FAQ for Incoming JETs

June 4th, 2008 Posted in | No Comments »

Hello everyone. I thought I would start this new section as a place for new jets to get some answers to their questions about Gifu and JET. I hope it will be helpful to new JETs, who can read it if they wish. So keep the questions coming. I will do my best to answer.

1. School dress: do women teachers wear trousers or only skirts? Are sleeveless shirts appropriate? Indoor shoes…are these flip-flops? or something more professional-looking? Any other tips for dressing and dealing with the “stupid hot” weather? (loved “stupid hot” by the way)

Oh ho ho! You loved the stupid hot huh? Well, just wait until you are here! The heat is really something else. Gifu ken is (no joking) the hottest place in japan. We recorded the highest temperature ever! So, clothing recommendation are as follows.

As far as skirts vs pants goes, I just did a quick tour of through my office. Women wearing skirts are definitely outnumbering those wearing trousers. However, both exist, and I would say that my English teachers are far more likely to wear trousers than skirts. You really can go either way, but skirts all should be past the knee. The students skirts are not, but yours should be. Danielle’s opinion goes this way, skirts are cooler in the summer. She recommends skirts for dealing with the heat. Trousers for the cooler months. She also further recommends flowing skirts, as they are easier to hike up when you need to use a squattie. (Glamorous, I know.)

Sleeveless shirts, as a general rule, are a no. You can wear them, but usually under some other light shirt that will cover your shoulders. Danielle, has one shirt with no sleeves that she wears, but she does her best to dress it up. Some schools feel stronger about this than others, so I would avoid relying on sleeveless for your wardrobe. Cap sleeves however are just fine.

Further to beating the heat I make these recommendations. You are going to sweat, A LOT. So you will go through a couple of outfits a day. So, you will want some wicking shirts and things. They are available here too so I would not worry to much if you don’t already have any. I would not shop for any new clothing except bottoms, shoes, and a few shirts and things to get you through your first couple of weeks. But, if you don’t have enough, buy some pants. Japanese frames are different than western frames. No matter how thin and fit you are, your thighs are probably bigger than and equivalent Japanese person. Don’t take it personally, but be prepared. Also be prepared for your body shape/size to change, you will have a new diet and climate.

As far as shoes go, indoor shoes are usually flat slides, or sandals you can wear with a pair of socks. They are really more of slippers than shoes. Flip flops would work, but you will regret that decision when your feet start getting cold in winter. I brought a pair of croc slides and have been happy for the most part. (I kind of wish I had a pair with the back strap.) You should pick a pair that will be easy to get in and out of, and are comfortable to stand in for hours. Fashion is not an issue. Even the most fashion conscious of my teachers wear the ugliest shoes. You may also want a pair of outdoor shoes that are easy to get in and out of.

Apparently I have a lot to say about clothing, so if you have any other questions feel free to ask.

2. What kinds (if any) teaching materials do you recommend bringing from home? I was thinking about Scrabble/other word games and maybe some home-made videos.

I agree with your idea to bring games, and videos, but be aware that you will not be super likely to use them in class. They are more likely to come in handy in English clubs and out of class. Homemade videos would be great, but it may be tricky to get the resources to show them, and they are difficult to operate quickly. Better suited for small groups than big classes. (personal opinion.)

The best thing I think you can do is bring a bunch of stuff related to your hobbies, and actually take it with you to the class room. Show them what you are talking about, and make it as real as possible. I brought juggling balls and juggled for them, and some manga that I actually read. Second best is pictures to show them what you are talking about. So, take a crap load of pictures of your family, your home town, anything you can think of, just to have on hand when you get here.

Then I would bring stickers, for a reward system, and some small American trinkets to give away. Before I came I bought a handful of American flag pins at a surplus store for 10cents apiece. I wish I had bought more, they have been extremely popular. A couple of bags of American candy would not go unused either!

3. Gifts.. I work at Wholefoods and we have colorful reusable bags that have English writing on them- would those make good gifts? Any other suggestions?

The best things you could bring are stuff that reflect your region. I also recommend consumables, things like food. The bags are a good idea, because “My Bagu” is getting to be quite the phenomenon here. I would reserve those for the handful of people who are really helpful to you. (Your supervisor, your landlord, principal, etc.) I brought some small books of Chicago postcards, but I wish I had kept it solely edible, or usable. My parents brought Minnesota maple syrup, which went over really well.

Then I would bring something small and edible for your whole staff. I would count on having 100 or so of these things, so they should be small (cheap). I brought some Frango mints, (because Marshall fields was a Chicago company, and they were made in Chicago.) I would also recommend this being the only omiyage you give your staff, so making it a good one is not a bad idea, but can get expensive.

4. I think you may have mentioned coffee in one of your posts. Can I buy a coffee pot there? Do they sell real coffee or only instant?

Yes you can buy a coffee maker here. You can also get coffee here, but good coffee is a bit harder to find than in the US. They tend to drink crappy stuff here. However, bags can be bought from starbucks, tullys, or imported food stores. Not knowing how easy it will be for you to get to these places, I would bring a bag or two of your own. Also, good coffee also make a good gift, especially if you have a local blend, or company that roasts. We brought Frango mint coffee to give as special gifts (keeping with a theme).

Did you know what city you would be in beforehand?

No, I did not know what city I would be in. At least not until my predecessor contacted me. This should happen for you in a week or two. I know its hard not knowing. Soon you will find out school, city, and start having to make decisions about housing, what to buy off your predecessor, etc.

Do you and Danielle work in one school or do you travel around? What is your schedule like?

Both Danielle and I work for High Schools. As such we don’t move around much. We both took a couple of trips to other schools, but usually only a handful of weeks a year. Chances are, if you only know that you are going to Gifu ken, it means that you are employed by the BOE, and will be (most likely) working for a High School too.

Your class schedule with vary. Danielle for example works 14 some lessons a week (i think). Were As I have about 8 a week, (7 weekly classes, 2 biweekly) however, I do more grading outside of class. Danielle’s situation is probably more common than mine though.

I love to travel and it looks like you two have been able to do a bit, did you have to plan really far in advance? and is it possible to arrange days off or can you only travel within the alloted break time?

Travel is both easy and fun! If you are placed really remote, it could get difficult, but not overly so. You will be getting a lot of vacation time, (compared to US companies). Plus many public holidays. If you are placed in or around Gifu city (ogaki, Kagamigahara) getting out of gifu is really easy, and you can get most of the big places in japan really quickly. Kyoto is two hours by local train, Tokyo 2 hours by shinkansen, the airport in nagoya is pretty convenient as well.

As for arranging days off. It is possible, but you are better off making your plans around the official school holidays. We don’t get a lot of class time with the students, so if you have to cancel classes you are basically screwing the students. That said, rearranging your classes to extend a weekend, or plopping a couple of days in to connect holidays, is fine. If you take the effort to help rearrange the classes your school may even be impressed. Don’t make it a habit to take time off during class days and you should be fine. But, some schools may feel more strictly about this than others.

Gifu seems pretty rural, I know you two have each other but do you know any JETs that are having a hard time being a lonely gaijin without anyone else to speak to?

This is a difficult question to answer for two reasons. I don’t really know all that well, and I don’t want to needlessly freak you out. I live in gifu city, there are lots of other JETs and foreigners around so it is not hard to find others, and as you mentioned I have Danielle.

Yes, there are some jets that have a hard time. Some find out that it really just isn’t for them to be in a foreign country. Some do end up feeling very isolated by geography and lack of access. But more, I believe, end up feeling isolated and giving up, when there are ways around that problem.

The best thing to do is build yourself a support network when you get here. If you like to travel, find a travel buddy and get out there. Make sure you know and get together with your nearest JETs even if it takes some effort to get to where they are. You will be earning good money here, so don’t be afraid to spend a bit of it to get out and about. If you feel you are a pessimist more than an optimist make sure to double your efforts. If you are more of a loner than a socialite get out there more in the beginning, being a loner isn’t bad, I am a bit of one myself, but you need to build your connections first. You create the person you are here. While geography plays a role, if you decide to be connected, you stay connected.

Is there any problem with having friends come and visit for awhile? I’ve been to small town America where its somewhat suspicious to have a guy stay at your place when you’re not married. To your knowlege would I face any criticism if my boyfriend came and stayed with me for awhile?

No, I don’t think there is a problem with this. There may be some gossip, it is possible that you will center of attention among your students, and of course there is the odd wacko who can make life tough for you if you let it happen. I know some people who will not hang their underwear out to dry in their small town after learning that students/parents were looking. However, on the whole people understand that you have friends and family from home that will come and visit. If you are in a small enough town where it would be an issue at all. You are going to be in a town were other reasonable accommodation are probably not available. If you don’t flaunt it about as something, it probably wont be something.

Although I might tease you about it now that I know your worried… 😉 (only kidding!)

I’m from San Francisco so I’m used to moderate temp all year round. I’ve heard about the insanely hot summers but what is winter like? Is there snow?

It won’t be like SF, but that is about all I can tell you. In gifu city we got “snow” but not as I would call it from growing up in Minnesota. A light dusting two or three times a year. However, In the mountains in other parts of Gifu there will be crazy amounts of snow making for great winter sports. It will not be super crazy cold anywhere.

Or rather I should say, it will not be super crazy cold OUTSIDE. You apartment will feel as though it is a refrigerator, because it quite literally may be colder than your refrigerator. Central heat is not big here and chances are you will be space heating. Bring sweaters.

How many pairs of shoes did you bring?

I brought maybe 6 pairs of shoes and this was too many. I have worn my black dress shoes all of three times. The shoes you need (my opinion) are as follows. A pair of school shoes (see my info on the Website FAQ), a pair of light sandals for the summer, a pair of walking shoes that are easy to slip in and out of (I swore I would never wear slip-ons, cuz i think they are tacky, but now I do…), a pair of sneakers to wear for sports days, and one pair of dress shoes. You will not wear dress shoes at work. No one does. You are of course able to bring more shoes, but they are not necessary. People are pretty forgiving of bad footwear choices, and most peoples shoes have been destroyed by frequent slipping on and off. Also if you have larger feet bigger than us 8 women’s and us 10 or 11 men’s you probably will have trouble buying shoes here.

Oh! you will want a pair of warm slippers for winter too.

Are there any things you didn’t bring with you to Japan that you wish you had?

There are, and there always will be. The thing is people live in Japan, they live well. So most of the things you “need” will be here to buy if you want them. (except pants, again see the FAQ and danielle’s posts on the subject.) So the only thing that I wish I had are things relating to my hobbies. Some of this stuff is specialized or very expensive and I can’t justify buying it here. I am constantly debating, and re-evaluating my decision to leave my bike at home. I miss it. Danielle regretted and eventually shipped her spinning wheel from the US. If you have some hobby like that, one that helps you relax or brings you enjoyment. Put a priority on bringing it with you.

How often are there get togethers with other JETs?

Hello! Danielle here! Aaron asked me to answer this question for you since I am a member of AJET for the upcoming year. AJET is an organization which helps to enhance individuals experiences on JET by organizing various events designed to keep JETs connected and also to help them participate in interesting cultural experiences. In previous years AJET in Gifu has tried to organize at least one event per month and I would highly recommend attending as many as you can. Usually there is a good turnout and it is fun to hang out and experience things with the JET community. That said, AJET is open to everyone and often there is a good mix of JET and non-JET (both foreigners and Japanese) at the events.

The first event will be the Hanabi viewing party (your first Saturday here if you come with Group A) and later in the month of August we have a huge welcome bash! Some other super cool events are the Winter Camp (ski weekend) and the day trip to Shirakawa for the Doburoku festival (sake). Join the gifu jets group on yahoogroups (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Gifujets/) to get all the latest information and updates! There are a ton of good opportunities to get together that are organized by AJET, but you will also find your calendar filling up quickly once you are here as you make plans with all the new friends that you meet! Get your rest now, before you come, because you will be busy with all the fun-ness once you get here!!

Back to Aaron. My RPA counterparts and I will also be organizing events in each region to welcome and help you settle in.

Is it easy to continue taking Japanese lessons while there?

Continue? Are you studying there? Yes, very easy. In my opinion the best idea is to self study from a good textbook, then meet one on one with a friendly Japanese speaker. Perhaps some kind of language exchange trading with helping someone study English.

If you have no Japanese experience, don’t worry, but before getting to your lessons here, if you can find time, study a few things before you come. The most useful will be studying some basic phrases, the Katakana, and the Hiragana, in that order. Katakana and Hiragana are the phonetic characters the Japanese will use. So if you know them you can sound out the words. This is especially useful for Katakana, as most of what is written in this character set are loan words from English. I really advise brushing up on them in your spare time if you can.