The Vivacious Peasant

Life, travel, work, and fun… vivified. Don't just live life, enjoy it.

Didn’t Get That “Dream” Job With JET? Suck it up and Deal With It.

Earlier today JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching Program) announced the results of those who passed the initial screening process to go onto the interview phase. My head spun through many different scenarios as I clicked on the ID list, but nothing could prepare me for what was to happen next… okay, maybe I don’t need to be so dramatic. Because with a 1 in 6 acceptance rate there was never much of a chance for me getting accepted to this over-prestigious program in the first place. I was hopeful and confident due to my extensive knowledge of the English language not just as a native speaker but a “linguist” as well, and my comprehension of Japanese also isn’t half bad either. I’ve also studied abroad in Japan before and have even had some experience tutoring English in the classroom. That said… no dice.

What does this mean? It can certainly drain you of energy and motivation when you have such high hopes for something only to run out of gas before you have a chance to even start the engine. But, like all good drivers do before embarking on a long journey it’s always crucial to have extra tanks of gas and spare tires on hand, ready to go. Okay, I’m done with the cliche car analogy. What’s important here is to remember that getting rejected from JET is not the apocalypse, it doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, and it certainly doesn’t indicate that you have no ability to pursue a job in this field so get all that out of your head.

Applying to JET can be a hit and miss situation. I’ve seen people from both sides of the spectrum, some with zero experience in Japanese culture, language, and teaching, and others with a lot of experience in those things get accepted. The bulk of getting into the program is how you write your essay and while having teaching experience seems to be a major plus, they’re going to read that essay you write and get the biggest impression of your personality and skill set from that. With an extremely low acceptance rate however, you aren’t going to get rejected because you’re unqualified for the position but because someone better qualified applied.

People see JET as their only way to get to Japan and when they don’t make it they think the job hunt ends there. In reality, there are many English teaching and assistant English teaching jobs in Japan, and on top of that there are quite a few companies that look for overseas applicants and sponsor their visas so that they can work in Japan. JET is really a unique program that is sponsored by the Japanese government and it has the biggest salary in the world of assistant language teaching in Japan which is why it’s so competitive. People want in.

So what do you do when you don’t get accepted? Well, you suck it up and move on. Harsh, I know. But the time you spend sulking about not getting into the most competitive program in the country could be time spent searching for other jobs. With the internet as a resource finding a job in Japan is so easy that all you have to do is search for a couple keywords like “English teaching jobs in Japan” or “Companies that hire assistant language teachers in Japan” and results will come flying in.

Since before I had even sent my application into JET back in November I had begun searching for alternatives, what their application process is like, and what they require. It’s important to do your research before applying or accepting any job offer from a company in Japan. Read reviews, both positive and negative, and also research the legitimacy of the company. There’s something called “black company” (ブラック企業) which is a term used to basically describe sketchy corporations or businesses with low-quality employee care or company service. In your research you want to specifically avoid applying to these as they are no good.

Something I’ve had to do as a result of getting rejected from JET is to not let it set me back or discourage me, but rather I’ve taken it as a experience to learn from and improve as I apply to other jobs.

Your Study Abroad Guide To Tokyo, Japan Part 1: Budgeting Living Expenses and Transportation Costs

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Chances are if you’re reading this blog then that means you’re thinking about studying abroad in Japan. Well, you’ve come to the right place! Studying abroad is an incredible way to take advantage of being a student whether you’re at a university or in high school. As a student, expenses can also be much cheaper because scholarships, grants, and subsidized loans are available as a resource if you’re considering applying to FAFSA. Often times, if your university has a partnership with other universities in Japan, you may also be able to get cheaper housing by living in the dormitories that the sister school in Japan provides and credits will transfer over much easier. Always check with your school first to see if they have such programs because it’s likely that they will.

Now, down to business. Before you start packing your bags it’s always important to know exactly, or have an estimation, of how much money you’ll need before flying over to the land of the rising sun. Most schools will probably give you a sheet that contains basic information with regards to costs. My school in particular provided both semester and yearly cost estimations that were somewhat accurate:

Semester Yearlong
University Tuition Costs $2,942 $5,884
Room and Board $1,200 $2,400
Round-trip Airfare $1,850 $1,900
In-country Travel $1,114 $2,228
University Health Insurance $1,060 $2,120
Misc. (books, spending, etc.) $750-$950/month $750-$930/month

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things I encountered while preparing for studying abroad was the totally unorganized study abroad office at my university. They literally couldn’t tell me a single useful thing besides what I already knew. The table above represents the extent of their knowledge and if you’re experiencing something similar then you know it’s not enough. About the only accurate prices listed above are the university’s tuition, round-trip airfare, health insurance (not Japan’s), and maybe room and board. This particular program is called the direct-exchange program at my university which means that for every Japanese student that is sent from the sister school in Japan to our school, we send an American student to their school. Another benefit of this program is that we pay our university’s tuition fees and not the fees of the university in Japan.

Room and Board

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My university puts room and board as being $1,200 for the semester if we choose to use the dormitories provided by the university. In actuality, rent was ¥35,000/month or $350.00. Multiply that by four and the price comes to $1,400. University housing is a much cheaper alternative to having your own apartment in Japan. Utilities were subsidized by the university I studied abroad at so whether it was hot or cold I didn’t have to worry about using the heater or A/C because it didn’t affect how much I would pay each month, it was always $350.00/month. If you choose not to use cheaper housing provided by the university be aware that rent will skyrocket to anywhere from ¥60,000-¥80,000/month ($600-$800) or more depending on where you live and that may not include utilities. It might be helpful to check in with the university you plan to study abroad at to see if they can direct you to cheaper housing alternatives if you’d prefer not to stay in their housing.

When it comes to paying rent you will be given slips of paper ahead of time, one for each month you’re in Japan, with the amount you’re supposed to pay at the post office. You can choose to pay these ahead of time or pay them monthly. Something important to know is that the last month you’re in Japan you won’t have to pay for the full month if you don’t stay the entire month. When I stayed at the university’s recommended housing in Japan I was given the final month rent’s bill, but because I told the dorm manager when I was leaving, about a week and a half into the final month, they were able to calculate how much I needed to pay for the rest of the time I was there. It’s that easy.

Transportation

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Japan is praised as having the most sophisticated transportation system in the world with trains that are on-time and efficient. If you’ve never been on the subway before and you’re from a small city like me then you’ll love the convenience of these trains. Rush-hour traffic will be a pain for the most part but eventually you’ll get the hang of figuring out which car is the best one during busy times.

Getting a train pass in Japan is important because it saves you a lot of money as you no longer have to buy individual tickets that would add up to be a lot more overall.

Train Map

In the image above what’s bordered in green represents all the stations I could travel to for free on the 東西線 Tōzai-sen or Tōzai Line. When you apply for your train pass as a student you have to indicate the two points you’ll be traveling between everyday or in this case from home to school. I was living in Kasai (葛西) which is the furthest right station within the green border and everyday I went from Kasai to Iidabashi (飯田橋) station which is the furthest station to the left inside the green border.

If I had chosen not to purchase the pass I would be paying ¥230 going from Kasai to Iidabashi in the morning and another ¥230 going from Iidabashi to Kasai in the evening, so you can see how quickly the prices would add up over time. In the image above I was actually at Shinjuku-sanchōme station (新宿三丁目駅), the station that is furthest to the left inside the black border, so the prices are different. If we take a hypothetical situation where I wanted to get from Shinjuku-sanchōme to Ōtemachi Station (大手町駅 Ōtemachi-eki), then I could take the red line from Shinjuku-sanchōme and pay ¥260 once I get to Ōtemachi, (the station where the red and blue lines intersect on the map), and then going from Ōtemachi to Kasai would be free.

Unsurprisingly, when it came to the specifics of budgeting for transportation my university couldn’t tell me anything with regards to the train pass or ticket prices. I was once again left to anxiously wait and hope that once I got to Japan I would have enough money to buy them. The train pass in Japan is called a Passmo or if we’re talking about the student pass then it’s 学生定期(がくせいていき- “gakuseiteiki”).

The reason why there’s a pass specifically for students is because it’s cheaper. There are a variety of different passes people can apply for and the prices will change depending on whether or not you’re a student, businessman, or visitor, etc. The student’s train pass is the cheapest and you can purchase a one-month pass, three-month pass, or a six-month pass. If you’re staying for a semester then you’ll probably get the three-month pass which when I was there cost ¥13,100 (~$131.00) for students. The actual price is subject to change depending on how many stations you have to travel each day, but this should give you a rough idea about how much it will cost.

You can apply for your first pass at the train station office. After that you can put up to ¥1,000 on it and use that to buy drinks at certain vending machines and also use it to cover extra ticket costs that aren’t covered by the the train pass. Chances are the three-month pass will expire before you finish the semester so you’ll have to purchase a final one-month pass. If you’re staying for the year then you’ll want to buy the 6-month pass which will be somewhat more expensive but not terribly. They don’t have train passes that exceed six months.

Health Insurance

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Japan has national health insurance which you are required to apply for upon arrival. Another benefit of being a student is that the university you’re at will probably help you apply and show you the ropes. It’s important to note that you may have to also pay for your university’s health insurance in the United States before going as well if you don’t already have equal or better health insurance.

So now you’re probably thinking great, I have to apply for health insurance multiple times and pay for both. However, while that may be true the national health insurance you’ll be paying for in Japan pales in comparison to the price tags on other necessities. The price may vary a little bit depending on your situation but for the semester I paid between ¥1,200-¥1,300/month ($12-$13). If you go for the year it will probably be between ¥4,000-¥5,000/month ($40-$50). See, that’s not so bad now is it?

When the time comes to pay for health insurance Japan takes the meaning of convenience to the next level because all you have to do is go to the nearest convenience store and give the health insurance slip with the amount you have to pay on it to the cashier. The cashier will then scan the bar code along with any other items you may have purchased and that’s it, you’re done.

Cancelling Health Insurance

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At the end of your stay in Japan cancelling health insurance may seem like a daunting task but it’s not that difficult. To cancel health insurance you just go to the ward or city office of the area you’re staying at and wait in line. Here you can also let them know you’re leaving (i.e. changing addresses).

Cancelling health insurance entails that you pay for the months you didn’t initially pay for. This is because when you first apply for health insurance it may take a month or two before you actually start getting bills and what ends up happening is you won’t get the bills of those first two months so you pay them at the city office when you cancel the health insurance. Any months past the time you stay in Japan you do not have to pay for even if they’re marked on the sheet they give you.

Miscellaneous Expenses

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Finally, after discussing room and board, transportation, and health insurance costs comes miscellaneous expenses. For some people this may mean souvenirs, for others food, and still others transportation. For me however, this meant a combination of all three things. By the unfortunate end of my amazing stay in Japan I was spending roughly $1,000 extra a month for souvenirs, food and drink, as well as transportation.

The extra transportation costs came from the tickets that weren’t covered by the train pass (as discussed in our hypothetical situation above) as well as bus tickets. Transportation was probably the biggest chunk of that extra $1,000 a month. I was also spending about $100 a week on food and drinks. Of course, you could easily get by spending less than $100/week on food or $1,000/month altogether but these were specifically my spending habits.

If we include everything discussed in this article, studying abroad for one semester in Tokyo, Japan comes to be between about $10,000-$11,000. In order to pay for this I decided to take out unsubsidized loans (meaning interest accumulates while in school and I have to pay it later) and despite the fact I’m now over $5,000 in debt this experience was life-changing and I would do it all over again. So no matter what you do, if you’re serious about studying abroad don’t be discouraged, but be responsible. Of course you want to exploit all possible options before resorting to loans but don’t regret your decision. Because when the rest of the world decides to play it safe, you’ve chosen to experience it.

Textbook Hell: The Education “Scam”

Well, it’s that time of the year again. The time when wallets are emptied, tuition is paid, and classes start once again. But even before I have the chance to completely deplete my savings on overpriced classes, some of which in the end mean absolutely nothing to my degree yet are still required to graduate, I have to shell out even more money for textbooks. From the moment I purchase these soon-to-be bookshelf hobos and they arrive at my doorstep, regardless of the condition they’re in, their price will become less than half of what I paid for them and as it has been the fate of so many textbooks I’ve owned previously, they will become coffee-stained drink stands and decorative pieces whose only purpose is to serve as a consistent reminder of the amount of money I’ve wasted and trees that were killed for books that were seldom even opened in the class they were designed for.

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The image above shows the prices for a book that’s required for one of my upper-division linguistic courses next semester. I guess what’s really nice about this feature on my account page of my university is that they do give price comparisons from quite a wide variety of sites that are selling this particular book so it’s not like I don’t have other options besides my school’s bookstore. This semester I’m fairly lucky because I only have to spend $168 max for my most expensive book.

Yes, I said lucky. Lucky because many students I talk to sometimes spend upwards of  $200 for a single book. This depends on the classes of course, but the point remains that textbooks are ridiculously priced. I mean I guess it could be worse, at least we’re not living in ancient times when a single book could amount to the price of an entire estate. That said however, last semester I purchased books I opened probably less than fifteen times and that’s being generous. One of the classes I know for a fact I hardly opened the book ten times and still managed an A despite it being a 400-level seminar linguistics course.

Publishers will say many things to justify these outrageous prices such as the production costs and author payment. Other excuses are the selling and buying of used books in which the company that originally priced the book no longer receives payment. Of course, there is definitely good money to be made as a textbook author as long as the book sells. Generally, textbook authors get payed 15% royalties which is subject to increase depending on whether or not the book hits a certain amount of sales. This doesn’t mean every author gets rich off of writing boring how-to novels and study guides but it does seem fairly reasonable for the writer and if it’s required for a class then there’s not really an issue of whether or not it’s going to sell.

When it comes down to it, textbooks will always be a pain in my side. I remember back in my freshman year in an art history class the professor had the audacity to make one of her own texts a required book for the course. It was so tiny that it looked like a pamphlet and she only had us open it when she wanted to reference something that was being discussed in the lecture. Beyond that there was no practical use for it besides collecting dust.

Unfortunately for students, unless the textbooks directly relate to what’s being studied, these how-to manuals will probably never be worth their price tag. They’re like the Beats by Dre headphones of the literary world with the ink on their pages being worth more than the knowledge gained from them.

The Vivacious Peasant – At Your Service!

Vivacious Peasant here, and I thought I’d take this first post to give an introduction of probably the most ordinary guy you’ll ever meet on the internet. But enough about me, no wait, I meant to say more about me because let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to hear more about me?…. Dang, tough crowd. Seriously though, I’m a college student who in roughly six months from now will be high on the winds of life soaring for the clouds with the fierce rays of the sun beating on my face, and so close to the stars that you’d think with one sweeping motion of my arms I could grab them and stuff them in my pocket; the universe at my fingertips. That, or I’ll be working 9 to 5, still living with my parents, and no closer to the edge of life than I was two seconds ago and instead planted at the edge of this seat.

But let’s not talk about that. That is the doubt, negativity, and restricting thoughts that are so intertwined with our society. If we allow ourselves to be controlled by such fear and anxiety how can we possibly expect to achieve our goals and aspirations? Fight for your dreams. Resist. Don’t let the overbearing expectations of society’s predisposed and outdated constraints fool you into thinking that you can’t do what the most inner thoughts and emotions of your soul call you to do.

Be vivaciouspositive, and happy- that’s my motto and part of the reason I chose the name that I did for this blog. The other reason is because I find absolute enjoyment in writing and sharing my thoughts with others. I also like the word peasant (to randomly throw that out there). It just speaks to me. Not in the sense that I’m some lowly human being on a social hierarchy in which a person’s only worth is judged based on the amount of wealth they own, but in the sense that I’m a pretty average guy with dreams to go far in life and live to the fullest. To me, wealth is gauged by how much someone enjoys life and is happy. That simple.

With this blog I plan to write about many different things that may or may not relate to me directly. I plan to teach English in Japan after graduation next semester so you can expect photos, videos, and other kinds of media that relate to my teaching experience abroad. You may also see the occasional short-story from me on this blog as well. I will be doing my absolute best to make each post as interesting, funny, and entertaining as the next in order to make this a cool and interesting blog to visit! So I hope you enjoy your stay and have an awesome day!

Thanks for reading!

Sincerely,

The Vivacious Peasant

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