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This article is taken from "kids com" Magazine - for more articles, see the "advice" page!@

Why do ALTs come to Japan?
- January 2001


If you are lucky enough to have a real foreigner teacher in your school, you may be a little curious to find out where they came from and why they suddenly appear in your school! Well, quite a lot of us are members of the Japanese Government's JET or "Japan Exchange and Teaching" programme. JET is the biggest human exchange programme on the planet, there are about 6000 of us, from many different countries, and the purpose is to "internationalise Japan at the local level". For people living outside of Japan, it is very difficult to get experience living inside Japan, but the JET programme is one of the best ways to get here. We apply for the job in our own country, have a tough interview, a few tests and if they like us we get to go come over!! Some of us get to choose where we go, but for the majority of us the decision of where we will live and work for the next year is made by the officials in charge of JET! We all have different experiences, from the inaka village island, to the mountain top, snow covered town, but most of us look back on the time as something very special!

But why Japan? There are lots of JETs, and there are many reasons to be here. But for most of us one of the big attractions is the adventure! Living in a foreign country is a challenge, with a new language, new food and a new culture! Most of us aren't teachers, we're here to internationalise Japan! Some of us like martial arts, Japanese language or customs, and want to learn more. Some of us just want to experience living in the land of Samurai and Geisha - a lot of people still have this image of Japan!. When I return home to the UK, I tell people I live in Japan and it seems that not many Europeans actually know much about the country! I often get the comment "Oh yes, cameras are cheap in Hong Kong." Getting China and Japan confused is quite common! If you ask people in Europe for their image of Japan, aside from the new found fondess for sushi, responses will be along the lines of "Samurai", "Ninja", "Harakiri", and maybe the bright lights of Tokyo! When I arrived I was first stunned by the brilliant futureistic nightline of Shinjuku, and then found that outside the capital it was quite normal. There are roads, cars, buildings - it's pretty much the same as back home. But of course there are many small differences that are discovered everyday (for example, why are there so many vending machines??)!!

And my reason for coming to Japan? When I was at university, I was always reading about the new advances that Japan was making in the sciences, and particularly the space industry. Meeting Leona Esaki at a Nobel Prize conference in Germany increased my interest in Japan further. My main hobby is music, and all the best music equipment is made in Japan. Add to this the wonderful experience I had studying abroad in France, so that when I saw the JET presentation at university I thought "Yeah, that'll be cool!"

It can be a tough life, very often culture shock sets in and homesickness is a problem, but if we have Japanese friends and understanding colleagues then we get over this and can begin to enjoy the many wonderful things that Japan has to offer! Japan has great festivals, great scenery, great traditions, nestling alongside ultra modern keitaidenwas and widescreen TVs.

We're only here for a short period of time, so want to make the most of it. In our, very short, training in Tokyo one of the things we learn is the importance of making Japan more international. Most of us really want to make the kids understand about our countries, so that they too can go off, learn about the world and enjoy themselves. I want my kids to have fun in my lessons, teaching English isn't the main thing, I want the kids to be more open minded and to consider themselves as "kokusaijin".

It's strange that on the eve of the 21st century I can walk down the street in Japan and get stared at for having a "different" face. Or that a class full of children is composed of mainly Japanese students. Plus the fact that the Japanese seem to think of themselves as Japanese, and foreigners as different. International understanding for me means teaching the kids that fundamentally all the people in world are the same human beings. We have different customs, maybe skin colours or faces, but we all have the same fears, dreams and feelings. Considering oneself a "kokusaijin" means breaking down the idea of Japanese/non-Japanese, and to consider everyone as a person, and a potential friend.

As ALTs, we want to get along with our teachers, to make the experience better for everyone by smiling and trying our best. We come a long way to be here, and want to work together to open our kids up to all the opportunities that the world has to offer!

Be genki,

Richard


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