The following are candid opinions from former Okinawa JETs on their experiences in the program. These range from topics of friendships in and outside of work, as well as subjective impressions on how foreigners are viewed in Okinawa—and for that reason, they are kept anonymous. Everyone’s experience in Okinawa is different, but if there is one common feeling among all JETs, it is this:
“Your experience in Japan is what you make of it.”
- You are hired to teach English! While you should definitely enjoy life in Japan to the fullest, don’t lose sight of what your job is and what you’ve been hired to do. Many students are counting on you—losing sight of this might not only jeopardize your contract, but may also let down the students who look up to you.
- Remember that you have come to Okinawa to work. This is not a paid vacation—don’t skip lectures, don’t get stupidly drunk on weekdays, don’t stroll into work late… do as you would do at any professional job and you’ll easily gain the affections and respect of your co-workers.
- COMMUNICATE with your JTEs. If they don’t come to you to ask about a lesson, go to them with your ideas and ask if they are busy. If they are busy, ask them when they are free and arrange a time to meet and discuss the lesson with them.
- Don’t get angry with students. You are here to make English fun, not frightening.
- Be patient. When you first get here, there are going to be a lot of things that need getting done, and as a normal Westerner, you are going to want to get them done quickly and very efficiently so that you can relax and really start enjoying the experience. In Japan though, there is always paperwork, often a waiting period, and usually things take a little longer or are a little more complicated than expected. So roll with it, and you will see that all will fall into place. People will help you out, things will get done, and you will end up with your internet/apartment/cell-phone/bank account/resident card/name stamp/etc. in due time!
- Be prepared to introduce yourself in Japanese frequently and with no notice. A short self-introduction will be fine.
- Come to Okinawa (and Japan) with an open mind. Be prepared to fit yourself to your surroundings in those first few months. I believe it’s the people who come here with preconceived ideas or with too much rigidity that have the most difficulty settling in. There will be things you don’t like. There will be things you like a lot. Just relax and take it all in your stride. If you can do this, it’ll be awesome.
- Apply for a JAL or ANA mileage credit card as soon as you can, and use it to pay for as many things as possible. If you use it often, you will easily be able to go on 2 or more free domestic flights a year.
- It really helped me to learn the names of as many of the staff as possible. Learn the names of noisy kids, kids that really like English, and the ones that keep telling you their names and want you to learn them. You can try for the rest of the kids if you want, but if you’re not sure, it was better for me not to try to guess. The students don’t expect you to know everyone, and they don’t like it when you get it wrong.
- Socialize with the teachers and try to pitch in with cleaning, helping at sports days, etc. Your attitude will be appreciated at least, even if sometimes they’re too busy to help find you a job to do. There will be endless social errors on your part, you have to get used to that. You can try to minimize them by paying attention to your mistakes, reading guides to living in Japan, practicing eating with chopsticks, learning Japanese, etc. Smile, be polite, try to send out good vibes, and no one will be offended.
- There might be a teacher who totally ignores you and seems sort of grumpy. Sometimes this is just somebody who’s a bit shy around foreigners and feels like they don’t have the energy to try to communicate. Don’t write them off, because they may eventually become very friendly!
- It is possible to walk faster than Japanese automatic doors can open.
- Speak to shopkeepers in Japanese, even bad Japanese, and there is a possibility they will give you cookies and tea.
- Don’t be upset if people are staring. Now you’ll understand how superstars feel!
- Even if you don’t drink, try to go to nomikai with your teachers. Many people are too shy to talk to you in formal situations. You will make friends and your school life will be infinitely better for it.
- It is advisable to complement students and teachers regularly. Even though you might find certain cultural aspects bizarre, it is best to cement good relationships at work amongst the teachers and students alike. This will be of great assistance later.
- Approach your situations positively.
- Be punctual. Dress nicely.
- Volunteer your services but don’t overdo it. You will regret it later.
- Always keep a Japanese study book even if you don’t feel like studying. Teachers will be pleased to see that you are interested in learning the language. Avoid using shared computers too often. Other teachers need it. They probably wouldn’t tell you and just wait.
- Don’t be in a rush to return home if things aren’t going so well. They might change for the better and you will be regretful.
- Walk around your neighborhood. This is good for exercise since your body will be going through a tremendous change: stress and diet. This will also help you to familiarize yourself with the neighborhood and meet new neighbors.