Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Big Re-Contracting Question

So Winter's fast approaching, and when we're not busy doing everything to protect ourselves from the overnight transition to Arctic temperatures, there's one thing that's on every JET's mind: re-contracting. Despite having only been here for little over three months, now's the time when we JETs find ourselves being delivered our re-contracting papers and asked whether we want to stay in Japan for another year or not. The deadline's not until Feburary - but even then, whatever way it goes, the decision will have been made after just six months in Japan, and, if we say YES to re-contracting, will bind us for a further EIGHTEEN... so, in short, there's a lot to think about.

A large part of my reason for coming to Japan in the first place was my experience as a teacher in Seoul for two months back in 2009. Having spent almost double that same period of time in Japan now, I can see that the two experiences don't really compare. First of all, Seoul, being Korea's capital, is a HUGE city: a bustling metropolis of over 10 million people. Johen, on the other hand, is about as inaka (rural) as it gets... with a dwindling population of around 9,000 and not even a train station to its name. The closest thing to a "big city" we have is Matsuyama, and that's three-and-a-half-hours away, with a population 1/20th the size of Seoul's. That's certainly taken some getting used to.

Whilst adapting to a rural lifestyle has perhaps been one of the more difficult parts of my life on JET so far, not everything about the inaka is a negative. As you may have gathered from my previous posts and photographs, Johen really is a beautiful town. I've never lived in the countryside, so living in an apartment surrounded by mountains, rivers and rice fields has been a first, and an amazing one at that. What's more, being the only foreign teacher in my town, I'm way more a part of the community than I ever could have been in Seoul. Just popping to the local shops, I'll be surprised if I don't bump into someone along the way who greets me with a bow and a "Hello, Jim-sensei!"... or more usually, it'll be a group of my kids who will run up to me screaming it. For the hundreds of times it's happened so far, it still hasn't lost its ability to leave me grinning like a goon.

Another big difference is the job itself. In Korea, I was privately hired by a summer school, teaching classes no bigger than two students with lesson plans I was responsible for making single-handedly. Here, my class sizes range from six to forty students... and not once have I had to actually plan a lesson. Most days, I simply arrive at school and am asked "Jim, can you come to this period?", where I'll turn up and make the most of whatever my JTE's prepared for that day's class. That’s not to say I have no creative input in what we teach. But it does mean that the work burden is much less than I experienced in Seoul. Unsurprisingly, then, I inevitably find myself with a lot of free time. Sometimes, too much. Of course every JET will find themselves in a different situation... but from where I'm sitting, the job is very comfortable indeed. And, of course, teaching a class of forty is much more exciting than teaching a class of two! There are twenty times the number of personalities in the room, twenty times more kids to mess around with and twenty times the number of jokes to share. In terms of the actual work I do here, Japan wins hands down.

That being so, why isn’t the decision to re-contract a simple one? Well, there’s no disputing that I’m still not fully adapted to the inaka lifestyle. Sometimes there can be days, even whole weeks when I won’t have a proper conversation in English to another person, and my Japanese isn’t good enough to fill the void. That can be pretty tough. Often I envy the other JETs who have a bevy of English-speaking co-workers on their doorstep. Here in Johen, it’s literally just me. And sometimes that in itself can be enough to make me think about not re-contracting.

But then the other part of me thinks that re-contracting wouldn’t be saying no to another year, it would be quitting. Sure, there are things about my life in Japan here that haven’t come easy, but if I decide not to stay, part of me would feel like I’d given up trying to overcome those difficulties and taken the easy way out instead. And let’s not forget – not everything about life here is difficult... some of it is, simply put, amazing. The people, the places... the experiences I could never dream of having at home. I've blogged about them all enough for you to understand what I mean by now! Plus I’m still young enough where I can take this kind of time out without it having any real detrimental impact on my future. I've got the rest of my life to re-acquaint myself with life back in England. As big as the JET Programme is, this is still an amazing opportunity and perhaps deciding to stay for just one year doesn’t do justice enough to that fact. There’s still so much I love about Japan and I’d hate to get home and regret it.

So, as may be apparent... whilst my thought process is by no means conclusively pointing in one direction or the other, my gut tells me that I should stay another year. Expect another blog post when I make my mind up for definite.

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Anonymous Abby said...

Hey Jim! It's Abby - I've just been catching up on your blog while avoiding Criminal. It's amazing to read your thoughts, but it also makes me sad that I can't hear them face to face, over a bottle of rose! But that's not meant to sway you to come home - it sounds incredible out there. Lots of love and luck for the recontracting decision to come... and let's make a Skype date for this weekend!


December 7, 2011 at 11:11 PM  
Blogger stranger-in-seoul said...

Ahh so thrilled you're reading! ^^ And it's so disorentating that I now have to think of you as a law student! I want to hear ALL ABOUT how it's been going, AND ABOUT NEW YORK. Let's Skype this weekend for sure! xxx

December 8, 2011 at 9:21 AM  

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