Last stop… Teaching abroad in Japan! For the final installment in our Where will TEFL take you? series, Angelina from Teach Away shares what it was like fulfilling her childhood dream to live and work in Japan!
Why did you choose to teach in Japan?
I was a big fan of Japanese culture starting from when I was very young. My high school actually had a sister city in Neyagawa, Japan and I went on an exchange for two weeks. It was an incredible experience and I knew without a doubt I wanted to live in Japan one day. After university I decided that teaching English was the best avenue to accomplish my goal!
What were some of your biggest challenges as a teacher in Japan?
The program I went through specifically hired university graduates and I went over with no training, no pedagogical understanding of teaching, nothing. I remember having a moment of panic on the plane when I realized I was going to do a job that I had no basis for. As I spoke some Japanese I was placed teaching the majority young learners. I taught at 14 different schools through the year, from preschool to junior high, and adults in the evening twice a week. I had to figure everything out as I went and I was expected to make my own lesson plans and submit them to my schools for review.
What was your favourite part about the culture? What was the most challenging part?
Japanese people treasure their ancient history. You can walk down any street and see buildings that are hundreds of years old in a country that wants to continually modernize and improve. Also, the people are generous and giving and will bend over backwards to help you in any situation. Once, a lady chased me down the street to give me an umbrella after I asked for directions outside her home in the rain.
As for challenges, Japanese culture is very insular. Even with tourism being huge, I lived in a small community where foreigners were rare. Locals were very curious about every aspect of my life which felt invasive at times. For example, if I ran into my students in the grocery store they would bring their parents over to stare at what was in my basket. I was treated like celebrity, with all the ups and downs.
What is something you wish you’d packed before leaving for to Japan?
Taco seasoning. The foreign teachers and I traded that stuff like currency!
What teaching advice would you give to someone looking to teach in Japan?
You need some TEFL experience. Trying to teach Japanese students English grammar was very difficult because their sentence structure is entirely different. Also, their alphabet contains different sounds than English. As a teacher I found it helpful to have an understanding of what my students were hearing in order to teach more effectively.
What were the benefits, accommodation and salary like as a teacher in Japan?
I worked as an assistant teacher with the government program JET. My salary was 300,000 YEN per month, approximately $2,500 USD, and I had great benefits that included health insurance and 15 vacation days plus bank holidays per year. My flights to and from Japan were paid for and I had a small apartment that was subsidized (it was apparently large by Japanese standards!)
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