Interview with Tamsin

  1. Why did you decide to do English teaching?

After working in a corporate environment for 7 years I wanted a change from my stressful and mundane existence. Teaching English as a foreign or second language offers exciting opportunities. It’s your passport to travel.

  1. What teaching experience do/ did you have?

I had none so it was 180 degree change for me.

  1. Why did you choose Japan?

I did research on the destinations on offer and I thought Japan sounded the most appealing. Unlike most other Asian countries Japan experiences all four seasons (snow, rain, heat etc.). Living in a country that only has one season – sweltering heat – is not appealing to me.

Japan is a developed country with great infrastructure. Everything is efficient and convenient. The standard of living is quite good. However, being a developed country means the cost of living is quite high. Although teachers are paid a decent salary and you can afford to live – you won’t live a lavish life but you won’t starve.

Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world making it one of the safest countries to live in the world.

Japanese history, culture and people are very interesting and sophisticated which is something that became even more apparent to me when I moved here.

  1. Have you travelled abroad before?

Yes, I love travelling and this is one of the main reasons why I chose TEFL as a career.

  1. Did you use a recruitment agency?

Yes, I did.

  1. How was the recruitment process?

The recruitment process was very quick but not without it problems. The language school I work for uses multiple agents and I don’t think the agent I used was the best one. I would recommend using an agent someone has recommended to you and preferably someone based in your home country. My agent was UK based because the language school I work for is an international British language school. At the end of the day I got a job but I wasn’t too happy with the agent I used. Trying to communicate with someone in another country allows for miscommunication and because you are using an agent you are getting information second hand. I think the language school’s recruitment process is flawed – using multiple agents doesn’t do them or the teachers any favours. It seems like the different agents give recruits varied degrees of guidance, differing information and a standardised recruitment process isn’t employed.

  1. Did they provide advice and guidance with regards to your visa application?

Yes, basic advice and guidance. I still had to do my own research and make enquiries.

  1. Was accommodation provided?

Free accommodation is not provided. You have the option to use the “school’s accommodation” or get your own accommodation. In terms of the “school’s accommodation” they find a bachelor flat for you in a suitable location and sign a lease on your behalf. The rent comes off your salary each month. I took the “school accommodation” option as I didn’t want the hassle of looking for accommodation in a place I knew nothing about.

  1. Was the accommodation satisfactory?

Yes, but I think that South Africans need to lower their expectations when it comes to accommodation in Japan. Accommodation here is very expensive and very small and basic. If you want the equivalent of what we are accustomed to in South Africa then be prepared to pay your entire month’s salary. With a population of 125 million space comes at a premium in Japan. Also don’t expect brick, mortar and concrete accommodation. Here buildings are made of lightweight materials due to earthquakes. Furthermore, the Japanese real estate market is governed by many rules making it difficult for Japanese and foreigners alike to rent. The amount of accommodation available to foreigners is very limited – very few real estate agents rent to foreigners.

  1. Did the company provide training?

Yes, you receive training for your first two weeks before commencing work. Then it is compulsory to attend training days throughout the year.

  1. What was the most challenging aspect when you first arrived?

The language barrier – compared to other Asian countries Japanese people don’t speak as much English even in Tokyo where I am based. I live in a suburb on the outskirt of Tokyo. Once you leave central Tokyo English is almost non-existent. All the products’ labels are in Japanese. Luckily signs are in English and Japanese.

  1. How has your experience been so far with your interactions with the school, parents and the people in general?

Japanese people are the most polite, kind and generous people I have ever met in my life. Japanese culture, society and language dictates that you be considerate and mindful of others. Gift giving is a very important part of Japanese culture. Teachers are very respected here and teachers are showered with gifts from staff, students, parents and neighbours/housemates on a regular basis. In some cases even weekly.

  1. How did you deal with the culture shock?

Nothing prepared me for the culture shock that is Japan. I read up before hand on Japan but it’s beyond anything I could imagine. Japan is totally different from South Africa and teachers from the UK, US, Australia etc. find Japan to be a total culture shock. Japan is an island nation so they have managed to preserve their customs and traditions while being a highly industrialised country. If you live or work here just be prepared to have your mind blown. They way I dealt with the culture shock was by being quite vocal about. Speaking to other foreigners and finding out that your experiences are not unique is quite comforting.

  1. How has this experience enriched you on a personal level?

Leaving my home, family and friends has been tough but I don’t regret it. I have had experiences and met people I would have never met at home. Living and travelling abroad is always an enriching experience – it broadens your horizons and grows you as a person. You learn to adapt and survive in an unfamiliar environment. Even though it has been a daunting experience what I have enjoyed the most is “finding my own way” on how to live life without the physical closeness of family and friends.

  1. Do you have any useful tips or advice for anyone considering teaching in Japan?

Japan has four seasons so pack for four seasons. Let’s not forget to mention Japan gets typhoons and experiences monsoon weather. Clothes here are expensive and finding Western sizes is a mission. Then if possible try stockpile on toiletries and cosmetics because they have different brands here and Japanese products are not that suitable for Westerners. I am particularly talking about hair products and deodorant.

If you work for a language school expect to be paid less and get shorter holidays. Some language schools also expect you to do sales (sell textbooks and handout flyers). Language schools don’t sponsor flights and accommodation.  For better working conditions and pay its best to try get into the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). This is the government run programme where you will be placed in state schools. If you work in the countryside be prepared to be one of the only foreigners in your town and you better know some Japanese. The JET recruitment process is more rigorous than the language schools but they sponsor flights and accommodation.

Teaching opportunities in Japan abound and are increasing due to the new law that Japanese children must start learning English from primary school. Before they would only start learning English in high school. English is becoming increasingly popular to study at language schools in preparation for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Olympics to be held in Japan.

Japan is definitely a country to consider for ESL.

Authur: Tamsin Collins

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