Email from abroad: Adventures in Japan

My name is Michelle Krüger. I am 24 years old and live in Shirakawa-shi, Fukushima-ken, Japan. I moved to Japan in July 2017 after I was accepted for the JET-programme.

To give a little background: JET stands for Japanese Exchange and Training. It is a programme celebrating its thirtieth year this year and South Africa has been part of the programme for 20 years. In this programme there are two types of positions available, but unfortunately South Africans can only apply for one of the two. The position I am currently in is called ALT or “Assistant Language Teacher”.

The function of an ALT is to be an assistant teacher in the classroom for the JET (Japanese English Teacher), but in many cases the ALT takes over that position in full and presents the class themselves.

My journey to the programme started when I was 13 – or maybe younger – but I remember that I was told about it at age 13. My father’s best friend is married to a Japanese woman and since I can remember she has told about the JET programme. As a child many things go in the one ear and out the other, and it wasn’t until my final year at university that I heard the word ‘JET’ again.

I was sitting in a lecture and the embassy came to speak to us about this lovely programme. Something in me awoke and I decided I wanted to know more about this programme and immediately consulted all resources. I also contacted the embassy and asked what I needed for my application, as this sounded like something I very much wanted to do. I am sure that the only reason for my acceptance was only so that they could get rid of this crazy person who harassed them with constant questions!

In September 2016 I sent my application forms and waited. It was December 2016, while I was on a bus in Amsterdam, when I got an email with my invitation to the second round (although it would’ve been the first round of interviews) in Pretoria.
“Yes – I got it!” was my first thought. “I can do this; I have to do this.”

In January 2017 I went for my interview. What an exciting day! I almost missed the interview because I forgot a form at home. I had to quickly turn around on the highway and speed home at 120 km/h in my Volkswagen Golf – a pure student wagon – and get the form. Afterwards I ran into the interview hall like a whirlwind. Already I was of the opinion “Oh dear, now it’s over!” but luckily the candidate before me was still busy and I could quickly get my lost and confused face (and hair looking like Klara’s in Fiela se Kind) ready and try to look decent for the interview.

“Miss Krüger,” my name is called out and I take a deep breath walking into the hall. The interview goes well and the questions are only to confirm whether everything written in your application form is true. Some questions were a bit difficult, and I didn’t think for one moment that I would make it. After the interview I had to write an English test as well, so that they could test my English capability. It was by far the easiest part of the whole application process.

After the interview and the first round of the programme’s application process I waited and waited, and waited. There is nothing worse than the whole waiting process, because one’s life can’t also come to a standstill – I needed to know if I had to extend my contract at work and my boss didn’t know why I postponed for so long.

My heart wanted to jump out of my chest. The excitement was overwhelming and I didn’t know what to do or say: It was happening; it was time.

In July I was moving to Japan. I give a month’s notice at work and wait for feedback of where in Japan I will be placed.

The next three months are the worst, because after three years I now had to pack up my flat and move everything to my parents’ house and start preparing for my life in a new, unknown country. But I am excited and nothing can take away that feeling: I have it – it’s happening – I am finally on my way…

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