Like I said in my placement post, there were several things making this abstract concept of moving to a foreign country seem much more concrete than usual! Because ‘The Call’ came on Monday night (I’m fully aware that sounds Death-Eaterish), I Googled obsessively through until Tuesday morning , on which I emailed my acceptance of the placement. Lo and behold, just a little while later my first contact came through from Interac’s Mito Branch! Mito is the capital of Ibaraki Prefecture, home of Hokota and thus, it is the branch I will be working with. They sent an email with two attachments that were like a fresh drop of water to a woman who’d been wasting away in a desert of uncertainty and “I don’t know when I’m leaving yet, nor where I will be going! Leave me alone!”
One attachment outlined the car payment and reimbursement info, because yes, this is a driving assignment, and yes, the Japanese drive on the wrong side of the road. I fully expect to bring home a few outrageously-funny-yet-at-the-same-time-life-threatening stories about this fact. The second attachment was even more wonderous; the date I need to leave the U.S. of A., the hotel I will be staying at in Tokyo during training, and how long before I get to leave for Hokota! (Insert sigh of blissful relief.)
So, naturally, me and my mom begin scouring the Web for cheap one-way flights (one-way! How supremely exciting is THAT?!) and find ‘The One’. Leaving LAX on March 20th so as to land on the evening of the 21st in Tokyo. TOKYO! I swear I need to stop staring at this confirmation email like it’s my lifeline and start being a real person in the real world again.
Because with an adventure like this looming, is it any wonder I have trouble living in the present instead of the future? I’m constantly hauling myself back because I know that if I forget about today, tomorrow will come too soon and I will have missed almost 2 months that I have left with my family and friends. It’s okay to be crazy, stupidly, obsessively excited. Otherwise I may wonder if I’m doing the right thing. But I can’t forget where I am right here and right now because it’s a thoroughly loving and wonderful place to be. And I know I’m going to be crazy, stupidly, obsessively missing it at times in the coming year.
So dream on my wanderers! But remember not to waste the present whilst you do so!
Yesterday’s the past. Tomorrow’s the future. Today’s a gift. That’s why we call it the present. -Bill Keane
Hope you’re all keeping up with those resolutions (I’m not..)! As we near the end of January I just wanted to update you all on my JET application as they decided to send out their lists of interviewees on January 21st!
If you’ve been researching the many English teaching opportunities in Japan you have probably heard of the JET program. If not, here’s a very general overview. The program is basically a cooperation between the Japanese government and the governments of several other countries (the USA being one) and, like Interac, you are placed into public schools to teach alongside a native Japanese teacher. The better known differences are that JET has better pay, they pay for your housing and the flight to and from Japan, and so quite naturally everyone wants to do it! And also, naturally, that makes the whole hiring process much more selective. It is hard to be hired by JET. Now because the JET normal track doesn’t start until the summer of every year, versus in April with the start of the school year like Interac, Interac has already interviewed, hired, and placed me. This is one of the reasons I decided against JET, which I will talk about later.
Anyways, I was selected for an interview with JET (yay! I feel super duper special!) and so now I get to send an email politely rejecting the program with so many perks that is so voraciously desired by so many. Again, I’m feeling so super special to be chosen for an interview, but I won’t ever know if they would have actually hired me or not. (Another reason I went with Interac.) From word of YouTube and the WWW, the JET interview is brutal. A board of three staring you down and being intimidating (again, I don’t know from experience!) but I’m guessing it’s kind of what interviewing for grad school feels like… Yikes! Best of luck to all you out there going for it! Just breathe.
I’m glad I am working for Interac for the reasons already mentioned and several others. I’m really really happy to be starting with the Japanese school year in April, I honestly feel like you can know your students and staff better when you’re all starting the year together. If I came in in the middle of everything, I think I’d personally feel more like an intruder. Also, (and again, don’t take my word for it, this is word of mouth) I’ve heard JET does a lot of work with high schools and as an elementary teacher with most of my experience taming the adorable, huggable beasts of K-8? Not really my forte. (Yes, Jr. High students hug too and yes, they secretly aren’t “too cool” for it!) There’s a myriad (so many good words are spewing forth today!) of reasons I decided to take on Interac and not chance the JET and I’m very glad for my choice so far.
As an outsider and as someone who has yet to go to Japan and actually teach, all my information has been my limited contact with both companies and talking with several current employees and stalking YouTube and blogs. So take it with a grain of salt!
So to all you aspiring and current ALT’s, JET, Interac, Eikaiwa, and everyone else I forgot, have faith, good luck, and dream on!!!
It’s a very exciting time in the life of me! Why? I’m SO glad you asked! Finally, a captive audience!
As the world I am directly connected to via facebook and real life already knows, I received my placement call from Interac on Monday night (the 20th my time)!!!! Ahhhhhh!!!!!! It’s so completely unreal to me still, even the thought that I am actually moving to Japan for a year seems like a dream that could never really happen to me. Like it’s something you always think about and really want to do, but happens to someone else.
Anyways, the dream has gotten several steps more real this week as at 9:07PM (PST) my phone started ringing. As there was no area code and the number looked unfamiliar I let it go to voicemail (only the creepiest sales dudes call after 8!) only to see that they actually left a message. Curiouser and curiouser. So I listen in and… WHAT?!?! It’s the Tokyo office saying they would like to talk to me about a placement option! They said they’d email me asking for a good time to call and I email them back saying… now. Basically just call me back, like, five minutes ago! I was so nervous and so excited and so, just, almost scared I guess. This made the whole trip real in a brand new way and that sets off a whole host of conflicting crazy emotions. Soooo naturally I start to physically shake. I’m sitting with my cell on my lap shaking so hard my teeth are chattering so that others can hear. Sad but true.
When, Eureka! At 9:35PM, just 28 minutes (or a lifetime) later my phone rings again. Tokyo! I’m talking to someone in Tokyo! Silently freaking out inside like a crazy fan girl while he does all the talking and I gush my yes’s and thank you’s and sounds great’s. And then it’s over.
Oh dear Lord. It happened.
They didn’t dump me on my face. They didn’t say “sorry, we changed our minds.” No. They gave me a placement and allowed me to Google like my life depended on it! I’m headed to a rural agricultural town on the eastern shore in the northern Kanto region. The melon and strawberry capital of Japan (yum!). Home to about 50,000 people and closer than I ever expected to be to Tokyo and other tourist destinations. Bam.
Today is the 3rd Monday in January and every kid in America knows what that means. No school! Today is the federal holiday Martin Luther King Jr day. Martin Luther King Jr held a key role in the Civil Right Movement in the 1950’s and 60’s. Every kid in school learns that he was a Baptist minister in the South and that he made a speech about dreams. But I don’t think people really appreciate the fact that he was arrested over 30 times despite his message of non-violence and was eventually assassinated. The many boycotts he led and the number of people he inspired are a testament to the bravery of this man, who spoke out for his belief in racial equality when most of the nation was against him.
There aren’t too many special celebrations that go on today in America, most people still work and most students use the time to catch up on sleep or homework. But in school I always remember watching MLK’s speech “I Have A Dream” and having to write about my own dreams. I also remember learning about the bus boycott where all the African Americans sat in the front and the diner sit-ins where they would sit peacefully on the “White’s Only” side. I remember thinking that I probably couldn’t do half of what these people did for rights that most Americans now take for granted. I remember admiring them.
So today is a day for dreaming. For bravely stepping up and deciding what you can do to improve your life and the lives of those around you. Basically, I see today as that mid-January reinforcement of the resolutions we all made on the 1st. So go and volunteer in your community, join that gym, and do your homework. Because every small step we take to better ourselves and the world is a step in the right direction.
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 as 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 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!
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 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 01/25/14: I will be teaching at a Jr. High base and several 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 05/07/15: 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 01/25/14: I’m leaving on March 20th, 2014 for Tokyo, Japan! I will land on the 21st and train until I leave for 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 particlualar: (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…)
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 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 EL 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 and 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!
It’s January. To most of the country right now, heck, to most of the Northern Hemisphere right now, that means snow, snow, and more snow, with maybe a little more snow mixed in. But to me, here in sunny southern California, that means Santa Ana winds and heat! It’s 80 today, it was 80 yesterday, and it’ll be hotter than 80 tomorrow. And while I love, and I mean absolutely love cold weather, I’m so not complaining right now! Because it’s a new year, I woke up today about 97% over my cold, and I’ve got that anything-can-happen-I-am-invincible-summer-break-feeling.
You know that feeling you get when the sun is shining, the wind is blowing, and you just feel great about being alive? Yeah, that’s my summer break feeling. And I think today I’m going to have an adventure. Maybe walk my dog and actually leave the
house for the first time in a week. Maybe get in my car, roll the windows down, and drive down my favorite horse-filled street with the country music blaring. Maybe I’ll just clean my room, which could prove to be the most dangerous task I ever undertake seeing as I’ve been neglecting it for…ever.
Any way you slice it, these don’t sound like fascinating, mind-blowing, adrenaline-pumping kinds of things. But I’ve got that summer break feeling and anything is possible. I wish I could grasp this feeling whenever productivity is calling my name and I’m just too tired, too cold, or too lazy to do anything about it. I want to challenge myself, in this new year that I’ve gotten a late start on, to find that summer break feeling any time of year, and really just hold on to it as long as I can. I could watch a movie with a beach (“Holiday in the Sun,” “The Moon Spinners,” and “Summer Holiday” are really useful for this!), listen to my motivational/travel playlist because every one of those songs just seems like it should be blasted on PCH* with the windows all the way down. And there’s always books; because books are truly the best way to travel on a budget I think!
However you do it, in whatever form, I challenge you to find your summer break feeling. There’s nothing better than thinking of the sun and being in a good mood when the weather outside is frightful. I think you’ll be surprised what adventures you’ll find and in what places once you’ve found it. Even laundry (my most hated chore) suddenly finds some (small) appeal, but hey, that’s more than it has on a wintry day!
So have fun, go on an adventure, and enjoy that summer break feeling!