Hannah’s Shenanigans: Adventures in Japan

Why I’m Glad I Was an Alternate: A Guide to Thriving in Alternate Purgatory – After the Upgrade

So, you’ve been upgraded? Or maybe you were shortlisted, spared from undergoing the trials of alternate-dom? Regardless of how you conquered the monstrous beast that is the JET application, congrats! *cue celebratory music*

In this post, I will go into to the things you can (and need) to do once you’ve been upgraded to the short-list. This could be helpful even if you’ve bypassed the whole alternate thing altogether – however, it’s tailored specifically to those who were upgraded. Honestly, though, I think the main difference between being on the short-list from the get-go versus being upgraded to it is the time frame you’ll have in which to get things done; former alternates will often times be dealing with a more expedited process (which, personally, I liked a lot).


You, post-upgrade

More Forms! ALL the Forms!

Now that you’ve won the JET lottery, what are you going to do next? (Aside from going to Disney World, of course) …The answer? Fill out more paperwork! Yay! Who doesn’t love regurgitating the same trivial information on paper over and over again? (If your response is not “Hell yes, paperwork is my favorite!” then you might want to rethink your life choices – mainly pertaining to accepting a job in Japan – because the Japanese apparently can’t get enough of the stuff)

When you accepted the position of “alternate short-list candidate,” you were required to turn in a few forms before it could be official. So it’s only natural that, despite giving your JET coordinator verbal consent that you accept the upgrade offer, you are required to turn in another novel’s worth of dead trees before you can finally be a bona fide short-lister! No worries, though. Compared to your application packet, this’ll be more of a short story. If you’ve made it this far in the JET application process, you’re a pro at this red tape stuff by now – I believe in you!

Status Upgrade Form

This form is where you “officially” accept your upgrade to the short-list. It should just be a single page that you sign and date and also indicate the airport from which you plan to depart (hint: it should be the same as your interviewing location). Easy peasy.

Certificate of Health

For this one you don’t actually have to fill out anything – your physician does. When you were alerted to your alternate status, it’s likely your coordinator advised you to make a doctor’s appointment in advance. However, if you are a late upgrade then you may have already cancelled that appointment.

If you don’t have a doctor’s appointment, the first thing you should do after being upgraded is make one! In my case, I only had two weeks to get all my forms in from the time I was upgraded. If your regular physician books quickly, you may be in trouble. This was the case for me, so what I ended up doing is going to the same office (where they, ya know, have all my medical records and stuff) but seeing a different physician.

The form can be filled out by a Physician’s Assistant but it’ll need to be co-signed by an actual physician. I’d recommend going to one that has known you for a long time, as they must indicate how long they’ve known you on the form. I think it goes without saying that the longer they’ve known you, the more credible JET will find your medical history.

 IRS Residency Certification (Form 8802)

This one’s all kinds of fun. You have to download it from the IRS website and then you have the wonderful privilege of paying them $85 to process your form. Hang in there, though – this one’s hella worth it. If you’re a US citizen (which I’m assuming you are if you were told to turn this form in…), then this form will ultimately exempt you from Japanese taxes. “Amen” to that!

I paid for the form beforehand on the IRS website, giving me the option to fax it. Considering I was short on time, I chose this option (otherwise, you gotta go the snail mail route) and would recommend fellow alternate upgrades do the same. Be warned if you choose this option, though – it required god-like patience. The fax kept refusing to go through because the lines were so busy. I tried their two fax lines over and over again and it still ended up taking about an hour. Let’s hope you’re luckier than I was!

Chances are that if you are an alternate upgrade, you won’t be getting Form 6166 (the U.S. Residency Certificate the IRS gives you in exchange for your troubles – aka the thing that exempts you from taxes) before leaving for Japan – heck, many short-listers don’t even get it on time! So it is important that you give them the address of a person you trust to send it to you in Japan. Once that person receives the form, have them mail it to you ASAP! I will say it again: no taxes!

Criminal Record (if applicable)

I can’t tell you much about this one as it wasn’t applicable to me. If you are a US citizen and have lived in countries other than the US (excluding Japan) for 1 or more years within the past 5 years, then I’m sorry – you’ve got yet another page for your auto-biography in the making!

FBI Background Check

Like the Health Certificate and IRS forms, this one also requires a bit of scrambling around. You’ll need to get your fingerprints taken, which can be done at most police stations (for a fee). Then you’ll have to pay the FBI $18 for each copy of the background check you request. They do not accept cash or personal checks, so you will have to pay either by money order or credit card (by filling out / sending the provided Credit Card Payment Form).

Prior Visa Cancellation Form (if applicable)

I (to my surprise) had to fill out this one. If you have done a study abroad in Japan within the past five years, it’s likely that your student visa is still valid. If that’s the case, then it needs to be cancelled before the embassy can issue you a shiny new Instuctor visa.


one does not simply network

Once you cross the finish line of the rat race that is handing in the final batch of JET paperwork, you’re free – you can finally relax a bit! In order to make your move to Japan a bit smoother, however, I suggest you dabble in the art of networking. This is especially important if you’re an alternate upgrade – the later your upgrade happened, the more important it becomes.

It’s likely you could end up leaving for Japan with Departure Group C, in which case you will get a smaller and shorter Tokyo orientation. Or – as was the case for me – you may not even get an orientation! Though you’re likely to become close with other local JETs once you arrive in your designated city, it’s nice to know you have some contacts before even setting foot on Japanese soil. In addition, if you’re able to befriend some current JETs or JET alumni, they’ll be able to offer you a wealth of valuable information that can mentally prepare you for what’s to come. If you have a more realistic idea of what to expect, it can help mitigate the symptoms of that nasty beast known as culture shock later on.

Pre-Departure Orientation

This is the orientation that happens right before Groups A and B leave for Japan. For those departing with these groups, it is mandatory. However, for those upgraded to the short-list later on, it will most likely be optional. Though this was the case for me, I attended the meeting anyway and would recommend doing the same if you are able.

As a late upgrade, it’s possible you may feel a bit left out at this orientation as you will not be getting on a plane for Japan the next day like (most likely) everyone else there. I didn’t even have my placement info when I attended. Though that made conversations about where we’d be in Japan a bit awkward, it also made me memorable! By the end of the night, everyone knew me as “the girl without a placement.” For some, maybe that could get a little annoying, but I didn’t mind standing out – it was like I was this “wild card” that could end up anywhere. I was tempted to have people take bets on which prefecture I’d end up in! When I did finally get my placement info, those that I had befriended were eager to hear about it and share in my excitement!

For those who won’t be departing for Japan in a group, I’d say the pre-departure orientation is a must. You will most likely learn important information regarding JET and getting to Japan and, more importantly, make some useful contacts. I was able to meet a lot of fellow incoming JETs – all from the same general vicinity in the states as me – and hearing their stories was inspiring. It was also reassuring to know that I would now know a bunch of people in Japan – even if I wasn’t sure how close or far they’d be from me! I also connected with some JET alumni who proceeded to invite me to the JET Alumni Association (JETAA) Facebook group.

More importantly, though, it was a really good time! Attending the orientation got me even more excited about my new life in Japan. And since I didn’t have to wake up early to catch a flight the following day, the whole process was stress-free!

 The “Interwebs”

Once you have your placement information, it’s time to take your networking ventures to the web! (Let’s face it: at this point the majority of JETs will already be in Japan, so there aren’t many other options available…)

First and foremost, you’ll want to check out Facebook. Now I’m not exactly a Facebook fan – or a fan of social media in general, for that matter – but it will definitely prove useful in connecting with other JETs. Each prefecture has its own Facebook group, you see, so joining yours will put you into contact with JETs within the general vicinity of your placement. (Be sure to take “general vicinity” with a grain of salt, though. I was placed in Kyoto prefecture but I’m so deep in the country that Kyoto city is about three hours from me!) If you know the name of your city, it’s possible you may also encounter people from that very same city! These are the people that will be able to give you the best advice and, if they’re re-contracting / just starting out with JET, are people you’ll be hanging out with in due time

JETs will also post about local events in the Facebook groups. Once you’re in Japan, attending such events is another great way to meet people and, often times, learn more about Japanese culture while doing so. These events can also help you connect with locals. I did a day-long homestay shortly after arriving in Japan and I’m still in regular contact with my host family!

In addition to Facebook, I found myself frequenting message boards on Reddit and IThinkImLost (a website for current and future JETs). Both sites have hangouts for alternates, which can be helpful for your sanity as long as you don’t get too obsessive about upgrades.

So many past, present, and future JETs have posted on these forums that you will most likely find good answers to any questions you may have – as long as you’re persistent in your search. If you have trouble finding answers, you can always join these forums and post a question yourself; your inquiry will likely be met with some swift and informative responses!


So now you’ve arrived at Narita, fresh-faced and down for some new adventures in “The Land of the Rising Sun” (but even more so, “The Land of All Things Kawaii EVER” – they don’t always include that one in the guidebooks). This is where the real networking happens. I think it goes without saying that Tokyo orientation is prime time to make some new friends!

Now if your arrival is scheduled post-August 18th…ish, then you won’t be getting an orientation. However do not despair, newly upgraded, for it is likely others who have undergone similar trials will be waiting there when you arrive!

I departed for Japan on September 8th, a Tuesday, and was the only one from my embassy to do so. Naturally, I expected I’d be alone upon arrival in Narita too, but that did not end up being the case. After meeting up with the JET Program people, they told me we still had to wait a bit before sending me to my hotel because they were expecting another girl to arrive shortly. Once she did, they put us both on the shuttle for the hotel together. We got to know each other and made plans to eat breakfast together the following day before parting ways and heading to our respective hotel rooms.

The next day, to my surprise, we discovered that about twelve other new JETs had also arrived the previous day and stayed in the same hotel. We were able to discuss our respective alternate limbo stories as we waited together for a JET representative to lead us on the next phase of our journey. When the JET representative came, they had us get on a shuttle back to Narita. From there, we were split off into three groups – I was in a group of five headed for Tokyo station. On the trip to Tokyo station, we all got to know each other fairly well and it turns out three of them were even headed to the same prefecture! Before we parted ways, we all exchanged contact information.

Basically, the point I’m trying to make is that even if you’re a late upgrade and are forced to bypass orientation, you should have no problem meeting some new JETs in Tokyo! JET seems to coordinate departure dates – it makes it easier on them and allows us to get that sense of camaraderie at the same time. Many of my fellow September 8th arrivals were upgraded a few weeks earlier or later than me and yet we still all arrived on the same day. So unless you’re upgraded really late (like in the fall), you can expect to meet people. Because it will be a much smaller group, you’ll have the chance to get to know these people better and you’ll now have some people to bond with over the woes of your prior alternate-dom!

Next Time

Next time, in my final installment, I will finally be addressing the title: “Why I’m Glad I Was an Alternate” and going into (what I consider to be) the positives of being a former alternate! (You’re totally dying to find out, right? Right???)

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