I had always planned to stay on the JET Program for two years. That plan was nearly derailed early on after my bumpy start and the surprising, overwhelming homesickness I felt. However, I had hope that things would get better, and boy did they ever. With much trepidation I signed the contract for my second year in February 2012, but by the time I was making my way back to home in August 2012 for a visit, I knew I had made the right decision.
I had made some amazing friends, traveled to amazing places, and only just fully settled into my life in Japan. One year is simply not enough to properly fit in the experience or to even make the hassle of moving your life to a new country worth it. To make this post easier, I'm going to categorize my reflections.
I mentioned in another post how I enjoyed knowing what was expected of me and that the upheaval that comes with the new school year every April is jarring. Be that as it may, it is still infinitely easier to merely adjust to these changes than it is to find your groove when starting out. This second year meant that from the start I was confident in teaching, giving presentations, and communicating effectively with my students and teachers. It's an ease that can only come with time, so after about seven months of struggling to find the balance, the remaining seventeen have been a breeze.
When you're not certain about how long you'll be staying in place, certain purchases become questionable. Buying a car, or a TV, or some kitchen appliance for example. I hate investing in things that I won't get a significant return on, so this was plaguing me the first couple of months. After signing my contract though, I made a couple of 'comfort' purchases that I had decided I could live without for a year, but throughout have made all the difference. They tell us at orientation to make your apartment someplace you feel comfortable in as a means of escaping the every day stresses, and they were spot on. Not having to use the mental and physical energy to do this for the first few months in my second year was refreshing.
The nature of the JET Program is that people come and go. They make their mark on their communities and then become a memory. Luckily, six out of nine of us were new to our town when we arrived and we all decided to re-contract for a second year. We were definitely a dysfunctional bunch of misfits when we got here, but this second year solidified them as my family away from home. Unlike friends back home, I've relied on these people for my sanity. Friends back home do that too but it's not the same. This was survival in a foreign environment and it's because of them that I have not only survived, but prospered. When we received one new person our second year, we welcomed her with open arms and extended help the way it was done for us. Being a second year JET means you reciprocate what previous JETs have done for you and help them navigate through all the changes. The camaraderie among JETs and built in support groups are some of the best aspects of the program in my opinion.
Within Japan and Asia, there are more places than I could ever hope to have visited even after two years. Within the confines of the school schedule and carefully placed PTO, I have managed to travel to most everywhere on my personal list and then some. It's just a no-brainer that a second year in Japan meant that I'd once again have the cycle of holidays and PTO to travel. I was quite enthusiastic in my first year and traveled to most of my destinations within Japan so the second year was all about going abroad. It's just as expensive but more time consuming so not traveling as often has also meant I have saved money. This brings me to my next point..
Moving to a new country is ridiculously expensive! JET pays for your flight to Japan (thank God) but there are still a million things to buy in preparation and then upon arriving. Basically, you're broke until your first paycheck, and then traveling like I have means that I was constantly (but happily) broke in my first year since I'd blow my paycheck on weekend excursions to the furthest reaches of Japan. What you spend your money on and how frequently you travel are up to you, but this next part isn't: your contract. I was in the lucky last batch of JETs to have a contract with a stipulated consistent salary throughout my time in Japan. The next year we learned that new JET contracts work on a pay scale with each year adding more money to your salary as incentive to stay since bringing in new people is a hassle for everyone. In their first year, they make less than I do, in their second, the same, and then a little more in their third year. For me, staying a second year meant that sure, I could save money, but for a new JET it could possibly make a world of difference in supplementing their financial needs.
This program was my dream come true. After many years of waiting to apply and then being accepted, I'm so glad I stuck it out through the hard times in the beginning to see the best times of my life. Like I thought, after two years I'm ready to come home, but if you're on the fence and don't have immediate plans, consider staying a second year. It makes all the difference in the overall experience.