Jetting off for career progression
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Jetting off for career progression

William Blakeley spent five years teaching in Japan and it changed his life.

William Blakeley spent five years teaching in Japan and it changed his life.

Photo: Supplied

Last month 130 Australians joined one of the world’s largest international exchange programs.
The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, JET, promotes international cultural understanding through education.

Taking up positions in Japan as assistant teachers, international relations coordinators and sports exchange advisors, the JET participants are paid more than $40,000 each year and may renew for up to five years.

The program has seen significant growth since its inception 32years ago, with the number of participants growing from 848 in the first year, to 5528 from 54 countries this year.

To be eligible to apply, participants must be an Australian citizen holding at least a Bachelor’s degree and must possess excellent English language ability. A teaching degree is not a prerequisite, though many teachers do apply.

For William Blakeley, participation in the JET was life-changing on many levels. During his five years teaching in a small town in Japan’s least populous prefecture, he met the woman who would become his wife. They married one week after the devastating Tohoku earthquake. He was able to make a contribution to the response effort, volunteering to repair fishing nets, distribute water to temporary housing residents, and clean up affected houses.

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Blakeley arrived in Japan in July 2006 as an international business graduate with the plan to stay for a year or two. He enjoyed the teaching program so much he ended up staying for five years. During that time he taught at kindergarten, primary school, junior high school, senior high school and a special needs school.

As a minor celebrity in the small town, he was on local TV 15 times, and appeared as an amateur model at two bridal fairs. Other only-in-Japan experiences included joining in sake festivals, excelling at karaoke competitions, and forging lifelong friendships with locals and other expats.

Blakeley says he seized challenges at work and was promoted to leadership positions. He also started up two letter exchange programs with schools in Melbourne.

He improved his language skills, first by talking to Japanese people, and later by buying textbooks and asking Japanese colleagues to explain things he didn’t know. Ultimately he passed level N2 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, which is roughly business-level Japanese.

As the maximum time allowed on the JET Programme is five years, Blakeley and his wife ultimately decided to settle in Melbourne. The time in Japan convinced him that a career in the education sector was the right path, so he undertook a Masters of Teaching at Deakin University to qualify to teach in Australia.

Now teaching Japanese full-time at a high school on the fringes of Melbourne, he is able to share his experiences of Japan through photos, discussion and plenty of insights.