The centerpiece of your JET application is The Statement of Purpose, or SOP. It’s the one-page letter where you get to say everything you want JET to know. It’s also, shockingly, the only chance you’ll have to prove that you can actually speak English.
Organize it well, be clear, and edit it. In theory, the SOP should explain:
1. What you’re going to do when you are in Japan andwhy Japan should care.
2. What you’re going to do when you leave Japan andwhy Japan should care.
3. Why you care about Japan.
Once you have explained 1-3, you need to cram in supporting evidence. Now, the essay might change every year, so make sure you read the prompt extremely carefully. But ultimately, it always ends up breaking down to these questions.
1: What you’re going to do when you are in Japan and why Japan should care.
Too many people write about how Japan will benefit them, without talking about what they have to offer to Japan. That’s sort of like expecting people to date you because you’re “nice.” JET isn’t really interested in knowing how badly you want to be a JET. They want to know how badly they need you.
If you want to get into JET – or date! – you have to have something to offer the other person. Something you’re passionate about, something that makes you interesting and unique.
This is an exchange program, after all. If you love to line dance, play an instrument, wear a kilt or play a sport, that’s your angle. Try to cram in a few things at once. The JET Programme is looking for people who can represent their culture.
Now, I get that the main reason you want to go to Japan is probably because Japan is pretty cool, and you think it would be exciting to live there. The thing is, Japan knows that you want to visit it, or you wouldn’t be applying for this job, right?
So imagine the things you might do in Japan with the skills you have. Yeah, you can speak English. Would you like to start an English-language club at a school? Do you have some special skill or knowledge that might be interesting to students, or your community as a whole? Remember that English education and internationalization are the two aims of the JET Programme. What can you deliver that connects to those goals?
This is probably the toughest question to answer, because it’s hard to imagine what opportunities exist in Japan. But you don’t have to panic about the likelihood of success. But just showing that you’ve thought about the question will go a long way.
Once you’ve decided what you can bring to the Japanese table, make sure to explain how you feel these will be useful to you as an ALT or CIR. If you can line-dance in a kilt or you can do capoera, then go with internationalization benefits. If you write, edit, or sing, go with the English education angle. If you can get both of those things into your benefits paragraph, great!
2. What you’re going to do when you leave Japan and why Japan should care.
Basically, what do you want to be when you grow up? The SOP guidelines ask you to describe “what effect you hope to have on the Japanese community and internationally as a result of your participation in the JET Program.”
I’ll give you a hint: It shouldn’t involve moving to Japan. JET specifically brings people to Japan and then kicks them out in three-to-five years, ideally with the ability to explain Japanese culture to Americans or Brits or Aussies or Kiwis or whatever. Even if your dream is to live in Japan until you are a Golden Girl, keep the assumption to the visa that JET is offering you.
Your life goal, as far as the SOP is concerned, should ideally involve a situation where your experience in Japan can help explain Japanese culture to others. You can probably find a way to make this relevant to any career, but try to make it explicit in your SOP.
3. Why you care about Japan.
This is the motivation paragraph. Your answer should be something about learning and sharing something about both cultures. Be specific – food, music, art, movies, sports, poetry, etc – find something you want to learn about that you can also teach others. If you are bilingual, this gets a little easier.
If you have a compelling personal story – “My brother ran away from Australia when I was 3 and lived in Japan for 20 years, and we’ve reunited” – then that’s awesome, but be careful about dedicating your entire SOP to it. I’m sure JET is interested in helping you understand your step-cousin, boyfriend or adopted sister, but it may not be enough. You gotta give something back, too.
4. Supporting Evidence
Once you’ve achieved 1-3, you need to look at the SOP guidelines and see what else you can pluck from this list: applicable experiences, professional skills, relevant interests and personal qualities.
You only have one page, so you will revise a lot (see “writing tips” for some advice on getting the most out of the space!). If something even remotely echoes what you say somewhere else, cut it out and replace it with supporting evidence. Ideally, your essay will briefly mention any sustained experience with foreigners or culture shock (“It was quite a culture shock!” is a good, fast way to do this) and also how you overcame it with a personal quality.
- When you have finished your essay, check and see that you have hit all of these points, and backed them up with evidence. If something is missing, you need to work it in!
- You may be tempted to be flowery and descriptive, but there’s not very much room to do that. Literally every word counts! If you have a hard time making room for all of these points, first look at your essay, sentence by sentence. Is every sentence relevant to your goals? Then look at each word. Compare: “Often, writers use a bunch of redundant, repetitive words in all of their sentences,” to “Sentences often have redundant words.” Same meaning. Less space. You can tighten up almost any sentence – make sure you do!
- Show it to someone. You will always think everything you write makes sense, because you know what you meant when you wrote it. Ask your grammar-fetishist friends to be brutal about your essay’s punctuation, spelling and organization. Show it to a teacher. Show it to everyone you know who can read.
- But don’t give it to them without telling them your goals. They have no idea what JET is looking for, so you have to tell them. Then ask if your essay meets the goals you set.
OK, that’s that. Feel free to leave comments if you need help or have any questions about the process! I’m also hoping to post some advice on the interview process later in the year.
If you’re really keen on understanding more about the Japanese education system, may I recommend skimming through my old blog posts that explain the whole thing? Check out part one here: On Pretending to Know About Education in Japan.
And as always, you can find This Japanese Life over on Facebook.
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Statement of Purpose essay
This is an essay, in English, of not more than two 8½" x 11" (or A4) pages, typewritten in 12 point font and double-spaced with one-inch margins. Please note that anything beyond the required two pages will not be read.Please type your name and page number (1of 2, 2 of 2) on each page. Be sure to include two copies of your statement in your application package. You should incorporate all of the following points in your essay.
Relevant Experience: Describe applicable experiences, professional skills, relevant interests and personal qualities, and how you feel these will be useful to you as an ALT or CIR.
Motivation for Participation: State why you wish to go to Japan and participate in the JET Program and why you are interested in the position for which you are applying. Also address what you hope to gain, both personally and professionally, and what effect you hope to have on the Japanese community and internationally as a result of your participation in the JET Program.
Considering you only have two pages, it is important to make sure all the points listed above are mentioned somewhere in your essay -- avoid fillers, get straight to the point.You have to make yourself look good, but at the same time, you don't want to talk about yourself too much (By this, I mean: Make you sure you address things you can do for the company, not just the things the company can do for you). The main focus should NOT be "I want to go to Japan really badly, because I love the culture." It's okay to mention it briefly, especially in answering the "why do you wish to go to Japan?" point of the essay, but then move on.
Also, I would avoid going into detail about interest in anime, manga, or computer/video games in your essay. This point is somewhat controversial, but I know a person who didn't get to the interview stage that mentioned his love for Japanese video games and computers in his essay. He took that out of his essay when he re-applied the following year, then he got the interview. It may have been a coincidence, but I think that mentioning these things could lead the application committee to think you're shy, anti-social, or just want to go to Japan for your own interests and not for a love of teaching and multi-culturalism, whether that's actually true or not. When I took my rough essay to my Japanese prof to look over, she told me to take out the mention of anime, because it gives the wrong impression. I guess it's just important to remember that, first and foremost, this is a formal essay for a job.
It might also be a good idea to check out the page on the JET website that describes that responsibilites of a JET ALT and the qualities they find appealing (On the USA page, it's under the tab on the side that says "Job Descriptions"). I used this to decide what qualities and experience I have that I can focus on the most in my essay to match what they are looking for in an employee.
Allllllright. So....here is my final essay that I submitted with my application. I hope that it helps all of you planning on applying for 2013! Ganbatte :) If you have any further questions, just leave a comment! My next post will be coming in a couple of weeks.
Statement of Purpose
If accepted for the ALT position with the JET Program, I would strive to create a positive, upbeat environment that excites Japanese students about learning English. I believe that creativity is a powerful tool in the classroom to stimulate interest and motivation. Therefore, I hope to utilize my knowledge of American music education by teaching language and culture through song. I am convinced that my collegiate experiences, interest in Japanese language and culture, and desire to teach make me an ideal candidate.
In May 2011, I graduated from Marshall University with a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese and a minor in music. Through the Marshall University Japan Club, I enjoyed meeting and working with Japanese foriegn exchange students. Being a member of the Marshall University Chorus for four years and secretary of the Marshall University Collegiate Music Educators Association for two years, I gained valuable leadership skills and enjoyed collaborating with peers. I both attended and helped organize educational clinics at state conferences. Also, as part of an education course, I observed and assisted in music classes at Meadows Elementary School. One of my responsibilities was writing and teaching choreography for an upcoming concert. Through these experiences, I came to the realization that I would like to teach.
During my last semester of college, I met with a Japanese graduate student once a week to help him with his English. The student was rather shy, which made communication challenging. However, we made progress and it gave me a desire to help others like him in the future. I believe that working as an ALT would be a great way to gain classroom experience, so that I may be better equipped to assist those having difficulties with the English language. My goal is to obtain a Master's Degree in Teaching English as a Second Language upon returning home and share the multi-cultural experiences gained through this position with students in the United States.
I am also interested in living and working in Japan to learn more about the country's rich culture. I have a strong desire to continue my Japanese studies and I would love the opportunity to do so in Japan. For my undergraduate Capstone Project, I wrote a comparitive study of elementary music education in Japan and the United States. If given the opportunity to work for JET, I would appreciate the chance to learn more about Japanese music and the education system firsthand.
I am a dedicated, hard-working employee, which is evidenced through having been employed with Frostop Drive-In for over six years. When faced with a difficult situation in the workplace, I find a way to solve the problem instead of giving up. I believe this is an important quality for someone working as an ALT, because I realize living and working in a different country could be challenging. I take my commitments seriously and always give my best effort.
I believe that cultural exchange is important in this increasingly globalized world. If given the opportunity, I would seek to teach students about the English language in a manner that would inspire them to persue multicultural careers. I am convinced that my knowledge and skills, combined with my passion for Japanese language and culture, make me a unique candidate for the JET Program. Working as ALT for the JET Program would not only assist me in obtaining my goals, but also deepen my understanding of the world around me and help me grow as a person.