Tuesday, February 24, 2009

JET Jagger!

I've found another reason to love Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon.


Since all the dialog is subtitled, I can watch PGSM during lab without turning on the speakers on the lab computer. I can't do this for any other show that I watch online.

Why do I bring thus up? Because I'm in lab.
And because PGSM is Japanese.

And because it's probably the closest I'll ever come to actually visiting Japan.

Last week, I drove down to Vancouver for my JET interview. JET is Japan's government-run English-teaching exchange program, which brings thousands of people from all over the English-speaking world to Japan. I sent out my application form just barely in time to make the November 28th deadline, and by late January received notice that I would be interviewed. The interview date was conveniently scheduled for Wednesday, February 18th, right smack in the middle of reading break. This meant that I wouldn't have to worry about labs.

I hoped this would be a fun trip. However, on the weekend before the trip, my back went out. It was so painful that, for the first time in my life, I had to get medication for back pain, as well as thermal pads.

But by Tuesday morning, my back was feeling a somewhat better, and I was able to drive off to Vancouver without difficulty. As I always do nowadays whenever I go to Vancouver, I took the Highway 99 route through Pemberton, Whistler, and some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen. Here are some pictures(shamelessly pirated off Google) to give you an idea:

I arrived in Vancouver at around 7pm, late enough to avoid rush hour. To get into the mood, I had dinner at a very reasonably priced sushi restaurant-- I don't remember the name, but I;m sure I could find it again. The next morning was spent scouring the city for any scraps of Japanese culture I could find to use in my interview.

Name five famous Japanese people:
Nanako Matsushima, Naoko Takeuchi, Akira Kurosawa, Yukio Mishima, and, uh. . . (Goes to Chapter's, finds book on physics, looks up Yukawa's first name) Ah, yes, Hideki Yukawa. Good ol' Hideki Yukawa. Predictied the existence of the Pi-meson, he did. He was a physicist. I'm getting a master's degree in physics, you know. . .

I also stumbled upon an art-house theater that had just finished a retrospective on the work of Japanese director Nagisa Oshima (here's the website-- "In the Realm of Oshima", if you're interested). I made a note of this, thinking it might be of some use during the interview.

The interview was scheduled for 3 o'clock, at the Harbour center branch of SFU, just a block from my hotel. I arrived a half-hour early, registered, and took a seat outside the interview room. After a couple of minutes, the gentleman being interviewed before me came out of the room. I smiled and nodded, but he just glanced at me and walked away.

This was not going to be good.

After a bit of a delay, I was escorted into the interview room. There were three officials: a Caucasian Canadian, Brian, and two Japanese officials, Damien and (I think) Emily. After a brief overview of the selection process (basically, the interviewers send their notes to officials in Japan, who will ultimately decide if I am to be accepted), and a bit of small talk ("You drove?!"), the questions began. Things went wrong almost immediately. What follows is my almost certainly incomplete reconstruction of the interview.

What would you bring with you from Canada to Japan to help with your duties?(English teaching, cultural exchange, etc.)

After a bit of floundering about how I'm a "minimalist" packer, I finally mentioned that one of the things I would bring are pictures-- of my family, pets, Prince George (Mr. PG!), and Canada in general-- I emphasized that when I think about what Canada means to me, I think natural beauty (hell, it beats hockey...)

This was where I first screwed up. The thing that brought "pictures" was the fact that I had prepared a series of pictures to show to the interviewers, in the event that I would be asked to show how I would introduce myself to a class of Japanese children. However, I never showed them the pictures. The reason for this, I guess, was that I wanted to present myself as conservative in personality, not to outgoing or chummy. My big mistake throughout the entire interview was in allowing myself to get so nerved out that I withdrew further and further into my "conservative" persona.

The interviewers, I suppose, weren't impressed with my answer, since they mentioned that a lot a Japanese live in the countryside. I mentioned that I knew this, and that one of the reasons I wanted to go to Japan was that Japan itself had great natural and architectural beauty. I then floundered a bit about how I have a Slovak father, and that there is a unique culture, the Czech and Slovak "tramps," that has formed in the midst of Canada's nature-- the point being that the wild aspect of Canada, and the myth surrounding the Canadian Wilderness, has created a distinct culture in and of itself. I don't think I phrased it as articulately as that, though. . .

In hindsight, I also realized that a good thing to mention would have been English-language translations of Japanese manga. Oh well. . .

Have any hobbies?

I told them that I'm big, so I like to eat-- and also cook. They remarked that I might be confused for a sumo wrestler in Japan, and for self-esteem's sake I just assumed that they were referring to my height and not my. . . girth. I then remarked that I enjoyed walking.

Oh, well then, speaking of walking. . . Suppose you're on one of your walks, you go down some road or whatever, and then the next day someone comes up to you and says that they saw you. How would you react?

Whatev's. Like I said, I'm a big guy even by Western standards, and I'm used to all sorts of people that I don't know or remember noticing me.

They followed by saying that this occurs regardless of height, and is a consequence of the greater social interconnection that exists in Japanese culture. They wanted to know whether this aspect would bother me. I told them that it still probably wouldn't bother me, and then explained that my sister is in a band in Prince George, and that she's also friends with pretty much everyone and their brother. As a result of this, I'm used to a lot of people recognizing me, even if I don't know or remember them.

Brian made a note of this, giving a brief raising of the eyebrows, as if to say "Okay, whatever."

You mentioned that you tutored a South Korean student. Did you ever give her help with English?

No, at least not in terms of grammar or anything like that. I taught her physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

Okay. . . well then, I guess that I (Damien) am gonna have to play the bad cop here.

Suppose I've bought a piece of property, and I'm talking to you about it. Would it be okay to say that I own this piece of ground?

This was one of the few questions where I thought I did pretty well. I explained that "ground" refers to the physical stuff beneath our feet, whereas "land" is a more abstract concept relating to ownership and property. Thus, it would be more appropriate to say "I own this land." They seemed fairly pleased with my answer, and explained that the teaching of English won't be related so much to grammar as to colloquialisms.

Ironically, the "bad cop" Damien turned out to be nicest guy in the interview.

You still like anime?

I said that I wasn't as interested in it as I once was. That is true, but it's not the whole truth. I can't stand most anime (take a look at this flash animation-- it'll give an idea of what's wrong with most anime) but there are two directors I do like-- Hayao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon. I particularly like the latter. I would have liked to have mentioned some of his works, like Perfect Blue, Paprika, Millenium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers. . . but instead, I just said that my favourite anime was Sailor Moon. Damien and Emily both nodded and "ahhhh!"-ed in recognition.

I didn't even mention PGSM. Squandered opportunities.

In your work as a lab instructor, have you ever made lesson plans?

No. The senior lab instructor draws out the lesson plan. I simply enact it.

Have you ever given a big presentation, and have something go wrong, and if so, how did you cope?

I had to ask the interviewers three times for clarification, since this seemed like such a bizarre question. Yes, I have given brief presentations for physics classes, often involving complex concepts that are difficult to explain even to my fellow students, but these have gone swimmingly. So of course I couldn't mention those during the interview because they were irrelevant o the question.

Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Instead, I talked about how nerved out I was giving my first opening lecture for a physics lab, and how I've tried to take the experiences from those moments to calm me down during subsequent presentations. Generic bullshit.

Do you like kids?

This one came out of no-where. Surprised, I nodded and said "yup."

Sure I like kids. Totally. Yup.

I'll bet I convinced them.

It's a completely obvious question, too.

Your responsibilities as an Assistant Language Teacher may end up amounting to rote repetition of certain English phrases, over and over again. Would you be okay with that?

I could have mentioned the possibility of starting an "English Club" for interested students. Instead, I just said,


Would you be okay with a rural area?


At this moment, I'm imagining the worst case scenario-- I'm accepted, but on the basis of my terrible interview, I'm sent of to some Japanese backwater with a population of three-hundred, with an ultra-conservative teacher who belives the responsibility of the ALT is to teach kids to say "Yes, sir!" over and over again.

The interview was pretty much over by this point. All that remained was for me ask questions of the interviewers. I asked them three questions. The first was about accomidations; the second was about when I would be starting in the school year, and whether students will have had any advance preparation in English before I arrive; the third was directed to Damien, who was the only former ALT in the group. I asked him what his best and worst experiences as a JET were. His best experience was becoming close to his host family in Japan, effectively becoming the "Canadian Son." His worst was having to sign his renewal contract after getting into a bicycle accident.

With that, the interview ended. I met up with the next prospective ALT. He asked me how it was, and I told him it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, which is true. The interview wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. . . it's just that I wasn't as good as I thought I was going to be.

I was drained after that interview. I spent about six hours looking for a good place to get dinner (I ultimately decided on Cafe Crepe) and went to a theater to see Frost/Nixon.

The next day, I was home.

By the way, the title is a reference to a character from one of the Godzilla movies, known as "Jet Jaguar." Here's a video of MST3K parodying his theme song (this is where "Jet Jagger" comes from):

1 comment:

Naomi said...

Jet Jaggar's face DID look like Jack Nicholson. And please, don't fret about your interview! I'm sure you did better than you think!

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