Sunday, November 23, 2008

And Another Year Rolls By

So it has been, SHOCK, more than a year since I wrote anything. Fun fact: I started writing this post a few days before said one year anniversary, intending to do a proper "Brett Got Off His Lazy Ass and Wrote Something in his BLOG!" ceremony of sorts. Had I done that, however, there would be an unexpected surge of readership looking for cake, and this was the only cake I could find on such short notice:
Sure, this cake IS pretty awesome, and would probably sell extremely well here if the bottom text read in the Japanese "sekuhara" instead. But let's be honest with ourselves: In my year-long absence, did anybody expect me to be doing non-sexual-harassment related things? Believe you me, if the grocery store wasn't out of Irony, we'd be lined up halfway around the block with our paper plates and plastic forks. It was just not meant to be.

Since this is supposed to be a blog about my life abroad, I should probably say something about what I've been doing. The short version is that I've just been enjoying myself, though that shouldn't translate as "and updating this blog isn't enjoyable, so....". The non-updating part is mostly laziness, but it's also partially that I got caught up in ANOTHER blog (well, two, technically - but one of them sputtered out after a month) that is more post/research intensive. For the chronically curious, here's a link. Just don't come crying to me when your uninstalled Asian language pack makes it look like an ASCII monster vomited all over your monitor. You've been warned.

What spurred me to take up the mantle again is that this is, most likely, going to be my last year on JET. I haven't made it official yet: I still have to sign and turn in my decision by February. But I feel pretty sure right now that this will be it.

When I first started this job, my only sure decision was that I would stay on for at least two years. That made the first year of recontracting a piece of cake, especially when Jeff - one of my good friends here - decided to do the same thing. When the chance to recontract again rolled around it was also a pretty simple choice. I was having a great time and had a good base of native friends to fall back on once my foreign friends got out of town, which they by and large have (though some will be coming back). I also wanted to turn my efforts to writing and studying moreso than I had the previous two years in en effort to have a more effective springboard into employment somewhere else. While I have been studying more, my writing has been sorely lacking...which is part of why I want to write in this blog now, even though rambling about myself hardly constitutes a worthy narrative.

The forces influencing my decision of whether or not to recontract this year are of a completely different sort. First off, the JET program is fundamentally changing, by which I mean it's weakening. My prefecture is cutting back on almost every JET employee it can. If you choose not to recontract, there's a good chance your position will get taken up by a "private company" instead of another JET. Their reason for doing so is simple: money. JET is one of the highest paying jobs of its kind (ie. low qualification English teaching) because it's also one of the most expensive for the companies who hire us. They're expected not only to pay our salary, but also to fly us over here, fly us back home at the end, subsidize or flat-out pay for our housing, foot the bill for sending us to conferences, etc etc. When they go to a private company, however, they literally pay on a class-by-class basis. I don't know what the exact difference is, but it's enough that every school in my area seems to think it's worth it.

So why would a school hire a JET teacher in the first place? Again, a few reasons. First off is that with a higher salary will be higher competition, hopefully yielding a richer pool of employees. I can say without a doubt that this is not 100% true, as I have met both many JETs and a few private company teachers, and the JET is not always the higher quality pick. Still, the general trend would be there, you'd think. Beyond this, a JET employee is expected to be at school all the same times as the other teachers. This means you must still go to the school when students are not present, which is a complete bummer. One of the major perks of being a teacher - at least in the States - is the idea that you get all that vacation time. Not so in Japan. There are legends that a long time ago it was the same way in Japan, but then somebody raised issue with the fact that teachers were taking tax money to sit around at home over summer, and now the teachers take tax money to sit around in the school and spend even more on airconditioning. Well-played, Japanese tax payer. Well-played.

I could go on and on about this, but the short-and-sweet is that JET is losing its footing, and I have a whole bunch of other rats to join fleeing this ship. You might imagine that I'd rather hang on to such an opportunity as long as possible since it may soon be out of my reach, but JET's decline has other effects that are making that option less and less appealing. Since the school system is low on money, they are spreading their teachers as thinly as possibly. That means everybody's number of schools are going up, and often their numbers of classes are going up, too. I am definitely much busier than I have ever been my past two years on the program. I shouldn't be in a place to complain (oh no! My job is making me do work!), but when you assess the increasing work-load over the year, hanging around to see what new budget-crunching schedule will look like with even fewer teachers next year is not an enticing proposal. Especially when they're planning on raising the number of overall English classes, too.

JET has also reached the limit of what it can teach me. I came with the understanding that this would be a temporary job, and trying to carry it on for another year or two would be avoiding my future more than it would be progressing towards it. I have learned a lot from this job and will be forever grateful that I was accepted, but any employment with a 5-year limit on recontracting is by default a dead-end.

The notion that I will have to find a completely new job next year, however, is daunting. Since I will have to leave my current residents regardless, I will have to find a new place to live. It can very well be anywhere or anything, which is another topic I've yet to really wrap my head around. Everything in my life until this point has been the result of a pretty clear path. My entire academic career seems prescripted, and I was so set on getting into the JET program that I didn't apply to a single other job. Luckily for me, here I am. But where do I go now?

I have some prospects I'm checking out now on future jobs, but I don't want to talk about it too much here until things develop more. I'm a little superstitious and will keep it on the downlow until I have some real results to share, good or bad. Suffice to say that I'm excited, nervous, and all those feelings that crop up when you're reaching out for your future and you're not quite sure if you'll be able to grab it. But until I do hear back, maybe I'll manage to give you guys a few more posts on what may turn out to be my last year in Saga. Brett, out! (pardon shoddy editing. I figured you deserved a hastily assembled post over no post at all.)