International students share foods they miss

Mio Nayuki, from Tokyo, Japan, has been here for seven months and shares ramen.

"There are a lot of ramen shops. It's not the same; there it's thick and it has lots of meat, seaweed and fish.

The time immediately following college graduation is an incredibly stressful period for most students. Most find themselves desperately searching for jobs, internships or other opportunities that allow them to utilize their shiny new undergraduate degrees.

For some, however, the decision of what to do after college is an easy one: drop everything and move nearly 7,000 miles away from home.

The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program is a Japanese government initiative designed to place native English speakers within Japanese schools and businesses.

Those with less Japanese language experience are usually placed as Assistant Language Teachers in Japanese kindergartens, elementary, junior high and high schools, while those with more knowledge of Japanese are sometimes placed as Coordinators for International Relations in local governments. 

“I highly encourage people to spend some time working or studying abroad while you’re young, before you have a ton of commitments holding you to a certain place,” Tye Ebel, a program coordinator for the JET Program, said. “College graduates are starting with a bit of clean slate anyways, so post college graduation is the perfect time to go.”

For those interested in Japanese culture, Ebel notes that the JET Program is the best way to get to Japan in terms of pay and benefits.

“Generally speaking, right out of school, the best way to get to Japan is through JET,” Ebel said. “Other teaching programs usually have certain kinks that don’t exist in JET … JET employees get pretty good pay — at least enough to save some and pay down loans pretty aggressively.”

Those with an interest in Japan without any Japanese language knowledge may be scared away from JET. Ebel noted, however, that you don’t necessarily need to know any Japanese to get into the JET Program, though it would help.

“Strictly speaking, you don’t need to have any Japanese language experience to be accepted into JET,” Ebel said. “If this is something that people are interested in doing, however, I highly encourage them to pick up a little Japanese ahead of time.”

Ebel noted that there are three main groups that apply for JET: Japan enthusiasts, educators and “internationalists” seeking adventure. No matter the group, they usually are willing to commit a large amount of time to the program as each person accepted into JET must stay in the program for at least one year.

Each year, a number of UT students that fall into these categories apply to the JET Program. Brynna Williams, a UT alumnus that graduated in 2019 with a degree in language and world business with a concentration in Japanese, falls into the “Japan enthusiast” category. After being accepted into the JET Program in 2020, Williams readied herself to begin an international adventure. That was, until a global pandemic put the world into a standstill.

“The application for JET is really long,” Williams said. “The application process begins in October and ends in April, so by the time we were accepted, the pandemic was already in full swing. Typically, they send people in around August or September, but we obviously still can’t go over.”

The main thing holding Williams — and every other JET that was accepted for the 2020 program — back from going to Japan is the closure of its borders.

Though they opened for a time in late 2020, Japanese borders closed to international visitors once more in January. Now, the JET Program is simply waiting for them to reopen to send new JETs abroad.

“I’m still optimistic about the program, but right now it still feels like something I made up … something that isn’t actually going to happen. It feels like our departure is always right on the horizon. … Sometimes thinking that I’ll even make it to Japan at all feels crazy,” Williams said.

Currently, the JET Program is finishing up the selection process for 2021 applicants and intends to send those accepted in the coming months, depending on when borders reopen. With vaccinations making the rounds worldwide, many are hopeful for borders to reopen soon.

Though the application process for this years’ JET applicants is already closed, interested parties can begin applying to be sent in 2022 later this year.

“Any sort of exchange or teaching experience that future applicants can get under their belts before applying would really help them out,” Ebel said. “Studying abroad, getting involved locally with different cultural events, any sort of club leadership … all of these look great for applicants. I encourage folks to do a three-pronged approach: polish up your knowledge on Japan, get involved with the local and international community and get some kind of teaching experience.”

Those interested in the JET Program can find more information on its website. Applications for 2022 applicants will open up this fall.

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