I met Haley through my friend, Brandon (read his interview about finding work after teaching in China here) and she agreed to answer some questions about her time teaching and living in Japan. For anyone thinking about teaching ESL in Japan, Haley paints a great picture of what it’s like including commuting to classes and life in Japan.
Why did you choose Japan when you considering teaching abroad?
My brother had recently traveled in Japan and loved it. I was fresh out of college and malleable, so I took his suggestion of teaching abroad in Japan.
Did you have any prior experience in education?
Not much. I had given piano and voice lessons in high school and college, but never taught in a traditional classroom.
What type of school/program did you work for and in what city?
I worked at a private school (read more about eikaiwas here) in Narita, Japan: Omni International English.
What was the application process like?
I found an ad on Dave’s ESL Cafe and sent in my resume. I got a call from one of the teachers at the school and had a short interview. The next day I learned I got the job.
Related: Browse ESL Jobs in Japan
What was your average day/week like – how often were you teaching?
I believe I had about 20 classes a week (this was 2004), but that didn’t count lesson prep and traveling to and from classes. My least favorite day was Thursday: I had to pack a suitcase with all of my lesson plans, toys, etc., go to the train station, travel 50 minutes by train to a city far away – then teach 5 back-to-back classes. By the end of the day I was exhausted, but I always looked forward to going to a nearby grocery store for some delicious Japanese prepared foods.
Other days were much less stressful. I would usually drive to classes, so I got to know the area really well. Driving in Japan was a learning experience – and eventually, a lot of fun!
What was the living situation like – did the school provide an apartment?
The school provided an apartment and took rent money out of teaching salary. I lived in a traditional (old-fashioned) Japanese apartment.
The house behind the apartment had roosters which would crow at the crack of dawn every day. I quickly got used to that sound, so it didn’t bother me beyond the first week or so.
There was no AC or heat in the apartment. The biggest struggle for me wasn’t culture shock or meeting people or language – it was the sweltering summer heat and humidity. I had never experienced humidity like that before. I was so happy for fall to come – and didn’t really mind the winter too much.
I think I would struggle living in that apartment now, since I’ve upgraded. But at the time, it was pretty cool. I got an authentic Japanese apartment and experience.
Are there are tips you can give to people looking to teach in Japan that you wish you had known before going?
- Japanese summers are brutal: The summer heat and humidity were the biggest challenges for me.
- Travel around the country: For some crazy reason, I was too scared to spend (much of) the money I had earned there, so I mostly stuck around the Narita area. I saw a lot – but also missed out on a lot because of expense. If you have the money, see as much of Japan as you can.
- Stay in touch with your family and friends back home: Thankfully, social media makes that easy now (I didn’t have many options beyond email and phone back in 2004).
When I left for Japan in 2004, I said goodbye to my grandma, which was particularly hard. It was a few months later that we learned she had colon cancer that had spread all over her body. Thankfully, I got to go back home for Christmas but her health had deteriorated and she was suffering. It was the last time I would see her.
I’m so thankful for my time in Japan, but whenever I think back, I can’t help but remember what it was like saying goodbye to my grandma – not knowing then that she wouldn’t be around for much longer.
Cherish your time with your loved ones – and cherish your time in Japan.
What was your background before Japan and what are you doing now?
I had just graduated college and wasn’t ready to take a traditional path – so teaching abroad was the perfect solution for me.
I am now a content strategist and blogger at http://www.cheaprecipeblog.com
Would you do it again?
I have to say, answering these questions is making me nostalgic for Japan! Realistically, I don’t think i would do it again because it’s an experience best suited for someone who’s maybe a bit younger and less settled.
But if you’re looking for an adventure – if you’re not ready for a “traditional” job – if you’re looking to have an experience that will change your life forever – then absolutely. Yes, yes, yes. Do not hesitate to do it. It was one of best experiences of my life – and even now, 13 years later, I still think about it a lot and regularly think about the people I met and experiences I had there.