Life on Pause
Not too long ago, I found myself in a discussion about the impermanence of the JET Program job. This should not come as a shock for anyone with JET experience, as it’s bound to come up as a conversation point. For a job that only just recently allowed a five year stay instead of three, the topic of “what’s next?” is bound to emerge at some point.
It was this discussion, like so many before, that brought up the “life on pause” idea. The idea that JET is really only a placeholder as to what is next; Some sort of extended vacation before we all fall into a cubical, have to wear a suit, and are all called Mister or M’am. I find this mentality often when meeting other JETs for the first time, whether it be intentional or not. Maybe they just graduated and want to experience teaching abroad while they can. Maybe they are using JET as a resume booster for whatever dream job, or maybe it was just the only thing available for them at the moment. Simply, the reasons for doing JET are equal to those who are on the program.
And before I am called out on it, I am certainly no different. I too went into JET with a bit of a “let’s just do it and see what happens next!” mentality when I applied, even though I was really putting all of my eggs into one opportunistic basket. While there are certainly things I want to do after JET, things that I still believe will be accomplished by doing this program, the line between my position now and those goals is still unknown. I may be drawing that line now, but for all I know the lead may break and I’ll need to sharpen things a few times in the future.
While people may say the “life on pause” line with a bit of facetiousness, there always seems to be a bit of honest confession in their tone. A cup of uncertainty, a dash of fear and, every now and then, a pinch of confidence that it will all work out. But honestly I get a little frustrated whenever I hear the “life on pause” line. I simply cannot view any part of this experience as a “pause.”
Plenty of people have asked me how the JET experience is, but the line I have stuck to is “JET is entirely what you make of it.” I’m finding out more and more everyday how true this statement can be. Recently I find myself asking a lot “what am I going to take away from this once I leave?” Sure, there were plenty of times I was down and had bad days, but I’ve also accomplished a lot: I have gotten relatively better at a language I have studied for so long; Working in an office with a culture totally separate from my own has given me new insight on how to work with other people; I have obtained certification in a sport I didn’t even know I wanted to do; I finally participated in the internship opportunity I worked so hard for in the past; And I’ve made connections with so many people that have all changed or influenced my life in some way. How can I only say that my life has been on pause throughout any of that?
That’s not to say though that this job is a fulfilling a grand life meaning every day. The other term that I’ve certainly thrown around is JET is equivalent to “University 1.5,” with others referring it as “early retirement.” My responsibilities on the job are relatively few, and recently I’ve had a lot of time to study for the big, bad JLPT. Many of the reasons for all of this free time are out of my control, but that is simply the reality of where I am. So I can see where the “life on pause” phrase can be applied, especially to me. It’s hard to feel like life is playing out to the fullest when most days are sitting at a desk, barely working on anything that directly applies to the job itself. And when you’re staring at Twitter for the 1000th time that day, it’s hard not to think of “what am I actually doing here?”
These familiar thoughts are amplified by the new round of people coming soon, and many of the first friends I met here leaving. As they move on to their next chapters, wondering what is going to come next for me is only natural. I have decided to stay on for a third year, but have already been pretty vocal that it will be my last. And I feel like it’s the best choice, since I can go into this next year with the mindset of “I may not be able to experience this again.” Going forward, I am sure that will be one of the major themes in my writing.
This perspective is perhaps just another part of growing up, as JET is also the first step into the “real world” for many people I know. But during this time, I’m not viewing my “life on pause.” I’ve come far to get here, and I’m going to need to wring out as much as I can in the upcoming months. There’s probably no better time than now to take chances, make mistakes, and get a little messy. Life is going to have to be on play for me to do any of that.