Living Abroad: Battling Loneliness

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Osaka Days

With the new JETs currently settling into life in Japan, I can now officially call myself someone’s senpai. Which means, I’ll be asked to constantly share life advice and my old experiences with the new comers at every opportunity that we meet. The question that I receive the most from people is, “What’s the hardest part about living in Japan?”

I’ll admit it was a little bit of a tough question for me. I don’t really have any dietary restrictions so eating the food isn’t really all that bad. Learning the language isn’t as tough as everyone makes it seem. I’ve never really had a problem adjusting culturally to living abroad, especially since I’ve already been here once before. I think my biggest adjustment being here is battling loneliness.

 

Everyone experiences loneliness at some point in their lives, but I think living abroad adds another degree to that sad feeling. No matter how long you’ve lived abroad, culture shock will still inevitably catch up to you. You’ll yearn for the familiarity of your home country. Even if you make good friends in your host country, sometimes the language barrier still prevents proper communication. Other reasons for loneliness are not so obvious sometimes. Your friends all have jobs or are in school. They get married and have children, or move away.

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Umeda Lights 

I don’t think people talk enough about loneliness when going abroad. Many people when they talk about loneliness they intrinsically think it’s their fault for feeling this way. Maybe they’re just not interesting enough or you don’t feel comfortable enough speaking another language. Especially if you’re already battling mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, living abroad can be tough. Loneliness tends to make you fall back into your own bubble of seclusion. While you might feel better for a while, eventually you start to feel worse and then the cycle continues.

Are There Any Solutions?

 The only thing I can recommend as someone who’s goes through it from time to time is just to reach out to people. Reach out to your family and friends from home and your friends in your new country. A simple phone call or text can really make your day.  Don’t let language stop you from making new friends in your host country. Most relationships I have here started out with very little verbal communication. Try and integrate into the community as much as possible club activities, hobbies, etc. just to keep yourself busy as much as possible.

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Best Friends for Life

 

If your biggest dream is to live abroad for a while, go and do it. It’ll be full of some of the greatest experiences you’ll ever have. There are plenty of days when I struggle with loneliness, but I would never give up this experience for anything else in the world.

How about you my fellow readers? Do you struggle with feeling lonely while abroad? What are some things you’ve tried doing to battle that?

 

 

What it takes to get into JET

jetIt feels so strange to write about applying for JET because when I first applied, I didn’t really see it as a goal. I knew of JET through my language courses of course but I never really had any intentions of applying to the program until I realized I had nothing to do after graduating college. Most participants have been dreaming about JET since high school, others have applied to this program maybe two or three times before being accepted. While I am happy to be here now, I will admit that I wasn’t the most ideal candidate for being an ALT. To be honest when I left the interview I felt as if I didn’t make the cut and started looking for other jobs to apply to.

Probably not something you want to read if you’re really hopping on getting in but it’s the honest truth. My grades weren’t at the top of the class, my references were turned in at the very last minute, and I had very little work experience compared to some other more qualified applicants. Along with those things I was really worried that my ethnicity would hold me back from being accepted. Not to say that JET is racist in anyway but it’s not the most encouraging thing to notice that you’re the only black person sitting in a room full of white faces. But despite all of that I was picked and I’ll share what I think was most helpful in having the interviewers choose me.

Experience

Of course experience for any job is important, but what if you don’t have any formal teaching experience? Well you have to find some opportunities. For me this was the easiest to sell myself on because I have been tutoring and teaching grade school kids throughout college. You don’t have to have your own classroom, but tutoring, volunteering opportunities, anything like that would qualify as experience. For those wanting to be ALT’s there are plenty of foreigners that are looking to learn English online, at college campuses or even at local YMCAs. I would recommend getting as much experience as you can teaching, especially if you want to be a high school ALT, you’ll be expected to run your own class and make your own lessons.

Statement of Purpose

I will admit here that I’m a pretty good writer. When multiple people tell you they really enjoyed reading your SOP that statement really sticks with you. Even though it seems long at first there two double spaced pages really isn’t that much to write. Most people mess up by rambling about why they want to come to Japan and not necessarily why they should be chosen for JET. Coming onto JET is more than just living in Japan and everyone applying to JET wants to come to Japan, so you have to talk about how your experiences will help the program. Why are you a good fit for the JET program, not why Japan is a good fit for you.

 

Preparation

Of course you should prepare for any interview you have. For the JET interview there are plenty of sites dedicated to helping you pass. There’s even sample questions which are the same used in the interview floating around somewhere online so be sure to read those questions carefully and have a good answer for each one. Make sure to do a little research on Japan as a country, i.e. current issues, political leaders, famous artists, etc. Show that you are actually interested in Japan as a country and not just for the entertainment it produces.

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Flexibility

Finally Flexibility is really important, something they stress in JET is that you might not get exactly what you are looking for as far as placement. Many people want to go to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, etc but the reality is that you might be placed somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, on an island, where you’re the only person who speaks any English. You could get placed at a really rigorous academic school or placed in a special needs school where the kids can’t even speak Japanese. Every situation is different, and an important part of the interview is understanding that you can deal with whatever you get. If there are some things you really can’t deal with such as health or living wise of course let it be known as early as possible. But you have to be okay with the fact that your Japan experience might not be everything you were hoping it to be.

 

So there it is, my four biggest tips on getting accepted into the JET program. There is no such thing as a perfect candidate, there are plenty of people who got accepted who don’t know anything about Japan with no teaching experience. I understand that working in JET is a dream for a lot of people but understand it’s not the end all to everything. Even if you don’t get into JET there are other companies in Japan and around Asia that are offering the same job that are less rigorous. So if you’re end goal is just to live in Japan, know that there are other ways.