Work as a JET ALT and Life in Japan
Contributed in Feb, 2009

“Charis sensei, a boy was sent to the nursing room after your lesson…”

“What?!!!” I couldn’t believe my ears. What could I have done to a 16-year-old boy during my very first lesson in Hello Kitty Land?
“The student felt sick after eating the DURIAN candy you had given him,” my Japanese colleague told me. I felt like a criminal… (*^*;)

That was my first blunder. Of course there were more, in and outside the classroom. But I learnt from my experiences. So instead of giving away durian candies intended for cultural exchange, I let/encouraged/forced them to take a whiff from the lethal pack of candies. Nobody was "harmed" from then on. Yeah!

In fact, I had never thought about working and living in Japan or even learning the Japanese language. However, the chain of events before I came to Japan led my husband and I here. Japan has been really good to us so far, and we are very grateful for that.

“Every Situation is Different”
I am a 4th year Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) on the JET Programme. I was based in Niigata Prefecture during my first two years and now I am based in Mie Prefecture. Due to my relocation from one prefecture to another, I have had the privilege to experience teaching kindergarteners to senior high students, have a taste of the snowy winter in Niigata, and live in the countryside in contrast to where I am now. “Every situation is different” we were told during the Tokyo orientation when we first got here. How true!

Life and Work in Japan

I will not write about the cultural shocks which I’ve come across, or else it will not be fun for the future JET participants. I love new experiences, going to festivals, interacting with the local people, participating in international cultural exchange events, learning the Japanese language, exploring places to go to and savouring all sorts of Japanese cuisine.

I will never forget:

• my first time going to a hot spring (first time being naked in front of so many others and seeing so many naked women),
• my first time driving on icy roads (controlling a rear-wheel drive car in the snow is more exciting than playing a make-believe car racing computer game),
• doing a night climb up Mount Fuji (the queue up was incredibly long and it was c..c..c-old!)
The "list of unforgettables" is inexhaustible.

Personally, I think a great part of my job consists of being an ambassador of Singapore to Japan and promoting cultural exchange. Some students (and even adults) find it hard to comprehend the concept of multiculturalism in Singapore and despite my brief self-introduction, some still thought I was from Malaysia or China. It was hard sometimes so I engaged the help of the Merlion and came up with the “Mer-Charis”. That was a hit with the students and the teachers, and more importantly, it drove home the message that I am from Singapore. Hopefully, that would help put Singapore on the world map conjured in their minds.

The JET Programme has provided me a great opportunity to gain more exposure and to know myself better. I have learnt from the never-say-die spirit of the Japanese people (I am still amazed by how quickly they pick themselves up after losing their homes in a major earthquake). I am also awed by the Japanese' politeness, graciousness and good service attitude.

Japan will always have a special place in my heart. It feels like I am returning home whenever I fly back to Japan from overseas. For those who are interested in embarking on the JET Programme, keep an open mind, be positive and have a sense of humour. With these attitudes, I’m sure you will enjoy yourself and gain even more from it all.