It is almost twenty years since I embarked on a journey that changed my life.
Way back in July 1999, I boarded a plane for Tokyo, ready for a new adventure.
The JET Programme
I worked as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) on the Japan Exchange Teaching (JET) Programme. I signed a 12 month contract, but loved it so much that I stayed for three years.
I can see now how greatly that experience influenced my life.
It hadn’t occurred to me that people from other countries would be participating in the JET Programme. I naively assumed the other ALTs would be British, too.
I met people from all over the world, and formed long lasting friendships with Americans, Australians and Canadians.
#2 Global Citizen
Once I had arrived in my small town and started working at school, I started feeling as if I were a living specimen. I knew that the students and the teachers were viewing me as an example of a Britishness.
They thought that everyone in the UK acted like me, dressed like me, ate like me, liked and disliked the same things as me. I had never before felt such a responsibility to represent my nation, my country and my culture.
Living in Japan for three years was a massive challenge. I had to use a new language, navigate an alien culture, and learn how to teach English effectively.
The whole experience made me much more confident. By the end of the three years I felt like I had climbed a mountain, and I was ready to ski down the other side.
After returning home, I found a job working for an Anglo-Japanese company. It provided home-stay programs for Japanese students who wanted to study English in the UK.
At the time, this was my dream job. I continued working with Japanese people, I used my Japan knowledge, and taught English.
My job title was Program Director. I recruited and managed host families, hired English teachers and prepared them for teaching groups of Japanese students.
It was a fantastic opportunity, and really made the most of all the knowledge and experience that I had built up during my time in Japan.
By far, the biggest, and most unexpected, influence that Japan had on my life, was meeting my wife.
She’s American, and we met during our JET orientation in Tokyo. We lived in the same area and became great friends, with many other friends in common.
We were in Japan for three years, and when we met up again several years later, we fell in love and got married.
I moved to the US to be with her, and I even became an American citizen. We have been married for ten years, and have two children.
In short, Japan influenced my life in more ways than I ever expected. When I applied to take part in the JET Programme, I never imagined for a second that it would change my life quite so much.
I highly recommend The JET Programme. More information is here.