. It was quite an experience working with Jesse Schell who is a world renowned game designer. After my graduate studies I applied to and was accepted to the JET Programme and now here I am working as an assistant language teacher in Japan. Quite the weird background isn’t it?
3. Did you have an interest in Japan before applying for the JET programme?
Yes I did. I have been interested in Japanese culture since high school. Well, to be fair in high school I was only interested in anime, manga, jpop and video games from Japan which are only a small aspect of the culture. Over time it grew and I slowly began to see what could truly be considered Japanese culture or rather how deep past anime, manga and video games the culture goes.
4. What is a typical day like at work as a JET in Japan?
For me specifically, I teach at one elementary school and one junior high school. At elementary school I have more control over classes and can also play more games. At junior high school the Japanese Teacher of English (JTE) takes greater control and students are more focused on preparing for exams. When I go to elementary school I normally prepare some lessons in the morning for classes I will have that day. At junior high school I ask the JTE I will be team teaching with what we will focus on for classes that day. During lunch time, I sometimes eat with students and during free periods I will be at my desk studying Japanese or programming haha.
However, outside of classes JETs are able to take part in school events and tournaments with their students. I’m excited for this years sports tournament and teachers basketball competition.
5. Living in Japan can’t be all rainbow and unicorns. Tell us about a bad experience you have had in Japan.
There was one morning I was walking to work and I saw a little kid on the ground crying. I gently picked him up, asking what happened and if he was ok. It seemed like he was maybe running and fell and hurt himself. Some medics arrived soon after and they asked me to describe what happened, for the life of me my Japanese was not good enough to convey what I believe happened and to be of some assistance to this crying child. It left me feeling awful to not be of any real help in that situation. While that experience mostly came down to language barrier, it stuck in my head as a bad experience and left me feeling quite downtrodden for a while. I haven’t had any experience with things such as racism or theft. I do have my problems with Japan, but I thankfully haven’t had any “directly” bad experiences.
6. What do you think you will miss the most when you leave Japan?
If I definitely had to choose it would be a mix of the people and the feeling of safety (sorry just can’t pick only one). Japan is the first country I have lived in where I have felt such a great sense of safety. Of course there are some strange crimes that might happen but generally I can walk outside late at night, lose something or even forget to lock my apartment without worrying about something bad happening. I met some great people in Japan who went out of their way to help me when I had problems. Striking up random conversations with some of the more outspoken Japanese people was always interesting, even when I couldn’t understand most of what they said or vice versa, that wouldn’t stop them from trying to speak with me. Oh! Also, convenience stores, karaoke, yakiniku and drinking parties! So many things!
7. What do you think you will miss the least with you leave Japan?
Feeling like I am not a part of the society. Japan has it’s pros and cons and I believe it is a great country overall, there are many things to see and the people are great; but, as a foreigner living in Japan you will always be labelled as an outsider. I don’t know if any foreigner would be able to confidently say they have been completely accepted into Japanese society despite being here for a number of years.
8. Do you have any tips for JETs (Jamaican or otherwise) headed to Japan on the JET program?
The first thing I would strongly emphasize is to DO THE RESEARCH. There are many who come and say that being an ALT isn’t what they expected it to be. To be fair, what is required of JETs varies so much between schools and cities. However, there is a lot of information online and you can get a pretty good idea of what to expect not just on the job as a JET, but living in Japan. It is also important to keep an open mind and be adaptable. Japanese culture and society is vastly different and living somewhere is a completely different experience from just visiting. Don’t take every little thing that happens in an offensive way. People might do things you find offensive such as staring at you, but most times they really don’t mean any offense. These things will make your stay more pleasant and less stressful.
9. What do you usually do for fun on a weekend or holidays?
To be honest, I spend most of my weekends at home programming or playing games, building back energy for the next week of work haha. However, there are weekends when other ALTs in my city or prefecture will get together to eat, have drinks or just hang out. Some weekends I am required to do something for work, but most times it is a relatively fun event such as sports day and I usually get a compensation day to make up for working on the weekend. On some occasions I will use my time during holidays to go travelling; mostly outside of Japan because travelling domestically is very expensive here for some reason. I am planning to travel domestically a bit more often in the future.
10. Is there anything else you wish to share or add?
Two things, for people who wish to come on JET, don’t come thinking that there will be people around to “baby” you and cater to your every need because you are a foreigner. I know people who had this problem.
Finally, to everyone who reads this, keep pursuing your dreams. Whether that dream is to come to Japan or something else, at least give an honest try to making those dreams a reality. Don’t become one of those people who just float through the continuity of life with no joy or passion.
For anyone who wants to reach out to me and ask questions or advice, you can get in touch with me through social media. Also, please feel completely free to let me know things you would like for me to talk about on my youtube channel.
Liked the interview? Leave a comment and check out Marc via his social media channels and blog all linked below!