Don't get me wrong, I understand why people want to think like that. It would be hard to admit to yourself that you moved halfway around the world just to do what thousands of people before you have done but let's be real about this, that is was is happening. Many people want to think they are on some epic adventure when they go to live in another country but in reality they are following in the footsteps of a million people before them.
I've now taught for a private contracting organization called Interac and have worked with the JET Program and although the JET Program is harder to get into, you are doing the exact same job. You want to know what the difference is? People who are participating in the JET seem to get almost righteous attitude as if they are on some sort of path to change the world while people at Interac and more realistic about what they are doing. I know what you are thinking, that I am thinking too much about this and it is all inside my head. You may think that but I can assure I am not the only one who has thought that the people who get accepted into the JET program get a bit of an inflated ego. I was just posting something on Facebook today where I talked about how I used to work for Interac and one of my friends who is currently in the JET program asked me if I was an Interac as if he just found out I was some sort of outcast from society.
I am honestly really glad that I have worked for both Interac and the JET program. Interac gave me a chance to live in the city and experience a lot of things I wouldn't have had I started working for the JET program right away. Also it allowed me to meet a lot of people who have been in Japan for a very long time. JET has a maximum term of five years and for many places only three years. That is one thing that I also don't like about JET is that they put someone into a community allow them to teach for three years or so and then they have to leave. After their time there they are probably better at their job than they ever were yet they have to leave the position. I think it comes down to the fact that Japanese teachers have to do the same thing. Every three years they have to move on to another school and move to another part of their prefecture or in some cases other parts of the country.
Although I have only been teaching in Japan for a little over a year I've been in Japan for almost three years and started working at a company doing sales. That was my first job in Japan. The path for most people is the opposite. People will come over here getting an English teaching job because it is the easiest job to get in Japan and if they get good enough at the language they can switch into another job. However I spoke Japanese before I moved to Japan and that is how I got the sales job. When I got to Japan though I realized I was in over my head. The level of Japanese I should actually have just wasn't there.
I was struggling with only a JLPT level three vocab doing a job that really should have been in the hands of someone with a JLPT level one vocab. It was brutal. So after months of thinking about I decided that I was going to switch and go into teaching. I don't want to beat around the bush about why I did that though; I did it because it was the past of least resistance. Most Japanese companies will tell you that you need a degree from a 4 year university to become a teacher but let me tell you, in terms of education that couldn't be farther from the truth. The vocab and grammar that you will be teaching here will be lower than you can possibly imagine.
I teach in a small town from kindergarten all the way to high school and the level on English that I deal with here is insanely low. The best student in my town would have to be a high school student who has a level one in a standardized English exam but guess what, he can barely speak a word. It just goes to show you that the way language is taught here is ridiculous. I am not sure why things wind up the way they do though. The text books once students get into middle and high school aren't bad. If you were passing those classes you would think that you would be able to communicate but I can honestly say that in the half of year that I have been Hokkaido I have never had more than a two sentence conversation with any of my students and it is simply stuff that they are repeating things that they have heard. They aren't thinking on their feet and actually expressing themselves.
I've gotten quite off topic but the thing that I want to remind people about is that they shouldn't think or act like they are on some amazing journey when they move to another country. If you want to make a difference in the world then I can assure moving to a different first world country and teaching a language isn't the best way that you can spend your time. Although it may be difficult you can find ways to actually help people who really need it.
When I was still working in America I use to tell music equipment to this Korean church and they were telling me that they were about to go South America for a few months and I was wondering what they were going to be doing. He said they were going to travel around giving inoculations to people have never gotten them before. I was kind of blown away because I had never really met anyone like that. If you want to make a difference than find someone who actually needs help and the chances are that you won't have to look very far.
I am just tired of all of these people who think that just because they are in another country that they are really making a difference. When I ask some of my students who was their teacher a year ago they don't even remember his name. Don't fool yourself. You are there to perform a function in that town or city. You are a cog just like everyone else. Just because you are a cog for some other part of the world doesn't really make you that different.
There are of course going to be exceptions but I don't know many. The only one that I can really mention was a person I knew while I was living in Iwate prefecture. I moved there not too long after the huge earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in north east Japan. One person I know lived over an hour away from the coast line, didn't have a car but still made it out to the coast at least twice a month to volunteer helping out there. That person was making a difference. Just because you are going to teach English after schools a few times a year doesn't make you a saint. It might make you a decent person, but not a saint. If you want to change the world be real with yourself about what you can do and don't confine yourself to the path that thousands before you have taken.