London Pre-departure Orientation

London Pre-Departure Orientation was a big marker in terms of my JET departure countdown. This was the point where I’d be handing over my passport and finally getting my hands on those important travel details which might actually make me feel like I was going to leave the country!

 

I decided to travel down to London the night before. I really don’t trust the trains in the UK, and there are cheaper deals if you’re happy to travel outside of rush hour. I left the office at normal time on the afternoon of Wednesday 12th, and headed down to London. I arrived in good time and managed to navigate across the tube to Queen Mary’s University where we’d be staying. I was a bit surprised when I actually got onto the campus, because there seemed to be hundreds of people in different coloured tracksuits all over the place. It was like I’d wandered into the Olympics! I later found out that there were some para-athletic championships going on in London and the athletes were staying on the same campus as us. I found the security office so that I could check in, and after waiting for Mauritius to finish complaining about the lack of water in their rooms, I received my key and instructions on how to find my room. As I was leaving, I heard the security guard say “oh and you’re in the same flat” to another chap, and that’s how I met Chris from Ireland! It was nice to have some company as we went to try and find our flat, and to have someone to talk to about all things JET. The accommodation they provide at Queen Mary is basically student flats, so everyone gets their own room in a shared flat, with a kitchen. Each flat has it’s own en suite which is tiny but perfectly functional.

 

I woke bright and early on Thursday morning having decided to go for a run before breakfast. I find running really relaxing (I know, it’s weird) but I wanted to start the day feeling relaxed rather than super hyped up. I decided to head up the canal to Victoria Park and investigate up there. It was a beautiful morning to run, and I saw a lot of lovely dogs on my way which is another good reason to run. I was a bit annoyed with myself when I got home, because I’d been on pace to absolutely smash my 10k PR, but I stopped at 9.5k and didn’t realise until I’d showered! The rage….

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After a quick shower, it was time to get dressed and head off to breakfast. The breakfast is included in the room price and it’s very good value for London. It was then off to the opening of the orientation where we received our flight details and travel information. Bye bye passport! It was still quite early, so I sat outside with new friends before heading in and being “orientated”. We had a selection of interesting talks throughout the day before we got a break for lunch. There are a few interesting cafes on site so I headed off to the nearest one with girl friends Laura, Ami (she will reappear in later posts!) and Sara. Then we had more talks and we were done for the day. After all my excursions I was exhausted and headed off to a Sainsbury’s local for a gourmet dinner! Sometimes at these events it feels like there’s a lot of pressure to make new friends and to talk to people so it’s important to take some time out to recover. Not to mention that while it was great to meet London JETs, some people at London you may never see again (or at least only in passing in the Keio Plaza!).

 

The next day we were up early, packed and checked out after breakfast. We had a whole day of Japanese classes so Chris and I headed our separate ways with many “good lucks!”. I was in the intermediate class, so went to find that. It was an interesting class but my Japanese felt rusty so I was a bit ‘rabbit in the headlights’ to start with! At lunch, I bought a sandwich and sat with another new friend Sarah by the riverbank.

When classes finished, it was off to the Embassy for the reception. I was sort of adopted by the Scottish contingent which was a very symbiotic relationship as I knew the route on the tube and they gave me friends! We got to the Embassy in enough time to eat some dinner at the local Pret which was a good idea as there was about to be a LOT of champagne. The reception was good fun. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but there was lots of alcohol flowing, some toasts and speeches, and some excellent sushi (even for a vegetarian like me!) I was sad that I couldn’t stay very long, but I at least got to meet and thank the lady who interviewed me. That felt like a really nice conclusion to the application side of JET and almost like I was closing a door on that section of life. After a few short hours I had to roll to Kings Cross to catch the last train back to the frozen north, ready for my Goodbye Party the next day.

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JET: The Interview

14/12/2016. A normal day like any other. I had a day off work for a little pre-Christmas holiday and I was in Leeds to meet some friends for lunch. After getting totally lost, we managed to find each other in a Pret, and had sat down with our sandwiches. After a while I checked my phone and noticed an email notification had come in. I quickly checked it expecting my normal spam from Booking.com or Fat Face, but instead I read:

“Dear Ms Jenifer Vosper
It is our pleasure to invite you to interview for the position of Assistant Language Teacher on the 2017 Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme.”

I think I froze, then shrieked a bit. Luckily I had some friends to tell immediately as I felt like I was going to burst with the news. I read the email about ten times, made sure I replied and started thinking about how I was going to get to London for the interview.

 

11/01/2016. The Day of the Interview

I’d got the train down to London the night before because I don’t trust the transport system in the country not to go to shit when I need it most! I stayed in a little hotel near Paddington station because it was the closest and cheapest I could find to the Embassy. My interview wasn’t until the afternoon so I had most of the day to entertain myself in London.

I decided that since I was training for a marathon, the first thing I would do that morning was run 14 miles around Hyde Park. This was kind of a good idea in that it stopped my brain from churning over potential interview questions and it gave me an outlet for my nervous energy. On the flip side, running 14 miles is quite a lot. I got back in good time to shower and check out the hotel, but I was already pretty tired by the time I left the hotel and I still had a few hours to kill. Luckily it wasn’t raining, so I went back to Hyde Park and explored a bit. I had a meal in the Italian Gardens Cafe on the north side of the park which was really nice, and people watched (dog watched!) a bit.

I then walked down to Buckingham Palace (finding the Embassy on the way) and then sat in a little cafe until about half an hour before my interview. I made sure I was still looking presentable in the cafe bathroom, then headed over to the Embassy.

At the Embassy I handed over my print out of the interview email and my passport and had my overnight bag scanned by the security team who were really nice.

I then checked in at reception and was ushered to the left through some glass doors into a large room which looked very odd with only two sofas and a table in it. I imagine they normally use this room for receptions and things which is why it didn’t have any furniture in it other than the sofas and the huge chandeliers!

I was still early so I expected to wait, but it wasn’t long before I was joined by another girl who had an interview and we were then gathered up and escorted upstairs. Our escorts were JET alumni who did their best to make us feel at ease but I definitely felt too on edge to do anything other than make polite conversation. We were led into a side room and given a short test of our English skills. It..wasn’t hard. Easy spelling mistakes and the odd bit of grammar to correct. We then had the opportunity to chat with our escorts before we were led to our interview rooms to wait.

The interviewee before me came out and the escorts asked her how she thought she’d done. She sort of had a look of shell shock so I wasn’t feeling too great about the process by the time I was called in.

My interviewers were two ladies, an English lady and a Japanese lady. They were very friendly and tried really hard to put me at ease which I appreciated. I didn’t get any unexpected questions really, things like “What do you like most about Japan?” and “Why do you want to do JET?” were questions I already had answers too. I got myself in a bit of a knot when asked what my favourite British value was.. I came back with “Integrity” but then I decided that was probably a global value and cue a waffling speech about integrity… if anything I guess it showed I have a large vocabulary!

There was one question which they apologised for before they said it, saying that it was quite personal. I braced myself for something horrific, but really they were just commenting on my hair. At the time I had half brown, half pink dip dye and I knew they were probably going to say something about it. They asked how I would feel if a headteacher at a school told me it was inappropriate to have. I told them I was intending to get it cut off before going anyway and that seemed to satisfy them. I miss my pink hair but it’s not worth the stress of being judged or even just thinking you’re being judged when you start a new job in a different country.

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I miss my pink hair

My favourite question was probably “How will you find getting up in the morning for work everyday? Will you struggle?”. I pointed out I’ve managed it for 6 years in this country and they sort of laughed.

We finished with a short Japanese conversation. I put that I’d been studying it and at this point I do confess that I sort of panicked. I think my day wandering (and running) around London had caught up to me and my brain was exhausted. We got through a few phrases about food before I bailed out with a “Sumimasen, wakarimasen…” At least I apologised in Japanese!

I left the room and tried not to burst into tears in front of the escorts from relief that it was over! I thought I’d done the best I could but I wasn’t confident in the result. At the very least, I told myself it was good interview practice. I made my way back to Kings Cross (I WALKED THE ENTIRE WAY WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME). I had a huge meal at the Italian place in Kings Cross along with a large G&T before getting the train back to the North.

All that was left to do was wait for the results….

 

JET: The Application

I’m going to start this blog in the past. The JET Programme starts with an application, and what a beast of an application it is. It’s quite complicated to get together and I am sure it acts as a preliminary sorting tool for applicants. After all, if you can’t follow the bureaucracy of this mammoth application, how will you survive in a foreign country by yourself!

The UK JET Programme website provides a really handy timeline of the application which I made sure to study religiously before applying. You can find it here. I had decided that I wanted to apply all the way back in April 2016, so I had plenty of time to make myself a timeline and work out when certain things needed to happen by. My advice for applying to JET is to start as early as possible. Not only do you reduce stress by getting things sorted, but if anything unexpected happens, you’ll be really prepared.

Onto the application itself. Within your application you actually have four applications – so be prepared to do an unholy amount of photocopying.

Application Form: Bureaucratic but do-able. You can’t do this before they open the application period but it’s fairly straightforward once they do. Just be prepared to sit down and get it done. Triple check your answers. Then check again.

Self-Assessed Medical Form: Easy enough provided you have no medical issues. I had a recent op which meant I had to get a statement of physician as well. From what I can tell, physical ailments are not normally a barrier to success so I wouldn’t worry about disclosing them. If you get to an interview and it’s an obvious issue they’ll find out then anyway.

Statement of Physician: Only needed if you’ve disclosed something on the self-assessment. Bye bye £120 for a doctor to take one look at me and say my knee still works. Seeing as how I’ve played rugby and run a 17 mile obstacle race since my op, I think I could have told him that. But it’s belt and braces to make sure it doesn’t look like you’re hiding anything.

Authorisation and Release Form: I honestly don’t even remember this. I think it was just a case of signing it?

Personal Statement: Probably the most important thing after getting the application form right. This is where you can show that you’re a person and not just someone who can tick boxes on a form. I started writing this months before the applications opened and had it printed and ready to go before the applications opened. Try to read the Key Points section on their website and answer these as concisely as you can while still coming across as someone with a personality. And for heaven’s sake remember to check the requirements for printing.

Academic Transcript: Easy. I ordered a new copy from my University for the grand total of £10. I then found another one lying around but oh well.. now I have a spare!

Proof of Degree: Easy (once I’d dug out my degree certificate). Might be harder if you’re a current student, but I imagine you could get this before October.

Passport Photo: Why do I always look like a psychopath in these? As per usual I lost any I might have had before, took new ones, then found the old ones…

Proof of Nationality: Easy if you have a passport. If you don’t…why on earth don’t you have a passport already when you want to move abroad? Get a passport now, then all you have to do is photocopy it.

References: You can get these way before. I happen to have a very nice and flexible work place so I actually got my manager and a director to write me my references. Both of them actually asked me to proof read them too which was reassuring as there is a very specific list of requirements they have to meet. Not everywhere will be so accommodating but if you can get them early, get them early. Particularly because they have to be copied in triplicate and signed over which is just mean to the referee if you ask me.

Extras: I had a TEFL cert so I had copies of that in there too.

 

Then once you’ve got it all together, everything gets photocopied a million times (4) then put into different bull dog clips, then into one MASSIVE envelope, then posted. For peace of mind I used recorded delivery and included a self-addressed envelope because I was paranoid about the postman losing it or dropping it in a puddle.

Then you can sit back, heave a sigh of relief and wait until late December/January to hear whether you’ve managed to get an interview!