The interview

I think this’ll be a post I’ll have to come back to and continually edit, until I remember all the questions I got at my interview. The only “account” I have of all of them, besides the actual interview, was telling a few of my friends everything I could remember that evening–even though I knew I wanted to save them for posterity, I stupidly didn’t write them anywhere. Oh well.

Somebody posted these numbers to the JETjapan community on LiveJournal–around 5,000 people from the US applied this year, and 2,700 of them scored interviews. At that time (a month or two ago), it was estimated that 1,400 people would be selected–so roughly 25%. That’s not that bad at all.

Anyway, onto the specifics of the interview. It’s about 15-20 minutes max, and everyone will meet with three interviewers. A former professor told me that the more discouraged you feel after leaving the interview room, the better you did, because it means that the interviewers were impressed enough by you to want to give you challenging questions…and that wasn’t the case for me, because I did feel pretty confident about my interview (and as a result, that feeling of confidence had me pretty worried).

I’ve read online that usually two of the interviewers are Japanese (one playing the “good cop,” being friendly and understanding, and one playing the “bad cop,” asking the tougher questions and being more critical) and one are American…in my case, it was the other way around. I was interviewed by two former JET participants, one of whom was (and is, haha) the coordinator of the Atlanta JET office, as well as a Japanese professor from Clemson University. All my interviewers were quite friendly, though I got the sense that the Japanese professor was the closest to the “bad cop” role–but overall, it was actually a pretty pleasant and pressureless experience.

(Not everybody’s that lucky, though. A good friend of mine also made it to the interview stage, but her three interviewers, none of whom were the same as mine, rarely cracked a smile–they grilled her on specific grammar questions (probably because she had recent and extensive experience with teaching math and English in SAT prep courses), and even inquired about her financial status (read: amount of debt), and were all pretty hard on her all the way through. She ended up making the alternate list, and is accepting a position with the New York Teaching Fellows, instead of waiting to see what her chances of getting accepted into JET are, since alternates can hear back as late as September–and she wasn’t willing to wait that long.)

Why are you interested in the JET Program?

I’ve had an interest in Japanese culture for years, ever since we learned about it in school, but especially since high school, when I got a chance to explore it and the language more in-depth. I also love teaching–I’ve had experience as a tutor, teaching math to several kids for several years in high school, and teaching English for a brief period of time to a Korean grad student. Additionally, being of Indian descent, I feel that I can definitely relate to many of Japan’s intricacies–I’m very interested in the similarities and differences between all Asian cultures, and I’m especially interested in trying to determine the underlying threads throughout Asia that define the one “unifying” Asian culture. Additionally, since I just finished college, I can feel myself still transitioning and would like to detach myself from everything to “find myself,” and to get some direction and focus for the future.

How does this relate to your future career goals?

(I was kind of hoping to not get this question.) I kind of lied and said that I was considering doing something related to linguistics or international studies. Though, I mean, maybe–there’ll always be a need for people fluent in Japanese and interested in foreign languages, so. ;o) And I can totally take an international direction with doing media studies in grad school.

Name some things you would bring to show the students, who don’t speak any English, to show them examples of American culture.

I don’t remember what I initially answered (I think I said I’d bring books with photos in them, or something), but I do remember that after I floundered around a little, the Japanese interviewer pointed out that these students will speak no English. So after that, I talked about bringing examples of non-popular American music, like folk music and other genres that don’t get as much international coverage. I would also try to bring examples of food–and then I surprised myself by coming up with a really good answer (well, I think so, anyway ;P) on the fly, and I said I’d try to take a lot of candid photographs of my everyday life, because you really don’t learn much about what life in another country is like just from looking at posed and deliberate settings, and it’s important to show the students that American life is quite different from how our TV and film exports depict it to be.

What are some organizations or activities you would be interested in participating in, either through the school or among other JET participants?

I said that I’d definitely be interested in any music-related organizations, like learning about Japanese music (I should have said that I’d be interested in starting some kind of western classical string ensemble, because I totally am), and just shrugged and smiled and said that I would really be open to trying and experiencing anything.

We’d like you to do a self-introduction, using the whiteboard. You aren’t allowed to use any Japanese.

*draws stick figure of person with long hair and a smiley-face, turns to the interviewers, speaks slowly and enunciates carefully* My name is Smitha.
*writes “Smitha” clearly on the board*
*draws a really rough but recognizable map of the US* I’m from America… *writes “America” next to it, then draws a star over the southeast part of the map* …from the city of Atlanta. *writes “Atlanta”* But I am originally from India. *writes “India” off to the side*

I stared at the board for a minute, my mind having gone completely blank, and finally I kind of looked helplessly back at the interviewers. One of them suggested that I talk a bit about my family and interests, so (cringing inwardly that they had to heavily prompt me like this), I did.

*drew 2 stick figures of a man and a woman next to the one of me, and made them taller (though I’m actually taller than they are, but that would confuse the kids* I live with my father and mother… *draws short stick figure of a boy* …my younger brother… *draws short stick figure of a woman wearing glasses* …and my grandmother. *draws a really simple house shape around them (two diagonal lines for the roof, two vertical lines for the walls, one horizontal line for the floor)* We all live together.

*draws a square in the shape of a piece of paper and draws a stick figure on that* I like to draw… *draws a really bad-looking and hasty violin* …and play the violin… *draws a book* …and read.

Then they stopped me (and one of the interviewers complimented me for using so many pictures–if it worked for me, it can work for you!).

What would you say if you were placed in a more rural area and somebody came up to you and told you that you didn’t look American?

I got a bit long-winded with this–I said that I would explain that America is a country that has a population almost completely made up of immigrants, and that it isn’t a requirement to be Caucasian to be considered American, and that I believe that it’s possible to equally be from two countries (since I consider myself just as much of an Indian as I am of an American). I kind of continued along this vein for a bit, and then joked that I’d find a much simpler way to say it, and that I’d figure out how to say it in Japanese, since chances were that if this were in a rural area, there wouldn’t be a lot of English-speakers around. ;o)

How long have you played the violin? Did you learn via the Suzuki method?

This was a fairly tangential question from the Japanese interviewer, but she pointed out that it’s a very popular method in Japan, which made me realize that I should read up on exactly what it entails before going over. (I started playing through my middle school’s music program.)

We see that you had some experience with tutoring a Korean student in the English language. Can you tell us a bit about that experience, and how you think it will relate to teaching English in Japan?

The truth was that I’d only tutored Sangpil for a month, when his regular tutor, a friend of mine, left town to visit her family over the holidays. I’d tried to play it up, though…but I ended up sort of relating a humorous story that she had experienced (he liked to watch Friends, and one day he asked her what this line meant–it was a sexual/phallic reference, and they were in the middle of the student center, and she was trying to keep her voice down, but he couldn’t hear her, so she had to say it loudly to be heard–I didn’t actually tell the story at the interview :P), and said that I’d experienced some similar things to that. I also said that it made me realize that we use a lot of slang and “double-entendre” phrases, but when a person literally translates them, they mean something quite different. That’s something that many English speakers take for granted, but it’s not something that a teacher of the English language can afford to ignore.