Q&A #1: Teaching in Japan
The one in which I take every question I've ever been asked about this topic and only answer some of them.
So when I first told my family and friends that I would be coming to Japan they had about a zillion and one questions for me. And as one of my favorite pastimes is answering people’s questions (hence the best ever life choice to become a teacher), I figured I would make a list and see if I can help anyone out there who is as of yet undecided about attempting (or still confused about) the whole process! These are in the order from the most frequently asked downwards:
1. Do you speak Japanese?
Right after the “WOW” this is always the question I get. And the answer is: the most basic you can think of. I can greet people, ask how they are, get directions to the station and bathroom, and comment that it’s raining. Other than that...I’m working on it. I can read Katakana and Hiragana (thanks to the Anki flashcard program) plus kind of sorta write it. I am currently starting the Genki 1 textbook and workbook and would recommend it so far. Very easy to understand and lots of useful information. Another useful resource has been YouTube surprisingly! Try JapanSociety and JapanesePod101 for some good lessons and there are so many others it’s kind of mind boggling.
UPDATE (Jan. 25th 2019): I still get this question, and my answer is still pretty much the same!
2. Why Japan?
Anyone who has ever known me, especially my grandma, knows that China is my number one travel dream destination. I want to walk on that Great Wall and marvel at those terracotta warriors. So why Japan? When I first looked into teaching abroad, I was looking at China. Japan was a blip on my radar; a fairly cool blip I would highly consider traveling to, but not until the China goal was reached. Practicalities, however, are a game changer. Salaries are better in Japan. The company I was hired for is reputable and I can be sure that it’s not a scam.
But largely, I first settled on Japan for my family’s peace of mind. It’s the safest country in the world, it’s not Communist, and it is very modernized. But then something unexpected happened. The more I learned about Japan, and the more I researched into its educational system for my senior project, and really the more I found out about the people, culture, and landscape, then I became rather obsessed. Truly, if given the choice right now, I wouldn’t be lying by saying that I would choose Japan. I’m taking a side trip to China when my contract is up or during my summer break but for the long haul, I really would choose to live in Japan.
3. How long will you be over there?
I will begin a one-year contract from the time I start at the school in Japan. So yes, I will be there for one full calendar year. My family and friends have expressly forbidden any extension of the contract if I’m asked but hey, we’ll see how it goes over there ne?
UPDATE (May 7th 2015): I renewed my contract for another year. I guess I kinda sorta like it here! This is month 14 of my Japan Adventure.
4. Where are you going to be?
Short answer: I don’t know. I have yet to be placed but I did request the Tohoku region. Hiraizumi specifically or at least Iwate Prefecture. I’m a big nature girl and I want my scenic mountains and hiking nice and close! I’ll also be a southern Californian in the snow, and I really want to know if I love the cold as much as I think I do!
UPDATE (Jan. 25th 2014): I will be teaching at a Jr. High base and six elementary schools in Hokota-shi, Ibaraki-ken. It’s a small agricultural beach town on the Eastern coast. No mountains, but I do love the beach!
UPDATE (May 7th 2015): I don’t like the cold. I am solar powered. Give me sun, give me warmth! You can keep your cold!
5. When are you going?
Again: I really can’t say for sure. I know that it will be in the Spring of 2014, specifically mid-to late-March. I will update this info as well as the placement info as soon as I get it and these two pieces of info along with a whole other bunch of useful stuff should all be coming together no later than about Valentine’s Day I’m told.
UPDATE (Jan. 25th 2014): I’m leaving on March 20th, 2014 for Tokyo, Japan! I will land on the 21st and train until I leave for my city of Hokota on the 27th.
6. What will you eat?
I find this question to be kind of hilarious in the number of times it’s asked and the faces of the people who ask it as they remember one very important thing about me. I hate fish.
In a culture that has a largely seafood diet I expect to lose a whole lot of weight (yay!) and yet I also hope to find something fishy that I can like. I know tuna and salmon are fine, but I don’t know if I can stomach raw anything… I guess we’ll find out!
I know there are two rules I can live by when it comes to unknown foods, seafood in particular: (1) if it’s fried, I like it (that’s the southern girl in me!) and (2) if you don’t tell me what it is until I’ve swallowed it, I will eat it.
I’ve never been all that picky about food; normally I like everything (except fish) that’s thrown at me! I’m curious what American taboo foods I’ll find and fall in love with in Japan! (I do expect to be eating massive amounts of rice and ramen however…)
UPDATE (Feb. 28th 2016): As of a few months ago I’m obsessed with salmon sashimi! All the food rocks here, even the seafood. Just not natto. If someone offers you natto you run for your everlovin’ life.
7. Will anyone there speak English (aka Will you be near any Americans/native English speakers?)
In all likelihood, from most of the current teachers I’ve been following, probably not. I could get lucky and share a school with another ALT but the very few people I know from the interview process that will be going over with me are probably going to be placed nowhere near me as they either requested Hokkaido (as a fellow Californian, I think they are either crazy or super brave) or southern Japan.
So no, I won’t know anyone and yes, I do expect to become more outgoing as a result of this job. I’m the quieter, more reserved one in my family and my group of friends (not all that quiet or reserved around them, but certainly not at their awesome level of craziness!) so I do expect this to be a hard but necessary method of personal growth. Look at me trying to be all grown up and stuff!
This is another question I find a little odd in it’s timing and the look on their faces. Once they hear I’ll be alone, in an unknown culture with an unknown language they start to see past the glamour and start seeing the risks and the hardships. So my family asked: why? Why leave us and everything known and familiar for an entire year and travel around the world to teach a subject you could just as easily teach here to California’s large ELL population?
The answer to this question is a little trickier than others. How do you explain to so many people that you love more than life itself why you are choosing to leave them for an extended period of time? I’ve thought extensively about this and I suppose there’s no easy or right answer.
Wanderlust. I itch to travel and I itch to travel for a long period of time to really have an opportunity to integrate myself into a new culture as much as possible. Adventure. I’m tired of dreaming of one, and this is really the most perfect opportunity for an adventure in my life to actually happen. Growth. There’s this image in my head of who I want to be, but surrounded by people who have known me as I am now for 15+ years it is really hard to rock the boat. I hope that being away from my niche will allow me to grow and present myself as and actually become the image of me that I really want to be. I also hope that I come back and am able to maintain that new shape.
9. What will you be doing?
This one is sometimes asked after the heavyweight that is question #8 and sometimes not. But basically I will be working for Interac and taking a position as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in a public school somewhere in Japan. I requested to be placed in an Elementary/Jr. High combo so will most likely be at more than one school singing songs and playing games in an effort to actually have students remember their English and not test and forget (like I always did in German… and Spanish…). I love teaching and would never want to do anything else, no matter where in the world I am!
Last one! Last one!
10. How do you go about getting a teaching job in Japan?
Good question! I’m glad you asked! In terms of me, I literally just went and Googled “How to Teach English in Japan” and started reading blogs and watching YouTube videos. But there are some really good resources out there! I recommend looking into both Interac and the JET Programme (check to see if it’s available in your country) if you want to be a public school teacher. However, if you are looking into an eikaiwa (an English conversation school) I know they usually have better benefits and salaries, but your working hours will be more varied than a 9-5 public school job.
There are postings literally all over the internet but some good places to start would be Dave’s ESL Cafe (post your resume and search for jobs in Japan, Korea, and China) and Ohayo Sensei (a free bi-monthly newsletter that posts openings). Gaijin Pot is also a very good resource for studying, working, and learning about Japan. I also have a very very long list of independent eikawa that are not associated with the giants like AEON as well as schools you can directly apply to from my advisor at my TEFL institute. If you would like a copy I will gladly email or message it to you, just shoot me a note!
Hope these helped, I have many more I can answer but this is getting long enough as it is. I will post more Q & A’s as the month goes on. If there’s something you are curious about that I didn’t cover or want to know more about stuff I did please comment or message me! I would love to gather more questions from you and/or just talk about how cool it will be to move/live in Japan!