Predecessors come in all colors, sizes, shapes and descriptions. This may be good, indifferent, bad, or your worst nightmare.
The overwhelming majority of JETs are nice, fair-minded, decent people. Some people are naturals at the job and earn a reputation as super ALTs. Most do their best in the role and leave town with a good reputation. But, every now and then you will hear a horror story about a JET that was unprofessional, behaved badly or even broke the law.
Whatever your predecessor was like, you will hear a great deal about them. This is only natural. For many small towns the only foreigners they have ever encountered are those that live in the ALT house.
Similarly, you can expect huge generalisations about foreigners based on your predecessors.
It may be a few months or longer until you start to hear less about them and feel like you have established your own identity.
While you are waiting for when you are not being told how similar/different you are to the last ALT, what are you to do? All you can do is be yourself.
If you don’t want to be friends with someone you don’t have to be just because your predecessor was.
If flower arranging is not your thing then say so. Tell them what you would actually like to do. It may be something different to what any foreigner has done before.
That said, don’t be a stick in the mud about it. Your predecessor’s links could help you, especially in the beginning. It is likely they were friends with people who were interested in the world outside Japan, maybe speak a little English and are nice to meet. On your own it can take a long time to find these people, so give them a go.
If your predecessor did leave with a bad reputation, there may be bridges to be built. In the beginning, you may find it difficult to attain peoples’ trust, or that you teach very little. Again, it just takes a little time for people to see that not all foreigners are the same and that you have a lot to offer. If nothing else, having a dud for a predecessor will soon make you look fantastic. Just be yourself and do your best.
If you had an amazing predecessor, you may find people have high expectations of you. Just do your best, take on only what you feel you can manage and remember that you are being compared to your predecessor at the end of their contract, when they have had months, or years, to learn how to be an ALT.
Some JETs may find they are in a different boat. Rather than a wonderful predecessor or a predecessor from hell, they have no predecessor.
Starting with a clean slate has its own pros and cons.
You will not have any base built up by other ALTs on which to build. Your office may not know how to deal with you at first.
You may be the first foreigner to have lived in your town, which may lead to stares wherever you go until they get accustomed to seeing you.
On the plus side, you have no legacy to take over. There are no expectations built on what others have done and, above all, no prejudices based in someone whose shoes you have to step into.
Being a new JET position will take time and patience, for both you and your contracting organization.
Help is Out There
If you need help, there are a variety of avenues to turn to. Talk to your supervisor. Many supervisors have been helping ALTs for a number of years and will understand the problems you face. They will also know the ins and outs of living in your town and of life in Japan in general.
You can contact your local HAJET Regional Representative for assistance. They can offer you advice or steer you towards resources you need.
If you are after some online resources, you can try www.debito.org/whattodoif.html It offers solutions to problems faced by foreigners living in Japan.