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Monday, May 2, 2011

So Now You Are a Family Jet

Congratulations to those who have been accepted!  

The excitement of this moment will last for a few days enjoy it but I hate to break it to you, it will soon give way to a lot of other thoughts, worries and concerns.
You now have have under 3 months to get everything in your life packed, put away, stored, and secured for at least a year and probably more. 

I know that as a Family JET you have thought long and hard about the process and have already made of list of “To Do’s” but I will try to give some general advice about things I did or wish I had done in my time pre-take-off.

That List….  MAKE ONE!
  • But don’t just write out a list a "To Do's"  it can just add to your stress levels to see this long list of things you NEED or want to get done.  I would suggest making it a much more practical type of list. I have been reading this great Book called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen and I wish I had read it before I got accepted  (You can find a torrent for it if you want to read it or listen to the audio book. I have both).  Basically it says When you make that "To Do" list make sure you know and write down what the next actionable step for each thing on that list is.  If it will take less than 2 minutes do it right away. If it can be put into a calendar (i.e. A doctors appointment on a specific day) then schedule it on your calendar.  If it isn’t one of those two keep it in a list of things you will check daily. 
  • It will help a lot to have a list of things, with practical actions to take, that you will check regularly.  Then when you have a moment of spare time (they will be few are far between) you will be able to better evaluate the next thing you can check off that list because you will know what the next step you need to take is.  (If I just confused the hell out of you... I suggest you download the book or message me and I will figure a way to get it to you)
Get Work Clothes (and do it as cheaply as possible)
  • You may be a someone who enjoys wearing shirts and ties,  I am not.  I had maybe 3 shirts and ties before being accepted.  The idea of wearing a shirt and tie everyday really sucked! But I figured I’d better get as many comfortable outfits as I could so life would be as easy as possible (washing and drying clothes takes a lot longer in Japan).  Ladies I’m sorry this advice is for men’s clothes but I am sure it will apply a little for you as well.
  • First, I hit up the 2nd hand stores. In Toronto Value Village was awesome for men’s shirts and ties.  But be careful, you will be analyzed for what you wear and anything too old will get people talking.
  • Second, it was the discount stores.  Winners was great for ties.  I got about 4 ties there for under $10 each.  I didn’t find much for my size but if you have a 34” waist or below pants will be a good deal there as well.
  • Next were the big sale days.  At the Department stores in TO there are some good deals to be had on the weekends.  We even had some weekends where the deals were hourly.  Keep your eyes on the flyers for times and prices.  I got all of my pants this way and paid less than half price for almost all of them.
  • Lastly I found some great deals in a place I never expected.  I have to wear Tall shirts (I have a longer than average upper body) so I went to see what the “Big and Tall” store had and to my shock they had a constantly refreshed rack of Shirts and Pants for 50% off, all the time. And if you sign up for their newsletter you get an additional 10% every purchase. I bought most of my shirts there, they fit me perfectly, and I got at least 60% off everyone. 
  • I now have 10 shirts and a rack of ties.  I still feel like I could use a few more but it was awesome to save a lot of $$$ on the things I had to get.
  • **** If you can find some funky ties that suit your personality or show off where your from get them!!!  I have a tie with NHL teams on it that cost me 99¢ at Value Village that is by far the favourite of my students and co-workers.****

Make Doctors Appointments for Everyone
  • Get everyone to the doctor for a check up.  Make sure to make the appointments early so that any tests and results can be finished before you have to leave. 
  • Depending on your children's ages make sure you find out their vaccination schedule.  If possible get as many done before you leave (the schedule in Japan is very different). Make sure you know the vaccinations you what your child to have for sure, which ones can be put off until your return, and which ones you will need to get in Japan.

Bank Accounts and Credit Cards
  • I would suggest that you set up a bank account that you can control online.  You will have things you need take care of from time to time that will require an active bank account you can control.  I would also check to see if your bank allows for “Email money transfers”.  They are great during the holidays for receiving and giving gifts.
  • If you will be trying to send money back home (which is hard to do as a Family JET) the bigger your bank the easier it will be.  The GoLlyods International remittance service (http://www.golloyds.com/index/en) is used by many people (we haven't used it) and is supposed to work with most (or any) bank account.
  • I would suggest you keep at least one credit card from home.  It comes in very handy when you need to get things over the internet.  We use ours to buy things back in Canada all the time.

Life insurance, wills, etc.

  • No matter what stage of Life you are these things are a good idea.  And, with recent events in Japan it seems all the more prudent to get these done before you leave.  Make sure your family or someone at least knows what to do in case something happens.  Make sure you have those tough conversations about "what should happen if…."  We made sure that we talked with and put down in writing who we wanted to take care of the kids, what we wanted done with our finances and things, and funeral arrangements. Its not the funnest conversation or the happiest one but it is very important when it involves your kids.  You don't want someone else making those choices for you.
  • We got an affordable amount of life insurance, set up education savings accounts, and wrote out a will.  You can hire someone or do it yourself but make sure you put things in place so that if something happens things are taken care of the way you want them to be.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Life Since 3/11

Because I am the kind of person that skips all the BLAH BLAH BLAH to get to the important stuff, I am going to save you the trouble.  I have written a lengthy passage here about our experience which I think might be helpful but first I will put up the things we as a family have learned from this and some of the things that we are left to think about now.

Things We Have Learned:

  • When something happens in Japan, no matter how far away from you it is, people in North America worry that it has happened to you.   CALL them ASAP. Trust me, grandma and Grandpa will be freaking out!  BUT don’t let them make you PANIC!!!!!! They are watching CNN and they are getting very exaggerated news.  They will want you to come home right away.  (It will probably be worse in the future if something else happens here)
  • We now know there is an AM radio channel that broadcasts in foreign languages news and information during times of emergency.  (Channel 740 in our city) Find out early if such a thing exists where you are placed.  We used our car radio but if you don’t have a car get a hand cranked radio (they can be used to charge your cell phone too).
  • Be prepared for disasters!  Make sure you have a bag packed with emergency things all the time.  Make sure the Families passports are inside along with food and water. If you still have a Credit Card from home put that in there too.  We now have a back pack with 4 liters of water and about 25 Powerbar type things, along with dried fruits and nuts. We also have clothes for the kids and diapers for the baby.   
  • Have some flash lights at home. They are very helpful! Many homes have burnt down because of the use of candles during black outs.  The are cheap and easy to find.
  • Make sure you have some cash on hand.  No power means no ATM’s.  We couldn’t get money for about 3 or 4 days after.  We usually have 5 or 6 10,000Yen bills (approximately $500 - $700 depending on exchange rates) on hand at home.
  • Make local friends as early as you can! They are your best allies during the worst of times. They are the ones who will know what is happening locally,  where things are happening, and where to get needed essentials.  We are very thankful for our neighbours, my co-workers and the parents at our daughters kindergarten.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  I asked some of my JTE’s to let me know if they heard anything about kerosine or gas at any of the gas stations and one of the office ladies made some calls for me and got me a tank of kerosine that afternoon from this little shop in one of the small little towns near one of my schools.  I would never have known about it and I couldn’t find Kerosine anywhere.
  • Learn what grocery stores are stocked locally vs which ones are national chains whose supply comes from far away.  The 3 stores wh are local to our area stayed much better supplied than the big chain stores did.
  • If you are prepared for something to happen you wont panic when it does! (One ALT in our Town left 3 days after the quake, it caused a lot of problems for everyone that knew her). Panic leads to more problems.  Well prepared, well thought out steps, even in the midst of a crisis are essential for the Family JET.
  •  It can be good for kids to learn what it means to conserve and not be able to get what ever you want whenever you want.  This will be a time that I think will teach us as a family just how much we really have, what we really NEED when it comes down to it, and how lucky and prosperous we are.
Some Things We Still Have To Figure Out:
  • How much will the cost of living increase post 3/11? Will we be able to afford the new cost of electricity, gasoline, kerosine, food, and the many other things that will increase in the coming months on one JET salary?
  • What will happen with the Nuclear Power plant? Will Akita continue to be a safe place to raise young children?
  • How will the JET program fare as the government shifts its focus to the rebuilding effort?

Now for the Blah Blah Blah

Let’s start with that day.  We were very lucky as a family, my wife and kids were together at home when the earthquake struck. I was at school and was required to stay there until all the students were taken care of (about an hour and a half). But, having the girls with someone they can communicate with was a huge help in calming any fears they might have had.  Now this is not something anyone has any control over but it was the best case scenario for us.  Another Family JET who we are in contact with whose children were both at daycare at the time mentioned that it was much more stressful for both parents and kids. 

We are Life on the edge of a disaster is a very strange thing.  There is this overwhelming sense of sadness and loss for those who have been affected by it, but at the same time an equal sense of gratitude and thankfulness for your own safety.  We were not directly affected in terms of physical damage by either the quake or the Tsunami but by the 24hr mark we knew everything had changed.  Life in Tohoku would not be the same.

With No power and no phone lines for about 24hrs we didn’t really know anything.  We don’t understand Japanese radio and we didn’t know the channel of the International Language Emergency Broadcasts so we had no idea there even was a tsunami, never mind the kind of news that was being broadcast around the world.  Only once we were able to connect with our families back home were we able to hear exactly what happened.

Until that point life was pretty much normal for us as a family.  We were having a black out party.  Keeping the kids occupied and having fun.  The grocery stores and line ups for gas gave us some clues but it didn’t click in until that first phone call. 

It quickly became a matter of conserving everything, and making sure you have enough food, diapers, toilet paper, water, and everything else you might possibly need for the next month.  This is harder than you might think for the Family JET.  But, the most important thing was not to panic.  We wanted to make sure that we did not pass the stress of this event and what it might hold for us on to our kids.  I don’t think we were very successful but we tried to show them that we had to do some things to make sure we were going to be okay but that as long as we did these things we would be fine and there was no need to worry. 

One thing that made life more stressful for us personally was that although we now live and work in Akita Prefecture, my wife used to be a JET in a small village in Oshika Honto which just happened to be the closest place to the epicenter of the earthquake. We had many friends in the areas hardest hit by the tsunami and no way to contact them.   It is a very difficult thing to be in complete shock or to cry and worry and mourn and not have it affect your children.  Well, maybe it is better to say it is impossible to do all of that and not have it affect your children.  We did the best we could to explain things to our 5 year old in simple terms so that she would understand why we were crying and stressed out.  We are very lucky that our daughter is a very resilient little girl didn’t seem to let any of it bother her.  The first thing she said to me when I got home on March 11th was “Daddy, don’t worry I’m not afraid of earthquakes.  I’m only afraid of zombie ghost skeletons.”  That what you get for letting 5 year old watch Scooby-doo I guess. 

At the grocery store the first things to go were instant noodles, and toilet paper.  Then milk, bread, natto, tofu, juice, and other things that are familiar and comforting to the local people quickly followed.  Things like meat, root veggies, snack foods and surprisingly RICE seemed to stay in steady supply.   We walked everywhere for two weeks, and if we couldn’t walk we didn’t go.  The trains were down for a while but even once they were back up trying to get a Family of 4 to and from anywhere by train is not fun. 

It took the entire spring break, until early April, before things were almost normal again.  We still have to figure what this new Japan holds for us as Family JET’s but, for now, we are thankful to be here and excited to see how these amazing people will rebuild this great country.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Well... What now?

March 11, 2011 has changed life here in Japan.  For the last month I have been debating whether any advice I might have now will apply in the future.  I have come to the conclusion that it still may have some benefit but the popular JET program saying of “Every situation is different” (ESID) applies even more now post 3/11 than it ever did before.  Radiation fears, electricity availability and price, gas for cars, kerosine for your house, availability and price of food, and who knows what else, are all issues that will be different and ever changing in the new Japan.

I will try to share what I can of what life is like for a Family JET now and how things change here in Northern Japan.  Although we are in Akita, the safest and least affected place in Tohoku, life for the Family JET is and will be a lot more challenging.  Budget concerns, safety factors, and just being able to enjoy life are all things that we still have to figure out. 

I will still post advice about what happens in the process of getting here and the details that need to be attended to in the early months, but I will intersperse into that things about life here and now for the Family JET.

I will put up my next post on "Life since 3/11" soon, hopefully tomorrow.  And then more to follow quickly after that.

Thanh, Only you (The JET participant) needs the health Check.

, my youngest daughter was just 6 months when we arrived here so I know exactly what you are going through in terms of vaccinations.  I will do a post ASAP on that.  There is a someone here in my town who knows a lot about the vaccination program here.  I will be getting him to write as much down as I can.

Sydaine, if you can and it doesn't cost too much, do as much as you can now.  When you get excepted life gets a little crazy for a few weeks.  If you can't do it now, make sure you make a list of all the things you want / need to do and how to accomplish each one so when life does get crazy you know what needs to get done and how to get it done.

GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!  Don't panic if results don't come when they said they would. Things here have changed and I am sure it will cause delays in the process.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The “Tween Months”

Between the interview and the results

First, thanks for the comments!  Audible, thanks those are great topics, I will definitely be doing posts on them! Thanh, I will try to get some of the daily stuff up as I can see how it might be helpful as well.  Maybe I will put a separate page for it or something.  I will keep it short and simple but try to put out as many things as I can think of.

Now on with the show….

So after you nail the interview, you will have to spend the next couple of months waiting (I interviewed on Feb 13th and got the results on April 9th). 

The entire 2 months is screwed up! Time passes both quickly and slowly.  At times you feel like you are never going to get this stupid letter and at others it feels like life is moving way too fast.  When you have a lot going on with both you and your kids it can make for brutal 2 months!  The hardest part, as a Family JET, is that it puts the whole family in limbo.  But, such is the beast.

Here are some helpful hints to deal with that time.

Be better off no matter what happens.

    If you get rejected be prepared to carry on with life.  I tried to line up a Job and a some post graduate studies just incase JET didn’t happen. 
    If you do get accepted, things are going to happen extremely fast. Your life will be completely insane (if it isn’t already). You will have only have another 3 months to do everything.  It is not enough time…especially if you have young kids!  So you might as well start getting ready now.  It will help you even if you don’t get in.  I really cannot emphasize this enough, you need to start preparing as early as you can!!!!!

Get your papers in order.

    Once you receive notice of being short listed (thats what they call it) you will have about 2 weeks to accept and hand in your Health Certificate and a copy of your passport (I received an email on April 9th and everything needed to be in by April 23rd). I was caught without a doctors appointment and an expired passport.  I had to scramble big time to get both done.  Don’t let it happen to you, it’s not fun!
    Make an appointment for the doctors early (Check the local JET website for the timeline and if its like the Canadian or American website with little or no detail, ask the JET Coordinator in your area what the timeline might be. I would suggest not asking about when acceptance letters might be sent out but ask what date candidates will have to send in their replies by, make your appointment for at least 2 weeks - 10 days prior to this). 
    I spoke with the JET Coordinator in Toronto and she has put up a little better calendar on the Consulate Website (http://www.toronto.ca.emb-japan.go.jp/english/culture-education/jet-program/faq-dates.html). This only applies to Torontonians directly and doesn't give specific dates but it will give you a pretty good idea. Here is her advice about the doctors appointment:
    “ In general, it’s a good idea for candidates to try to book an appointment for a full physical for sometime between early April and mid-April making sure to allow enough time for any lab results that need to be done (blood work, urinalysis, x-ray…etc) and recorded on the health certificate. The Health certificates and the reply form are for those that are offered a spot on the final short-list after the interviews in February. Interview results are usually sent out early April.”
  Make sure you tell the receptionist you will need the doctor to fill out a form as some doctors require you to book an extra time slot for this. If you are like me and in a big city, getting a doctors appointment can be quite difficult in a short amount of time. The doctor will need to do a urine test, have chest X-rays taken and possibly do a TB test and there could be more this year. It will be very stressful trying to take care of everything only after you get the email. I got my results and a fully completed paper the day before it was due.  This adds a lot of extra stress into a families life and a little forethought and planning can ease the situation quite a bit. 
    The passport thing (in Canada anyway) can be worked out within the 2 weeks usually without problem but again if you can eliminate that worry early, why not!  It can cost extra money and require a return trip to pick up the passports to guarantee they are in your hand before the due date. Again, you don’t need more things do to.  The way travel is now, you and your family will need passports to just cross the border (sorry for the Canada - USA reference here) so you and your family will probably need one even if you don’t get into JET so take care of that detail now.

Start going through all your Stuff
    We basically did the whole “Clean Sweep” thing.  Get rid of the excess stuff you have around the house (we still had unopened wedding gifts in their original boxes from 8 years ago in the basement).  And, if you can, start packing away some things you wont need or wont be able to take with you. It is one of the most helpful things you can do.

Buy some large storage bins or keep your eye out for sales.
    You will need them.  We ended up filling 8 of them in the 2 months before we left. And with kids you can always use another storage bin.

Do you have enough clothes for the job?

    I am a total jock and had no clothes suitable for being a ALT in a Japanese School. Now, I wouldn’t buy anything yet but it is good to know what you need and what you don’t. (Tips on buying clothes later)

Start looking into summer programs for your kids.

    We left Canada on July 31, so we enrolled our daughter in some city run programs during June and July that would keep her occupied and having fun while we would be cleaning, packing, and going insane.
    This was by far the best thing we could have done for ourselves!!!!!  It gave us from 9 to 4 everyday, where we weren’t stressing about how to keep a 4 year old enjoying life while still getting things done.

Start thinking about what you want to do with your Big Stuff. 

    Will you sell your car(s) or put them in storage? (What will your insurance needs be then?)
    What will you do with any furniture you have? Check to see if their are friends or relatives that might be able to use / store it for you.
    We were extremely lucky in that didn’t own or rent a home at the time, (living with relatives), but if you do then you’ll need to figure what will happen with that.

How long will you stay?
    The JET Programme now allows for up to 5 years on the program if everything goes right. Make sure you have that conversation!!! Discuss all the possibilities / pros & cons because there are a lot of them.

Other Family JET’s out there I’d love to hear what you did to prepare.  What helpful tips you have.

Although I may not be posting everyday, I am checking for comments, so if you have questions let me know and I will get to them ASAP.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Interview

Since it’s almost time for the interview process I thought I would do a quick post on what I think was important for me.

Going in I thought I was going to have to defend the fact that I was going to bring my family.  I prepared to discuss how having my family would help me be a better JET and not take away from the experience, but I it wasn’t the case at all.  Both my interviewers in Toronto were pro family.  Now, this will not be the case for everyone but from asking around and talking to the other families I met on JET it seems that JET interviewers are increasingly, pro family.

Here are some of the things related to my family that happened in my interview:
  • They asked me if I planned to put my daughter in school and if so where, Japanese or English School
    • I said I wanted my daughter to learn Japanese and that we planned to put her in a public Japanese school ASAP. One of my interviewers told me she had gone to public school in Japan as a child and it was a great experience. She thought that going to a public kindergarten was a great thing for a child and would help her a lot.
  •  They told me they thought having a family in Japan could help me meet more people in the community away from my schools and then asked how I might do that. 
    • I told them that having children with you is a great way to meet people and break the ice.  It is an easy conversation starter and would put us in many more situations to meet other parents. (This is totally true, but that will have to come in a later post)
  • They asked me about going to orientation and the whole travel process to Japan.  They asked if I would bring my family or not, and what are plans were for getting everyone to Japan. 
    •  At the interview I told them I planned to have my family come a few weeks after me.  I wanted to get settled and established before they arrived so I could help them adjust.  I think this is what they wanted to hear and is the best, most official answer to give.  (I didn’t end up doing it that way but it worked for the interview)
So here it comes…my advice.
  1. Relax!!!
    • If you are married, have kids and are not fresh out of university. I can guarantee you have faced way worse than this interview. 
  2. Be Prepared.
    • This is a little obvious but I’m gonna say it anyway.                                               
    • Be prepared for all the regular things like “whats happening in Japan”, and “how would teach ~~~” but also be prepared to show how being older, married and having kids will enhance your time on JET.  It is a huge plus to the JET Programme to have a family willing to uproot their lives to go and share about their culture, SELL IT!
  3. Maturity and Poise.
    • Your older and wiser and been through a hell of a lot more than most of the other applicants.  Make sure your maturity and poise show through.
    • That being said its good to let your playful side show through if they ask you to teach something.  Your a parent, you know how to have fun with kids.

That’s it.  I don’t know if that is helpful at all but its all I got. 

Are there any topics you want me to cover? Let me know and I will try to hit on them in future posts.

Let's Begin...

Okay...I have finally decided to start this thing!

I have been meaning to do it since I arrived but to be blunt I have been a lazy ass. The first 6 months have flown by and we are just now feeling completely settled. But at least it has allowed me to process things a little better and filter out the some of the stuff that is important to a family.  I will try to cover the big things of course but I also hope I can get into the little things that you don’t really think of before you get here.  The things that aren’t going to make or break your time here but things that can be important, especially when it comes to your kids.  

And please tell me if its helpful or if its garbage! There is a lot of JET Diaries out there (some good, some bad) I do not want to be a diary or a journal!