Serena in Shizuoka: ESSAYS
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The JET Program and COVID-19

April 1st, 2020. That was the day JET decided to send out the results of the interview stage. At this point in time we were less than a month into the pandemic in the US, and most people were stuck at home for one reason or another. I was unable to find a job and once the pandemic hit finding work was impossible. The new Animal Crossing game came out in March, so I had a light hearted distraction from the uncertainty and anxiety I was feeling. I still remember the moment I read that email with my result. I was sitting on the couch about to eat lunch and I decided to open my email.

I was an alternate.

My feelings about this result were pretty mixed, but leaning towards optimism. I figured the pandemic would be over before the planned departure date in September and maybe at some point between now and the end of the year I would have a chance to be upgraded. Still, I was pretty sad about it too. More uncertainty was the last thing I needed.

As the months went by and the planned departure in September was cancelled, I began to lose hope. I think it was around June or July when I figured there was little to no chance I would be upgraded so I started to move on. I finally found a job in July and I started working from home in late stage collections for Capital One Auto Finance. I hated it but it was a full time job with decent pay. I began thinking about how I wanted to proceed from here, and began researching other ways to get to Japan. I didn’t know if I wanted to go through the lengthy JET application process all over again. In October, I received an email from JET informing me that US departure would occur sometime in December or January and that I would be eligible for an upgrade until the end of December. I was skeptical it would actually happen though. It seemed like this pandemic was throwing curveballs in everyone’s plans and I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

December 2nd, 2020. I get the email I never expected: an upgrade was available. For the first few minutes afterwards I was in shock. I honestly never expected I would get an upgrade. The planned departure date for upgrades was April 2021. I quickly replied stating my interest in accepting the upgrade. I was getting seriously burnt out at Capital One so this news lifted my spirits considerably.

However, the excitement was somewhat short lived. The planned December and January departures were cancelled and there was very little information being communicated about my April departure. In February, I was told it was put on hold for the foreseeable future. Japan’s borders remained tightly closed with no signs of an exemption for anyone. I had already quit my job a week before the news was delivered, so I set out to find a new one. Once again, I put the JET Program and Japan out of my mind completely. My new job was much more enjoyable to me but I took a significant pay cut.

The next time I heard from the JET Coordinator was in late May. The new expected depature dates would be sometime between September - December. All the JETs from 2020 and 2021 would be departing in groups in those months. This news was promising, but like I had already learned, I wasn’t going to dwell on it too much until I was given more concrete information. I received my placement in early July: Shizuoka prefecture. No city or school information unfortunately but knowing about where I would be in Japan renewed some of my excitement, at least temporarily.

Finally, in late August, Houston JETs received their departure date: October 24th. It was time to start preparing to move to Japan.