Life on JET

Sarah Hiscock
ALT Fuchu City, Hiroshima Prefecture 2010 - 2015
Since my teenage years I always had the dream of teaching English abroad. After university I fell into a job where I became comfortable and my dreams were put on the backburner. A trip to the rural depths of Shizuoka in June 2009 was to change this. Visiting a friend, a current JET participant at the time, I fell in love with Japan and had my eyes open to the existence of the JET Programme. Seeing my friend’s life in this tiny rural town and being warmly welcomed by her adult education class at an irori bbq in a local samurai house in the mountains, I knew instantly that I wanted to become a part of the JET Programme. As I set off from Heathrow on 31st July 2010, I had goals of surviving a year or maybe two in the rural town I’d been placed in. At that time, I had no idea of the breadth of skills I’d learn, the experiences I’d have and the memories I’d make over five years.
As an Assistant Language Teacher in Fuchu City, Hiroshima prefecture, my job role was incredibly varied. My placement involved rotating schools each year, switching between three groups of schools. Over my five years I worked in a total of 4 Junior High Schools and 8 Elementary schools, also working in kindergartens over the summer holidays. My role as an Assistant Language Teacher would vary between schools and between teachers. I sometimes played a supporting role, sometimes a leading one with the Japanese Teacher of English/Home Room Teacher acting as support. I promoted English outside of the classroom by setting up a pen pal scheme with school children in England and hosting a Speech Contest. I brought a taste of the UK to my lessons by hosting pancake and scone making classes. I integrated well into the school community, joining in with the ping pong and koto clubs on occasions. Outside of school my official duties included writing a monthly article for the Town Hall news bulletin,
"I also played a star
role in an English
language DVD"
helping in cultural festivals throughout Fuchu and writing posts for the Fuchu City Board of Education Blog. I also played a star role in an English language DVD, made during one summer holiday as a resource for the English language programme at one of the elementary schools, ensuring my legacy as an ALT in Fuchu lives on for many years to come.
The JET Programme experience, however, is so much more than the official work duties. I arrived in Hiroshima a little apprehensive and nervous to be leaving the comfort of familiarity and throwing myself into the unknown, but received solid advice from the Hiroshima PA (Prefectural Advisor) within the first week which, I believe, helped create the fantastic experience I had. He told us that if we were struggling with homesickness or culture shock, the best thing to do was to get ourselves out there, immerse ourselves in the new and the unfamiliar. As tempting as it may be to sit in your apartment, make calls to family and friends at home, and watch your favourite TV shows from home– these could be detrimental to your attempt to assimilate and adapt to your new communities.
I didn’t hold back. During the first year I did something different most evenings after school. I joined a Taiko team and a Kendo club, I quilted with the doctor’s wife and I practised the art of Shodo. By the end of my 5 years I’d become a regular at my local Ikebana class and joined a conversation class to help with my Japanese. I became friends with my taiko teachers and would watch them perform in their group at local festivals and concerts, I attended a local sake tasting with the doctor in my town, and I made friends with the lady who owned the antique shop along the road. I became a conversational exchange partner with a friend I met on a night out, and got welcomed into a community of local artists after a chance encounter on a walk along a river. Because of this encounter I ended up visiting the home and studio of a famous wood block artist; learning the technique of making these incredible artworks, making pottery at the home of another artist, and trying my hand at making indigo dye and using it to dye fabric. I caught fireflies by the river, swam in bioluminescence seas, rode the 77km Shimanami Kaido cycle route on my scooter and bicycle, and had many more incredible experiences, far too many to list here. These were the result of me putting myself out there and not wasting any opportunity that passed me by.
The main thing I threw myself into was volunteering. I found that this really helped me to get the most out of my experience and to really get involved with both my local community and JET community. I wrote various articles for the online web magazine for Hiroshima, including travel articles, festival and restaurant reviews. I was a member of the Hiroshima branch of AJET – Association of JETS. Their main aim is to organise trips, parties and social events for the JETs. We started an annual charity fundraiser which is still going strong, initially raising money for the redevelopment of a small fishing town after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. I wrote articles for the AJET online magazine ‘Connect’ about this event, and gave tips on how to organise a charity fundraiser. It now raises money to fund visits to a children’s home in Hiroshima prefecture – the visits are run through a volunteer organisation founded by JETs. I started volunteering for the visits in my first year and by the middle of my second year I was coordinating the visits. We visited the home around once a month and played games, did arts and crafts and hung out with the kids.
"I wrote various articles for
the online web magazine for
Hiroshima, including travel
articles, festival and
restaurant reviews"
There was no English focus on the visits- just to go there and have fun. I’d try to make sure there was cultural content in each – e.g. dances from around the world, Mardi Gras festival themed activities and so on. I also volunteered in an Organic Farm helping out in the fruit gardens of a jam making business – also helping in the labelling of jars. It was a great experience, staying in the home of our hosts, increasing my ability for cross cultural exchange.
My English teaching experience, alongside my volunteer spirit lead me to another great opportunity straight after JET; I worked as a voluntary English teacher and events coordinator on board the Peace Boat. The event organising, public speaking and coordination skills I learnt during volunteering whilst on JET helped me in this role immensely. I taught Japanese adults English language skills that they may need for tours organised in ports.
The experiences open to you as a JET Programme participant are endless. With a ‘can-do’ attitude, enthusiasm and the willingness to put yourself out there, you will gain the most out of your JET journey. I have no regrets and will always have a second home in Fuchu City, Hiroshima. The transferable skills and experiences gained on JET will stay with me for the rest of my life, and for that I am forever thankful to the JET Programme.

» Life on JET Top