Derek Payne

Derek Payne site at his composing desk at The News with a picture of the main school where he will teach English at Kayio Senior High School in Japan.

For many, the start of the New Year is viewed as a new beginning with new chances and opportunities on the horizon. For Derek Payne, ad designer at The News, it’s the beginning of a new journey as he packs up and heads to Japan to teach English.

 “I felt like this wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and when the JET program came about I thought, ‘I was always a stickler with grammar,’ and I was always interested in languages in general,” Payne said of leaving his job at The News to head across the Pacific.

He admitted whenever he thought about being a teacher, he didn’t like the idea of being a teacher in America, but thought of the idea of being a teacher in Japan was exciting.

“When I thought about being over there and teaching, I thought that would be pretty cool and exciting, and I think it’s not a job I wouldn’t hate but a job I would love,” Payne said.


The JET program


Payne said he applied for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program after he learned about it from his friends a few years ago and decided to give it a shot in 2018, but his application was turned down. He applied again in late 2019 and was accepted. He said he was originally scheduled to move to Japan in September, but, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, his move was delayed to January 2021. In fact, he didn’t find out he was accepted until November.

“I was supposed to find out about April or May, but because of COVID-19 it got delayed,” Payne said.

According to JET Program Coordinator Tye Ebel, the pandemic caused international exchange programs like JET to be seriously restricted.

“Mr. Payne and his group were originally scheduled to depart for Japan in September; however, as the pandemic stretched on it became necessary to postpone their travel date,” Ebel stated.

The JET Program was started in 1987 by the Japanese government with the purpose to increase mutual understanding between the people of Japan and the people of other countries. According to Ebel, JET promotes internationalization in Japan’s local communities by helping to improve foreign language education and developing international exchange at the community level. Since its inception, JET has hosted over 70,000 participants from 75 countries with approximately 1,000 local governments all over Japan accommodating the applicants.

“A majority of our participants assist Japanese English teachers in primary and secondary schools; however, some applicants with pre-existing Japanese language proficiency are selected to work in local government offices,” Ebel said.


Steps taken to go


The first group is set to depart Jan. 9, with more groups to follow. All of them will be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 72 hours before the flight and quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival to the country.

“We're not out of the woods yet but we're excited to finally get this group to their posts,” Ebel said.

In order to be accepted into the JET Program, applicants need to get a TESL certification, or Teaching English as a Second Language. According to Payne, there are two versions of the course, a shorter class and a longer class, and he decided to take the longer version of the course before reapplying in 2019. He said he spent a few thousand dollars for a four month course that lasted 160 hours, which included him teaching other classes for a few weekends.

Payne said his taking the longer course was the difference in him being accepted into the program in 2019. He added he was planning to learn the Japanese language more via a language institute, but the pandemic caused the classes to be canceled. Before the classes were canceled, Payne did learn enough to understand the foundation of the language and read some of the alphabet.

“I’m not where I would like to be in Japanese proficiency but I know a little bit and I have the foundation,” Payne said.


Teaching in Kyoto


Once Payne completes his quarantine, he’ll be heading to Miyazu, Kyoto. His primary school will be Kaiyo Senior High School. Kyoto was one of the places he picked to be assigned to due to its historical architecture and the climate being similar to Tennessee.

“I feel very fortunate to get one of my three picks, and Kyoto is a beautiful city,” Payne said.

Payne is looking forward to having authentic Japanese food in the restaurants and see how different it is compared to what he is used to in Tennessee.

“I think the thing I’m most excited for is the Japanese restaurants as they put in the best effort, even if it’s a little mom and pop shop, it’s so cool and quaint,” Payne said.

As for what he will miss from the states, it is being able to get Dr. Pepper, and he will have to adapt to eating more vegetables. While he will miss his family and friends, Payne said he won’t miss life in the states as much.

“I don’t know if it was for me or if I’m used to it, but at this point I’m all in for the change,” Payne said.

Ebel stated in order to be eligible for the JET Program, applicants need to have a bachelor's degree and an American passport, as well as strong interests in Japan, teaching, and international exchange.

“We can consider all majors and pre-existing Japanese language ability is an asset, but not a requirement,” Ebel stated.

The application period for 2021 is closed, but the program will begin accepting applications for 2022 next the fall. To learn more, anyone can go to to learn more and apply.

Recommended for you