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Testimonial - 1

Nathan C. Gildart, MEd, BEd, BA

Nathan lives in Tokyo, Japan now. Let's find out what happened to his life in Japan...

 

After travelling to Europe for a soccer tournament in 1990 I decided to teach and travel after university. I finished a BA at SMU ('95), and a B.Ed at Acadia ('97). The plan was to see as much of the world before coming back to Canada to teach History or Political Science, and settle down. Following my brother's influence, I was accepted on one of the Teaching English Programs in Japan, which I recommend as an easy way to get to Japan - you're taken care of, and you make enough money to travel and pay off student loans. The drawback is that for a trained teacher it can be a let down. I was lucky in being placed in a tiny village of 3,000 of the kindest people in Japan, which is what kept me there for almost 3 years. My situation allowed me to develop a decent teaching situation, but I still wasn't considered a 'teacher', which was disappointing because Canada's teacher training programs are far better than those of Japan (at least, better than what I saw in Aomori). Regardless, the people are unbelievably kind. What I didn't know was that coming to Japan would be a life-changing experience.

I wanted to stay in Japan to get better at Japanese. It never occurred to me that I could use Japanese in the future - I just wanted to get fairly fluent at it. When I finished the teaching English program I had to find a job, and after calling the Canadian Embassy I learned of an Ontario Overseas School near Tokyo. After getting the nod I spent almost 9 years there teaching History, Geography and Political Science (with the odd EFL class, which I quite enjoyed). Friends that I met on the teaching English Program either went home, or found jobs in the business world (indeed, Teaching English Program is a good way to get into the country, and some of these guys are making 6-digit figures, even now in the global recession).

While living in Japan I chose to do a Master of Education degree. Distance education is widely available to expats in non-English-speaking countries. I moved on from the Canadian school to The American School in Japan, which is a brilliant place to teach and grow professionally. The difference here is that while the 2 Canadian schools in Tokyo cater to non-native English speaking Asians, ASIJ caters to everyone. (it's not a school that endeavours to make 'little Americans'; staff, students, and parents are open-minded and worldly) For people that travel abroad (and especially come to Japan) I recommend international school teaching. The students are, compared to their peers back 'home' (wherever home is), more open-minded, bilingual or multilingual, well-travelled, motivated, and overall easy to teach. International schools also have excellent salaries and benefits. Yuka, my wife, is Japanese, and an international school is ideal for any future children - a top-class Western education, that also has a Japanese language program. Perfect. So, my wife and I are settling down here.

The years I've spent in Japan since coming in '97 have been tremendously rewarding. It's an interesting place for the non-Japanese. It's also a great springboard to travel throughout Asia, with direct flights almost everywhere. The countryside is steeped in tradition, while the cities have everything - great concerts, museums, food, etc (in particular Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya). My life in the beginning was a great learning experience, and there were plenty of parties with locals and ex-pats alike, and the inevitable culture shock. Your attitude is the thing that makes or breaks you when living in a culture like this. Some things you have to accept as 'the Japanese way', whether you like it or not. You'll be considered an outsider, which you are, but most people will treat you very well. The Japanese are good people. There are things I love about Canada and Canadians, and things I love about Japan and the Japanese. They're both good places to be.

 

Testimonial – 2

Alana

This is a testimonial from Alana Green from Bathurst, NB, Canada. She started teaching English last Spring in Iwate Prefecture in Japan. Let’s find out what she is experiencing in Japan. She kindly answered some common questions some teacher candidates may have.

1. What was your motivation of applying to an ALT position?

I was always interested in Japanese culture and hoped to go there one day. My previous job didn’t seem to be going anywhere and it was time for a change. So, I made the difficult decision to go to Japan. The hardest part was making up my mind to go. Everything after that was easy.

2. How did you approach to make your big step – teaching English in Japan?

Once I had made up my mind to go, it was time to start taking action. The first thing was to search for companies to apply for jobs with. The second thing was to look for Japanese lessons. I did not want to go there unprepared. I applied for jobs with three companies that were recruiting in the near future in Halifax. I was quickly approved to interview and attended an information session and interview in the third week of January. I was offered a job a few weeks later. I only found out where I would be placed two weeks before I left Canada. I started Japanese lessons in early January to get in as much studying as I could before I left.

3. How was your first impression of Japan?

My first week in Japan was spent in Tokyo doing training. It was really surreal to be there. The hotel room was so small, it gave me culture shock. Everything was so different, but it was exciting. There were lots of strange foods to try, without knowing what I was eating. Most of it turned out to be delicious. I grew to like a lot of things that I didn’t like at first. The second week, I took the Shinkansen up to my placement in Iwate prefecture. It was very different from Tokyo. I was on my own for the first time and had to manage communicating in Japanese on my own. It was a bit scary. I briefly wondered what I was doing, but the people of Iwate were so friendly and the country was so beautiful, that I quickly grew to love my placement. I knew as soon as I got to Japan that I would want to stay more than one year. It is a stimulating and healthy environment.

4. How did you fit in Japanese life?

It’s difficult to figure how you fit in your community and in Japan. But, people are generally very interested in you and in a small town, you get invited to do many things. So, I think my role is to be a link between Japan and the western world. I think many Japanese people don’t consider the world outside Japan and that there are many ways of doing things. I expose the people I meet to a different way of being. I love being able to speak English to people who are passionate about meeting foreigners and learning the language.

5. What is your weekly schedule like? I work at two high schools.

I think most teachers teach at more schools than that, so I feel lucky to spend more time at my schools. Monday and Tuesday I drive 30 minutes to a high school two communities away. I teach between 2 and 4 classes each day. I show up 30 minutes before morning meeting and leave about 1 hour after school finishes. I spend this time preparing lessons or working on side projects. Wednesday through Friday I work at the school in my hometown, so it is only 5 minutes away from my home. At lunch hour, I occasionally go to the post office, bank or store if I need to run an errand. Once a week in the evenings, I have Japanese lessons, dance class, or an English conversation class. There is a lot of free time in between classes during the day, so I plan for my extracurricular activities then. This keeps me from getting bored at work.

6. Is your current life in Japan what you were expected before you left Canada?

It was hard to know what to expect and to remember what I thought before I arrived. I didn’t think I would hang out with other English teachers, but it’s great to have English speaking friends who understand what you are going through and with whom you can express yourself fully. I am so happy to have made Japanese friends as well, as I had hoped to before I left. I thought I would try to live a minimalist life, but there is so much great stuff to buy here that I find myself with lots of belongings. I try to live a Japanese lifestyle as much as possible, but anything from home is such a big comfort (eating with a fork, sleeping in a bed, eating a hamburger) that sometimes I enjoy a taste of home.

7. Can you save any money?

It is difficult to save money the first few months until your pay becomes regular. I got a loan from my company when I arrived so I have been paying it off for the past 7 months. But, I have been able to enjoy a better lifestyle than I could afford in Canada. I have a car, I can eat out in restaurants, I buy new clothes. Each month I send about $600 home to pay for student loans and other bills. I must be careful with the remaining money, but I can still afford to have fun. Some months I send less money home and travel around Japan. I went to Tokyo for summer break and Kyoto for winter break.

8. What was the most troubled thing you have experienced so far?

There is only one way to do things, the Japanese way. So, sometimes you think you know how to do something and it is not the way people think it should be done. This leads into the most difficult thing in Japan which is setting up accounts such as bank, cell phone or internet. It is a lengthy process and often requires extra hoops to jump through as a foreigner. You think you can walk in there with a few key Japanese words and you can get through it, but it usually involves in depth questions and many papers. It took me 4 tries to get a cell phone. It took me two weeks to set up an account to wire money home. Getting a Japanese friend or co-worker to write what you want in Japanese is helpful. But, getting through each of these scenarios has strengthened my Japanese.

9. What do you enjoy the most in your life in Japan?

I enjoy the pace. My lifestyle is very relaxing now, compared to in Canada. I enjoy a job that gives me a lot of free time and has a set start and end time. I find teaching very rewarding and stress-free. I also get lots of holidays. The Japanese teachers work through most of the holidays and on weekends, but as a ALT/NS you do not. I find Japan is a very healthy environment: nutritious food, kind people, surrounded by nature, and lots of hot springs (onsen). People seem to live at a slower pace, so cultivating patience and adopting this pace has been important for me.