Today’s interview post features Nicola Williams a young, intelligent Jamaican woman who arrived in Japan in July 2014 to participate in the JET programme. I met Nicola at the send-off reception for the 2014 JETS and what struck me was how calm and confident she was compared to most of the other Jamaican JETs. She had a look of an assertive person unshaken by the prospect of flying halfway across the world to live and work in a foreign land with a different culture.
This interview shed some light on why Nicola was/is so confident and I believe that it could be very good read especially at the end where she says that many times “misunderstandings are brought about by projections of our own expectations rather than the intent of the people with whom we interact”. Thank you very much for participating in this interview Nicola and I trust your words, experiences and advice will prove useful for many.
1. How would you compare life in Japan vs life in Jamaica?
2. Briefly tell us about your professional background
I have a first degree in Social work and am currently pursuing an MSW with Specialization in Community Organizing and Policy Practice. I have been involved in holistic development initiatives and Advocacy for youth and communities in Jamaica and Dominica. Also, I have taught at both the primary and tertiary level in Jamaica. Just before moving to Japan I was a Project Coordinator at the Environmental Health Foundation.
3. Were the initial days/weeks in Japan difficult for you? If yes, in what way? If no, why not?
No. I had done a lot of research prior to the move and everyone I met tried to facilitate a smooth transition into working and living in Japan.
4. What is a typical day like at work as a JET in Japan?
Other than the fact that the work day begins at 8:30 and ends at 4:15 (for most JETs), there is no typical day as a JET. How you spend your days is determined by the school that you are working with, the classes you have and even the team teachers you work with. Of course there is the general need to prepare for classes; however a day can go in any direction so you have to be flexible. For example, one of my schools is a special school (not a special needs school) students who attend this school have part time jobs, some are adults, some were unable to complete Junior High School and a myriad of other challenges. I have classes with only 2 students and classes with twenty five. You will show up for class and have a great class or equally show up for class and no one is there to be taught. On the other hand, my second school is a more “conventional” high school and days at this school are more predictable.
Then there is the matter of involvement in extracurricular activities, while I have opted to participate in activities at both my schools it is not mandatory for JETs to do so because that takes you past your standard work hours.
5. Living in Japan can’t be all rainbow and unicorns. Tell is about a bad experience you have had in Japan.
My 2nd day in my host prefecture I went to the city’s Tatemon Festival another foreigner ( let’s call him Jack, Jack Ass) walked up to me and the following conversation ensued:
Jack: Have we met before?
Me: No, we haven’t
Jack: My name is Jack Ass* what’s your name?
Jack: Where are you from?
Jack: Wow! I am from Ireland and they have a hard time understanding me when I speak how will they understand you?
Me: I guess the same way you do right now.
Jack: you want to go for a beer?
Me: (almost dumbfounded) no thank you, please excuse me
I was so incensed I think the festival went quiet for a few minutes. As time progressed I realized there were quite a few foreigners around with the self endowed authority on who can be ALTs and how anyone should experience Japan any other way would be doing it wrong.
4. What do you think you will miss the most when you leave Japan?
I will definitely miss quality customer service and the respect for other people’s time.
5. What do you think you will miss the least with you leave Japan?
The brutal summer.
6. Do you have any tips for JETs (Jamaican or otherwise) headed to Japan on the JET program?
Japan is a great country to live in along with all the trappings of having a unique perspective and culture. A happy and meaningful life in Japan versus many days of misery and despair is entirely up to you. Know that you are entering a culture different from your own. Therefore, while you should not place Japan on a pinnacle, dwelling on the negatives, hearsay and blanket assumptions will make for a bad time in Japan. With an open mind, immerse yourself in the Japanese way of life and explore as much as you can. This will help you to appreciate the many differences you will find as well as teach you things you never knew about yourself. Also, you will be surprised how it these explorations help to make connecting with natives a lot easier. I am not saying that an open mind in Japan equals everything being all rosy but it will certainly make getting over the humps a lot easier. Try not to isolate yourself. Get involved with existing support systems and build your own as you go along. HAVE FUN.
7. What do you usually do for fun on a weekend or holidays?
On weekends I normally hang out with friends, go to festivals, or sightseeing or do anything that makes for a good time. When there is nothing special to do I attend Capoeira classes on Saturday and unwind at home on Sundays.
8. Is there anything else you wish to share or add?
I would recommend spending even a short time in Japan to anyone who is willing and able to. You will learn a lot about yourself- good and bad, and it will enhance your appreciation of the value of differences and sameness between cultures. Quite frankly whatever scene you are into can be found in Japan and almost anyone can have a good time.
I have heard some horror stories about encounters with Japanese people but I have none to speak of myself (perhaps I haven’t been here long enough). Of course, being on vacation, earning a salary or acquiring a degree is always an added bonus!
I want to remind us that ever so often misunderstandings are brought about by projections of our own expectations rather than the intent of the people with whom we interact. Therefore, be true to yourself, but also try to have an awareness of your own prejudices, then strive to balance the two carefully.
Most importantly, if you are making the trek to Japan disregard all I have claimed Japan to be for me and make your own assumptions.