Nearly three weeks ago, I made the painful decision to part ways with my contracting organization and officially end my time on the JET Program four months early. My board of education proved they could not communicate with ALTs or guarantee safe working conditions. Although I wanted to continue working in Japan, there was too much uncertainty in the wake of the novel coronavirus. As a result, several of us in Niigata city resigned and departed to our respective home countries. Several more decided to stay. Everyone’s circumstances are unique, and one person’s best course of action may be different from someone else’s. It’s important to weigh out every option carefully before making such a life-altering decision.
For anyone who may be considering leaving Japan and returning home during this time, here are some important questions to ask yourself before pulling the trigger:
— Do I have a suitable place to self-isolate for two weeks?
— Can I afford return airfare if my employers do not reimburse me?
— How will I obtain health coverage when I return home, and how does it compare to the coverage I currently have?
— Is the risk of travel greater than the risk of continuing to work?
— Are my employers taking the situation seriously and communicating new information effectively?
— Are the safety guidelines at my place of work adequate and in accordance with what health professionals recommend? Is it possible for me to work from home?
— Am I at risk for losing my job, and do I qualify for unemployment?
— Do I have any underlying medical conditions that put me at a greater risk should I contract COVID-19?
Even though I am young and in good health, I have an underlying health condition that puts me at risk for getting severely ill should I contract the virus. Also, my presence in five different elementary schools a week meant I had plenty of opportunities to get sick or spread the virus. At the time I made my decision to leave Japan, the US Embassy had recently advised Americans to return home unless they were prepared to remain abroad indefinitely. My job was scheduled to end in July, and I did not want to be stranded and unemployed in Japan. My supervisors could not promise they would extend my work contract should such a situation arise. They also broke their agreement with us and slashed our paid leave from twenty days to five days to satisfy budget cuts. If ALTs got sick, we would be required to take a month or more of unpaid leave. This was unacceptable to me. I held out hope I could stay for as long as possible, but ultimately the risks became too large to ignore. I gave a week’s notice and used up the rest of my vacation days to tie up all my loose ends.
Fortunately, I had a safe place to self-isolate, and I also had the means of obtaining affordable health coverage. My journey home went very smoothly. With most flights cancelled, the airports and trains were largely empty. Social distancing was enforced both on and off the plane. My economy seats afforded me an entire row to myself. Still, I nervously disinfected every surface I came into contact with just to be safe. I can’t fully express how ominous the journey felt. I’ve never seen so few crowds in my life, and even the flight attendants wore masks and kept their distance.
After arriving home, I quarantined with my boyfriend who picked up from the airport for the recommended two weeks and adjusted to being back in the states. Not being able to see family or friends was very strange at first, but I would rather be alone than expose anyone to this deadly virus. Since leaving, my former Board of Education finally closed schools and allowed the remaining ALTs to work from home for two weeks in light of Japan’s recent state of emergency. While it hurts that I had to lose my job and give up my dream of living in Japan, I’m happy that our departure may have helped facilitate better working conditions for those who stayed behind.
Once I get back into the swing of things, I’ll be sure to write more about my quarantining experience later. In the meantime, I hope everyone is staying safe inside!