Monday, February 28, 2005

The application process is over

I'm doing a lot of blogging today. This is my third post in as many hours.

anyways...

I just realized that the application process is now over. There is nothing more that I can do to help make my chances of being accepted any better. That's a bitter pill to have to swallow. The application process is over. This blog is now going to have to switch gears somewhat.

If I am not accepted, this blog will fade into obscurity. Bummer.

If I am accepted, this blog will go through several evolutions over the next few months. Starting April 4th (assuming I am accepted) this will be a blog about how to prepare for a year long journey to the land of the rising sun (Japan). I will write about my correspondence with the person I am replacing and with my new co-workers. I will write about getting my life in order to leave the United States. I will sell my car and my furniture. I will have to get rid of a lot of my belongings. I will have to get storage.

It also crossed my mind that it is very possible that I might be accepted to JET and that Emily might not get in. The opposite scenario is possible as well. That may lead this blog to take a different path. It will chronicle our attempts to get to Japan via another program.

Assuming things do go according to plan, then some time around July or August this blog will morph into a blog about moving to, working, and living in Japan. That is only six months away. I am still in disbelief. I could be in an airplane in six months flying to Japan. That's crazy.

Word of the Day 2/28/2005

Harajuku Girls

Popularized in the United States by the Gwen Stefani song "Rich Girl", Harajuku Girls refers to the hip, young teenagers who hang out in Harajuku, which is a shopping and entertainment district in Tokyo. Supposedly the kids who line the streets look like they were ripped out of a manga cartoon. I can't wait to go there.

A taste of things to come

I had an interesting experience at work last night. I waited on a table of 14 Japanese (business?) men. Most spoke hardly any English. It was quite an interesting experience trying to get a food order out of people who could not read the menu.

The host ordered everybody a Budweiser. When we put them on the table, everybody took their beer and poured it into their neighbor's glass. I guess I should have expected that.

One younger looking guy, who I would guess was about my age, told me that he spoke a little English and that he would like it if I would help him learn. I only had three other tables at the time, so I took about five minutes explaining the menu items in simple Enlish and charades. I think the only thing he understood was 'hot ironed seared'. I put my hand on the table and made a hissing sound. My total lack of Japanese language skills was painfully apparent. I tried using Japanese words if I knew them, but I'm sure he couldn't understand my accent anyways.

I also stumbled through a conversation about language with my new friend. He told me that Japanese was very easy to learn and that English was very difficult. I agreed with him somewhat, but told him that for Americans, learning kanji, hiragana, and katakana is very difficult. He said that it was difficult for the Japanese as well.

I tried telling him about the JET program. Instead of trying to explain that I was still applying and on April 4th I would find out if I got in, but that I would still have to wait a little longer for my placement, I just told him that I would be teaching English in Japan next year. It seemed a little easier since I'll never see this guy again (famous last words, right?).

Even though we had four or five little conversations, I would have liked to have talked to him a lot longer, but I was at work and I had a lot of other tables. I felt almost guilty each time I ended a conversation with him. He thanked me each time that we talked, which was very polite, and I got somebody another beer or cleared some plates.

So the first thing I do on April 4th if I get an email saying that I got in is go buy some language tapes.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Interview

The Japanese Consulate is on the top floor of the Washington Mutual Building on the corner of SW 8th St. and SW 1st Ave in Downtown Miami. Parking was a bit difficult. I had to circle around the neighborhood a couple of times before finally finding an open space on the street.

When we arrived in Miami I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt so I changed into my suit in a Subway bathroom. We would have gone to the hotel to change, but we could not check in until 3 PM.

I walked down the street and entered the building. I took the elevator up to the 32nd floor. When I stepped out of the elevator there were signs directing me towards the JET interviews. The signs led to a large lobby-type room. There was a reception window on the left side of the room, a pair of double doors on the right, and a full floor to ceiling window straight ahead overlooking Miami.

I checked in with the secretary behind the reception window. She was American. I gave her my interview voucher with the photo stapled to it and my copy of my passport to prove that I was American. She also asked to take a look at my photo ID. She looked at it, handed it back, and told me that my interview would be in a few minutes. She directed me towards the video playing on the TV.

I was the only person in the room. I had imagined a room full of nervous college graduates wearing suits waiting to inteview. I guess not.

One half of the room was filled with a couple of tables. Each had a neat stack of magazines and flyers. In the middle of each table was a simple white sign that read "No eating or drinking" in small black letters. So much for my bottle of water.
A TV in the corner was playing a video on Japanese Anime. There was a row of couches in front of the TV. They doubled nicely as window watching couches if the video got too boring. The walls were lined with posters, bookshelves, pamphlets, videos and other Japanese propaganda. Some of the literature was in English, some in Spanish, and some in Japanese. If I had looked harder I'm sure I would have found something in another language, but I didn't spend too much time looking at the stuff lining the room. I had read on another blog that the secretary watches you and gives a little report on your behavior to the interviewers. She told me that I should watch the video, so I watched the video.

I watched the whole segment on Anime and had started watching the segment on J-Pop when I was informed by a young Japanese man in a suit that my interview would be in five minutes. He had come from behind the double doors. My interview was obviously going to take place behind those doors. I could hear voices and occasional laughter coming from behind them. I wondered if another interview was going on. It made me kind of nervous. Could I make the interviewers laugh?

It turned out that there wasn't an interview going on; the interviewers were just laughing to each other. ("Ha ha ha...he looks so nervous, let's ask him some really horrible questions!")

A few minutes later the same young man came out and said "Mr. Villagomez, we are ready for you." I asked him if I could bring my water bottle in, he said I could, but that I couldn't drink from it because this "was an interview." How silly of me. I hoped that my mouth wouldn't get dry from talking.

I walked through the double doors into a room comparable in size to the one that I had just left. The room was bare except for a long table with four chairs separating the room into two halves and a single folding chair situated about halfway between the table and the window.

I don't remember if I was asked to take a seat, but I did anyways. I felt like I was in an interrogation room. ("Mr. Villagomez, where were you the night of the murders?")

There were three other people in the room besides the young Japanese man that had led me in. One was a young woman with very distinct Japanese mannerisms, the second was an older Japanese woman and the third was an American, probably a former JET.
The interview started as soon as I sat down. There were no introductions. Nada. Nothing.

The asked a few ice breaker questions as I was getting settled, "did you drive" and "how was traffic", but I had hardly sat down when the younger Japanese woman said in a Japanese accent, "tell us about yourself."

Here we go. The next twenty minutes would determine my fate for the next three years.

Each interviewer asked a string of questions. They each had a copy of my application in front of them and most of the questions seemed to come off of my answers and my statement of purpose. They asked me a lot of questions about Saipan, LCV, and a few about Emily. They asked me how I planned to prepare and what I had done to study Japan in the past. They never got specific. I was prepared to answer some trivia questions, but was never asked any.

I think I did a good job. I don't want to get into my answers to the questions in this blog because I think that is something that each interviewer should come up with on there own, but I will tell you that I did get a couple head nods out of the interviewers. I also got a couple of smiles. The American, who turned out to be a former JET, was the most receptive to my answers. He was the only one to give me any immediate feedback on my answers. When I was asked how I would answer a question about American politics, I answered that I would present both sides of the coin and explain that in America people have very different opinions on lots of different issues. He told me that it was a very good answer because Japanese students of English are warned not to ask Americans about politics because Americans are very passionate about politics and are easily upset.

The young Japanese man never asked any questions. He was more of a moderator. His only job was to lead me in, ask the interviewers if they had any more questions, and to lead me out (I found out later that he was the JET coordinator for the Miami Consulate).

Then it was over. I didn't have a watch on, but the whole thing couldn't have lasted longer than 20 minutes. The end of the interview was very anticlimatic. I was told that I would receive an email on April 4th with the decision.

So I wait.

Just a note on waiting:

I feel like this job is a test in patience. Wait for your confirmation that the application was recieved, wait for the interview announcement, wait for the interview, and then wait for the job announcements. On April 4th (if I am accepted) we will probably have to wait some more to find out where we are being placed. I'm amazed at how long the process is. The process takes well over 6 months. It more than just a test of your abilities and experience, JET is also a test of patience and endurance.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

My Interview Questions

The interview took about 20 minutes. I was asked questions by a panel of three interviewers. Each interviewer took turns asking me questions. When each was finished, they went around and asked a few more questions.

I don't really remember the exact order of the questions and I had to paraphrase a few of the questions, but these are basically what I was asked.

1. Did you drive here?
2. How was traffic?

Ice is broken, onto the good stuff:

3. Tell us about yourself?
4. What do you expect from JET?
5. So you are applying to Nova and Aeon? Can you compare JET and Nova?
6. How would you answer a question from a student or a colleague about American politics?
7. What would you want people to know about your home?
8. What are you interested in participating in while you are in Japan?
9. Why did you pick the 3 prefectures that you picked?
10. Why didn't you get in when you applied in 2000?
11. Do you have any experience teaching English as a second language?
12. Do you like children?
13. Do you mind speaking in front of a group?
14. Tell us about your job with LCV.
15. What was the worst thing about that job?
16. What was the best thing about that job?
17. What will you do to prepare for JET?
18. What have you done to study Japan?
19. Talk about your Japanese speaking ability.
20. What are your future aspirations?
21. How will JET help me?
22. Why JET and not grad school?
23. What will you do if your fiance is placed in a different prefecture?
24. What will you do if either you or your fiance are not accepted into JET?
25. Have you applied for Nova?
26. Do you expect to have any problems adapting to a new culture?
27. What are your interests in America?
28. What are you looking forward to experiencing in Japan?
29. Do you have any formal study of Japanese culture?
30. How do you feel about seasons?
31. How do you feel about the cold?
32. How will you learn Japanese?
33. What will you get out of teaching English in Japan?

Again, the questions aren't in any order.

I wasn't asked any facts about Japan. I didn't have to name five famous people or five famous places. I think I got off really easy. I only had to talk about myself. That's easy to do; I've known myself my whole life. I just had to be honest.

Well, we'll see how I did on April 4th. Nothing to do now but wait.

Now for the wait

The interview went well. I'll get more specific in a future post, but now we just have to wait them out. We find out on April 4th if we get in (unless of course we are put on stand-by, in which case we might not find out until July, if we get in at all)

Monday, February 21, 2005

Advice from a JET interviewer

Yesterday was my first experience sitting on a JET interview panel, and it was interesting to see the inner workings of the selection process. Since this will probably be my last time interviewing (I'm going on an extended stint abroad in April), I thought it couldn't hurt to share some of the things I observed.

The panel was composed of myself (JET alumni), a semi-retired International Relations professor who recruits for other exchange programs, and a career Japanese diplomat. We each filled out evaluation forms and averaged the scores, although other panels might have handled their scoring differently. It was pretty easy to reach a consensus on who passed, who would be an alternate, and who failed the interview as some were obviously outstanding while others we were uncertain about.

As for the weight of the interview, while it is true that Tokyo makes the final decision, it is rare that they go against the opinion of the reviewers/interviewers.

A couple of weeks before the interviews we were sent a packet giving us an idea of what JET was looking for in interviewees. We based our questions on the application form, and essay. I mostly asked questions about approach to teaching and cultural adaptibility issues, the prof asked questions about knowledge of American and Japanese cultures, interests, personality issues, etc. The diplomat did the Japanese language quizzing and asked about perceptions of Japan, its education system, etc. There is no set format for the interview - we asked different questions to each interviewee, at our discretion - so there is no way to "cheat" on the interview. We did some role-play, we asked some current events questions, we even threw some left-field questions out there just to see how the person would react.

Here are some pointers:

- SPEAK SLOWLY AND CLEARLY. It is an almost automatic fail if the native Japanese speaker cannot understand your English.

- SMILE. While you don't have to be super-genki, a glum/nervous disposition means many points off.

- DON'T EXAGGERATE - it's better to say no Japanese than say you speak japanese and then can't do a basic introduction. Another thing I noticed is that some people wrote about interests or experiences on their application that they were not able to explain very well in the interview. This looks bad.

- BE INTERESTING - some people seemed to be reciting things they had practiced in front of the mirror at home. Others seemed more genuine and gave thoughtful answers to our questions, even if they weren't the "correct" answers.

- KNOW SOMETHING - we were disturbed by the fact that some people had very little knowledge of current events, American history, or Japan. Some expressed an interest in Japan but had seemingly done very little to pursue that interest other than applying to JET.

That's all I can think of right now. We passed 6 out of the 10 people we interviewed, with a couple possibly ending up as alternates. I was impressed with the level of applicants; there were no truly bad interviews, just some that were obviously better than others.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The ensemble is complete

I bought a shirt and tie at Express to compliment the Calvin Klein suit. Total cost for ensemble: $540.

I had better get this job.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Yet another e-mail

I forgot to mention that we got a reminder e-mail about the upcoming interview. We had to write back and confirm that we would be there.

Nothing to special.

I just want to report everything about the interview process.

I've got the clothes...

I bought my interview suit this afternoon at Bloomingdales. I won't say how much it cost, but it is totally pimp. It is a black pin stripe suit made by Calvin Klein.

Now all I need is a new shirt and a new tie.

I hope I get this job.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Scary JET Acceptance stats!

"If you are curious, this year we received almost 5,000 applications and granted about 2,670 interviews in the U.S. We expect to accept about 1,400 candidates this year. As for the other statistics that you would like to know, you would have to get in touch with the main office in Tokyo. They are in charge of all the participants from all over the world. They have those statistics. We only handle the reviewing of the U.S. applications and the interviewing of the applicants from the Washington, D.C area. Good luck."

That's a grand total of 28 percent who actually make it all the way through. *gnaws nails*

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

6 days and counting...

I'm still working out the details of our intinerary, but it looks like we are leaving on Tuesday morning and driving the 250 miles to Miami. My interview is at 1 PM, so we are going to leave Orlando around 6 AM. Seven hours is plenty of time.

Check in at the hotel is at 3 PM and Emily interviews at 5 PM.

The hotel is in South Beach and the consulate is in downtown Miami, so I'm a little worried that if we try to check in to the hotel between interviews that we'll get stuck in traffic on the way back to Emily's interview.

If you miss your interview you can't reschedule.

Maybe I could go check into the hotel and leave Emily near the consulate. We'll see. Maybe the hotel will let us check in early. Then we could drive over right after my interview, which I expect will only last about 20 minutes.

So anyways, the name of the hotel is Haddon Hall Hotel South Beach. It is supposedly right in the middle of everything, but we shall see. I opted for the hotel on South Beach so that we wouldn't have to worry about parking the car when we go out Tuesday night and when we go to the beach Wednesday morning. The other option was getting a room close to the consulate.

I already charged the room to my card. It was $114. Let's just say that I'm really 'interested' to see what this place is like. $114 for a room on South Beach sounds dirt cheap to me. I hope we didn't book a room in a roach motel.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Reasons for not being accepted

Someone on the Livejournal JET Community posted thier letter of non-acceptance. I found this part interesting:

Generally speaking, the following are some of the most common reasons applicants are not selected: missing documents (such as official transcripts, proof of graduation, recommendation letters, or proof of study abroad) and/or failure to meet eligibility requirements or to effectively address necessary points in statement of purpose.

It sounds to me like the reasons for not getting an interview have more to do with following the directions in the application packet than with being more or less qualified than other candidates. In fact, the letter mentions nothing about your answers to the questions in the application.

I find that really interesting. It looks like the application portion of the job selection process is more of a filter to weed out people who can't follow directions. After all, all of the applicants are technically qualified for the job since we all have degrees and we all speak English.

Of course I might be completely wrong on this and I might sound like a self-righteous asshole right now, but I have a feeling that I might be right.

I will now step off of my pedestal and post the 'necessary points' that are needed in the statement of purpose:

1. Reasons for wishing to participate in the JET program
2. Why I want to go to Japan
3. Why I am interested in the ALT position

Make a case using:

1. Past/present experience
2. Professional skills
3. Relevant interests
4. Personal qualities
5. How I feel these will be useful to me as an ALT

Address:

1. What I hope to gain
2. Personally
3. Professionally
4. What effect I hope to have on the international and Japanese community as a result of my participation in the JET program

Friday, February 11, 2005

Eleven days until the interview...

I finished reading Learning to Bow by Bruce Feiler last night. The book is an account of his year in a rural town teaching for JET. It is a fascinating read, covering his daily experiences with his students and co-workers and peppered with little lessons for potential JETters.

After reading his book I have come to the realization that I am in trouble because I DON'T SPEAK ANY JAPANESE! I know that a lot of JETters don't speak the language and that if they can do it, I can do it, but it still freaks me out. With the exception of China, I have always been able to get by in a country by speaking English. Signs are in English. People speak English. My guidebook is in English.

Japan won't be like that. Feiler writes about how Japanese can list off the 500 English words that they have to know by the 9th grade, but how the average Japanese couldn't walk into a store to buy a pack of gum.

I am going to have to learn Japanese and I am going to have to learn it fast. There are going to be enough communication barriers between me and my new Japanese friends. I don't need language to be an even larger barrier.

Although, Feiler does write that pretending to not understand often comes in handy...like when you were little and you get in trouble and your excuse is that you didn't understand the instructions.

At least I know how to say that I'm hungry.

I can build off of that.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

What are your favorite American holidays?

So Superbowl Sunday technically isn't a holiday, but i would argue that it is a very important day in American culture. So how would you explain Superbowl Sunday to a Japanese student?

That's a loaded question...

Clifford Geertz would argue that the Superbowl is just a metephor for life in America. The Angry Sicilian would argue that it represents American Capitalism and Imperialism.

What would you say?



Choosing out the appropriate holiday gifts for each person can be tough but worth the effort.


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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Got Questions?

Emily and I are going to practice for the interview. We scoured the Internet for possible questions that the JET interviewers might ask. Here are some of them:

What made you decide that you wanted to apply to the JET program?
How do you see yourself being different from someone else applying for the JET program?
Have you always felt comfortable living in your home country?
Do you have an interest in Japanese culture?
What do you plan to teach your students about your culture when you get to Japan?
What would you do if you were ‘groped’ on the train?
What would you say are the highlights of your countries history?
What do you think makes a good ALT?
What do you know about Japan?
Who are five famous people in Japan?
What are five famous places in Japan?
What is happening in the news in Japan recently?
Tell us about your experiences in teaching?
Why do you think that you are a good candidate for this position?
Can you name five American authors?
How would you contribute to international understanding?
Do you have anything that you would like to ask us?
Will it be OK if you and Emily are placed in different towns?
What do you do if there is a rowdy boy in your class?
In what ways do you expect education in Japan to be different from education in America?
What kind of negative experiences do you anticipate and how do you plan on dealing with them?
What will you do if your partner does not get in?
If you had plans for the weekend, and the school asked you to stay for a school function, what would you do?
The Japanese can be prejudiced against people of other Asian descent. How would you deal with this?
What is your favorite holiday and why? How would you teach about the history, cultural values, and celebration of that holiday?


That's a good start, don't you think?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Learning to Bow

Finally!

Today is my last day of training at the job that I won't identify due to fear of being fired. Thank God! Tomorrow I start making cash.

In other news...

Emily and I are really excited about our JET interviews (20 days and counting). Yesterday I started reading a book by a former JET participant. Titled "Learning to Bow", the book chronicles the author's year in a rural Japanese town. It is more than just a history of his daily goings-on (is that a word? It is now). It talks about some of the larger, I guess I would call them themes, of Japanese culture. I've only read the first couple of chapters, but he talks about the hierarchy of the society, the difference between your personal and professional relationships and how they intermingle, and then some of the less important things, like how the Japanese love talking about the changing of the seasons. I'm going to try to finish it up in the next couple of days so that I can move on to studying some of the more statistical aspects of Japan in preparation for my interview (i.e. population, prime minister, stuff like that).

Interview Confirmed!

I got the e-mail confirming when and where my interview will take place. It looks like I'll be heading down to Miami on Tuesday, February 22. My interview is at 1:40. Maybe I'LL be the first person to be interviewd!

That is three weeks from today. That's really soon.

Emily interviews later that same day. This certainly makes life a lot easier. Now we can plan on driving down together and maybe getting a hotel together. I interview first and she interviews four hours later. I'll probably start drinking right after my interview, so she can expect drunk Angelo to greet her when she gets out of hers.