Ready, JET, Go

SUNY New Paltz students interested in teaching or Japanese culture have an opportunity to combine both passions in a unique program that was recently presented to the campus in an information session.

On Tuesday, Oct. 29, SUNY New Paltz students gathered in SUB 409 to learn of opportunities to teach English overseas through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, or JET.

The JET program, founded in 1987, is a government-sponsored program that brings more than 4,000 native-English speakers to teach in Japanese public schools, according to the official website. Nearly half of the participants, hailing from more than 40 countries, are from the United States.

Former linguistics professor and JET participant Nathen Clerici facilitated the information session, which attracted 25 students and featured Japanese Consulate Representative Noriko Furuhata as a speaker.

“Noriko showed a few short videos about the program, including a few examples of what life and work is like for participants,” Clerici said. “Then she talked about some of the details of application, remuneration and the support system in the program.”

The event’s other speaker was a New Paltz alumni  and a participant of the JET program from 2009 to 2013, Serena Winchell. She discussed her experiences, showed pictures and answered questions.

The session, which lasted about 70 minutes, wrapped up with a question-and-answer portion for both speakers, according to Clerici.

“A few people stayed around afterward to carry on the conversation,” Clerici said. “The attendees responded by asking many questions. They are in various stages of their applications and had different concerns. Some are not graduating this year, and we’re here to see if JET is something they’d like to pursue in the future.”

One thing students learned at the meeting was that though a college degree is required to apply for the JET program, it doesn’t have to be in teaching or the Japanese language.

Lisa Petro, who participated in the JET program from 2009 to 2010, entered the JET program with an undergraduate degree in art education, which she said helped keep her grounded in her work.

Clerici was an international language major and Russian minor before participating in JET.

Clerici has flexed both his teaching and business muscles. After teaching English through the JET program from 1999-2001, he received his master’s degree in Japanese literature and then moved back to Japan to work in purchasing for a wood company.

Now a professor of linguistics, Clerici said the JET experience was a direct impact on his career path and the reason he wanted to facilitate an information session for interested students.

“[JET] is a good chance to reflect on what you’ve done and where you want to go,” he said. “It can appeal to people with various aspirations, like if you want to teach, or if you want to go to graduate school.”

For Petro, the attraction was simple. Besides a personal draw to Japanese culture and a classmate’s suggestion, JET’s reputation stood out to her.

“There are many programs out there for teaching abroad, but JET is one of the most prestigious and widely recognized,” Petro said.

With prestige comes competition. Petro said the application process was “intense.”

“You begin in October with the application and an essay. You have to wait until February to even find out if you scored an interview and then from there, you wait until April to find out if you are selected,” Petro said. “It is quite exhilarating, but also, really taught me to roll with life, because here you are waiting to find out if your entire life will be changing in the next year. Moving abroad alone is not small task.”

Clerici said JET candidates can improve their chances by teaching English on a volunteer basis and taking a class on Japanese culture and that overall, “if you have a good personality, you have a good shot.”

Petro said the best candidate for JET is someone who is confident, flexible and responsible.

“If you have an appetite for learning, are open minded, and willing to get the most out of every experience that comes your way, then you are a great candidate for JET,” Petro said. “Teaching experiences, whether you are seasoned or not, will come. Resume building opportunities will be there. Chances at discovering yourself are all over. It is in the adventure that JET really exists.”