Advice on Applying for the JET Program

When I was preparing my JET application, the advice of former participants was really helpful.  Now as a former JET myself, I wanted to give back by sharing my experience.


Unfortunately I don’t have an exact copy of my full JET resume.  I do know that I listed my work experience in order of importance, not date.  My current full-time position was first, but previous work experience was listed by relevance to the JET Program.  My employment history showed a balance of teaching experience, intercultural exchange and dedication (demonstrated by working for one company for multiple years).  I also changed some of my job titles to make them more understandable (not more impressive!).  Here are a few examples of my resume entries:

Job Title: Live-In Nanny
Dates of Employment: 06/07 to 12/07
Hours/Week Worked: 40+
Position Description: Cared for children ages 1 and 4, assisting parents in their daily care.  Introduced 4-year-old to the English language, helping her to learn through games and conversation.  Tutored one fourth-grader and two fifth-graders in English twice weekly.  Established good communications with parents to ensure the children’s well-being.

Job Title: Sales Associate
Dates of Employment: 05/05 to Present
Hours/Week Worked: 12
Position Description: Create visual merchandising designs to keep the store fresh and appealing to customers.  Implement organizational systems to ensure efficient merchandise flow and proper record keeping.  Provide personalized service to customers.  Collaborate with other stores and distribution warehouse to guarantee all customers’ needs are met.

Job Title: Bosnian Immigrant Collaborative Intern
Dates of Employment: 08/06 to 05/07
Hours/Week Worked: 15
Position Description: Collaborated with partner-organizations such as immigrant-rights and interfaith groups in order to better serve the Bosnian community.  Kept detailed records of community organizations and the services they offered to Bosnian immigrants.  Bridged connections between different partner organizations by providing references.  Organized meetings by compiling agendas, seeing to logistic details and taking minutes.  Wrote semi-monthly updates to inform members of relevant news.

Statement of Purpose

A good Statement of Purpose conveys excitement about living and teaching in Japan while also convincing the reader that you are prepared enough to be successful.  Showing an openness to new experiences and the ability to deal with stress/confusion is also a key component.  Below is what I wrote for my application.

Why do I want to participate in the JET Program?  What about living and teaching in Japan inspires me enough that I would leave my family and friends to travel somewhere I don’t know a single person and barely speak the language?  Firstly, it’s the sense of adventure that living in a new country brings.  My ultimate adventure is to spend time completely immersed in another culture – to work through the language barrier, endure confusion and mishaps, and ask questions about everything until I feel at home somewhere that is not actually my home.  What draws me to Japan specifically?   I am passionate about religion and art, and I am especially drawn to their Japanese varieties.  Japanese artistic and religious expression present a worldview that seems so different from the tradition of my native culture.  The novelty of these ideas makes me want to learn more and more about the culture in which they developed.  It would be a dream come true to come into contact with Japanese art and religion up close and personally.

My other passion is language.  I remember watching foreign language television when I was little, before I was old enough to begin studying them at school.  I couldn’t understand a word that was said, but I was still completely enthralled.  Japanese now has this allure for me; I crave the challenge of learning a language that is completely different from the others I’ve studied during my European travels.  However, to me language study is more than just an entertaining intellectual pursuit.  I truly believe that studying foreign language and culture is the first step in creating a world in which different people from different countries can work together successfully.  In my previous work and volunteer experience, I have focused on cross-cultural and foreign language-based programs, particularly those that involve children, such as tutoring non-English speakers and helping to provide diversity training to high school students.  I hope that the JET Program will provide me with even more experience so I can continue teaching and broadening minds once I return to the United States.

Perhaps my most meaningful work experience – which is also the job that has best prepared me to participate in the JET Program – was living with an Italian family on two separate occasions as their nanny and English teacher.  The two little girls and their parents became like family to me, and I loved absorbing their Italian culture – taking in its language, its habits and in a more literal sense, its cuisine.  The girls were at very a young age when I was with them (preschool- and elementary-age), so our English lessons very rarely involved formal book study.  Instead we played games, learned songs and talked, talked, talked in English as much as possible.  It was incredibly gratifying to help them learn my own language and to watch them develop linguistically.  What I learned as a nanny is invaluable – how to teach English in a fun and effective way, how to manage at times unruly students, and how to do all this while trying to adapt to a foreign culture and learn a new language.

The opportunities I’ve had to live abroad have helped me learn about myself and mature as a person.  I have become more caring, understanding and compassionate, able to accept diverse opinions and customs without being judgmental.  Above all I have learned that no matter how much of another culture I absorb, I am still American through and through.  I have become very proud of my heritage, and as a JET participant I would love to be able to teach my students and community about my culture.  What is my goal as a potential JET?  When my future students think of America’s contributions to the world, I want them to think of more than McDonald’s; I want them to know that there is a lot of country between New York and Los Angeles that is also worthy of exploration; and of course I want them to be excellent English-speakers.  It would be my pleasure to share my language and culture with the Japanese community, and I hope that the Japanese people will be generous enough to share theirs with me.

Reference Letters

I want to tell you ESID on this one, but if you aren’t sick of hearing that yet, you will be, so gambarimasu (something else you will get sick of hearing).  References who know you well and can give specific examples of your attitude and abilities are better than important-sounding titles and positions.  If you have taught or otherwise worked with kids before, try to get a reference from that employer/professor.  While JET doesn’t require teaching experience, you are being hired to work in a school, so it’s good to emphasize any experience you do have.

My time on JET was a few years after college, so my references were from employers, not professors.  One was from my current company, where I had been working as a manager for only few months when I asked for the recommendation.  Luckily, that job was hellishly difficult, which allowed my boss to write about how well I work under pressure and how quickly I adapt to changing circumstances.  My other reference was from a European family I used to nanny for.  Nannying is a less formal type of employer/employee relationship, but the father of my host family wrote “Mackensie is the reason my daughters became fluent in English so quickly.”  Management seems more prestigious than nannying, but I’m sure it was my host-dad’s comments that sealed the deal on my JET application.


Before my interview, a former JET gave me invaluable advice that I will now pass on to you:

Happy and flexible.

I have to pay five times the rent of other JETs for an apartment half the size?  That’s cool; I have a great view of Mt. Fuji! You want me to teach four extra classes today with five minutes to prepare?  No problem! I can do that!  Grapes are $15 a bunch?  That’s because Yamanashi’s grapes are famous for being delicious!  Raw horse meat?  Interesting!  Let’s try it!  This is a short list of all the real, frustrating experiences I’ve had while living in Japan.  Obstinate, pessimistic people are going to have a very hard time culturally and socially in Japan.  Whatever questions are asked during your interview, whatever you say, make sure you come off as a happy, flexible person.  If you are already happy and flexible, this should be easy; if you aren’t, you should probably reconsider applying for JET.

I hope this information helps at least a little bit.   If you are thinking of or are currently applying to the JET Program, I’d be happy to answer any questions.  Just post a comment, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.  Gambatte!


One thought on “Advice on Applying for the JET Program

  1. Hello, Mackensie. My name is Steven and I am really good friends with Hugo, you showed him around for a day in Tokyo via Couchsurfing. By the way, thanks for that! The reason I say that is because I have been trying to get Hugo to try Couchsurfing for a long time and you were his first encounter with the whole Couchsurfing community. I was actually traveling in Japan for almost 2 months and Hugo and another friend met up with me in Osaka/Kyoto for my last 10 days in Japan.

    Now, I want to comment on this post to say thank you very much for putting information for future, interested JET applicants, and sharing your experience. I am actually really interested in applying to JET when I finish my degree here in Florida (should be next December.) Luckily, while I was in Japan, I was invited to surf a couch in Fuefuki (Yamanashi region, which I see you were in this region as well,) and the host had been a JET for the past 2 years and was at the ending of her 3rd with the idea of staying for the whole 5 years. I loved Fuefuki so much that I stayed there for 7 days and I went to school with her for 2 days to help teach. I would have to say, that was some of the best experience I have ever had teaching my language to a group of students that were completely foreign (I teach mathematics at my university, but this was on another level of awesome.)

    As a future educator, I feel it is extremely important to understand other people and cultures in order to best increase the teaching and learning ideology. Therefore, I have started traveling on my own time around the world and surfing couches in order to share stories and notions and experience how other people live and function around the world. I feel that a combination of teaching in Japan and living there for a long extended period of time would definitely empower my students, people in general and me.

    It would be great to talk to you further about JET and your experiences whenever you are not busy.



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