In 2003—almost ten years ago—I was living in Los Angeles and working in Anaheim in magazine publishing. I was working in a field I was unfamiliar with (automotive and car audio) and commuting 2 to 4 hours a day, depending on traffic. I had taken the job after a long period of unemployment. It was less than ideal but basically I had no choice; with no college degree my options were limited to what I already had experience in.
That fall, I saw the movie Lost In Translation and it would forever change my life. I was transfixed. I had never had an experience like that. I had never lived in a foreign country. I had never even visited Asia. Even though I was talking about teaching English in Japan as far back as 1992, without a degree it was just a dream. But the more I thought about going (and the more I thought about how unhappy I was) the more I knew I had to take a chance.
And so, on May 1, 2004, I arrived in Japan with little more than a suitcase and a few tenuous hopes. I still didn't have a college degree but I did have a decade of experience in editorial, good enough for Japanese immigration should a local English-language paper want to give me a chance. I lived in Tokyo for 2 months, sightseeing, thinking, writing, and also hemorrhaging the money I got from selling my car. I never did find a job but what I found was a goal, a purpose for my life. On the plane flight back I vowed I would return with an employment visa in my passport.
I went back to school and studied Japanese. I loved being a student. Even when I was stuck for a year in community college taking care of prerequisites, I still loved it. I loved it because I was working towards a goal. I wasn't just floating along, taking what I could get because I didn't have any other option.
A year later, I was, at the age of 37, a college graduate. And not just a graduate, a summa cum laude graduate. That first goal accomplished, I turned my attention to getting a job in Japan. JET was my number one choice but I applied to any school, no matter how small, that was hiring. I would periodically put on my suit and do an interview on Skype in the middle of the night. I even put on my suit for phone interviews just so that I would feel more professional.
And then disappointment.
I didn't make it into JET. Well, I made it but as an alternate. I was moved into JET purgatory to wait for someone to drop out. I had no knowledge of my standing on the list, whether I was next in line or 200 down. So I kept applying. I was accepted by a chain English school but decided not to take the job as it just seemed dodgy. Instead, I took a job teaching English in Korea, mainly to gain teaching experience but also for the adventure.
At that point I had written off JET. When I first applied I was just under their age cap of 40 and I assumed that one of the reasons I didn't get the job was my age. But just this year that dreaded age cap was lifted and JET once again drifted into my sights. I reapplied, spent a lot of money to fly to Guam, the closest US embassy to Korea, and interview. And just yesterday I received the news that I had been accepted.
It's funny but somehow I've known all along that I wouldn't return to Japan to work until I was 40. Sometimes I wish I had done things differently, had finished school when I was younger and got started on this path sooner. But then I wouldn't be me and maybe it wouldn't mean as much.
Next stop, Japan.