I recently came across posts of several different people moving to Japan, and reading about them starting on their journey made me reminisce my own experience. Those were such precious memories! I’ve never written them down, but it’s never too late to start, so I’ll be traveling down memory lane as I breath new life into the Flashback Friday series.
This week, I’ll start by sharing the story of how I started working in Japan as an English teacher.
A (not so) long time ago…
I was working in Japan as an English Teacher, or more commonly known as ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) until 2011 when I was forced to leave Japan after the Tohoku earthquake. Although it was 5 years ago, I think my experiences are still highly relevant today since things like these don’t change very much (besides, it’s Japan!) Also, I see that all the companies that are hiring ALTs are still having the exact job ads and descriptions from 5 years ago. Point made.
Looking for a job
It was insanely difficult for me to get an English-teaching job in Japan. All because of two things:
- I don’t have a valid visa to work and need the company to sponsor me, and more pertinently,
- The fact that I’m considered a non-native speaker of English. If I don’t hold a passport from UK/USA/Canada/Australia/New Zealand (and once, I saw, Africa), I’m therefore not a native speaker. My name is Asian, therefore I’m not a native speaker. My looks can actually freaking pass off as a Japanese, so obviously I’m not a native speaker.
Note: If you have a visa to work in Japan (e.g. working holiday visa), then congratulations. Things are already 90% easier for you. Also, I hate you.
Who cares if English actually IS my native language? Who cares if I can speak and write a hell lot better than these “native” speakers? Some of these “native” speakers I’ve seen make me want to stab my eyeballs out with a toothpick at the horrible injustice. I was passed over for people like that? Because of a bloody passport?
So if you’re a “non-native” speaker hoping to land a job teaching English, take heart. It is possible. It is extremely challenging, immensely frustrating, and you will feel like you’re fighting a battle you can never win, but IT IS POSSIBLE. I did it.
How did I do it?
Fight the good fight
Living in Japan was my dream. One that I truly, deeply, badly wanted to fulfill, and I craved for it with every fiber of my being. Fu was going to Japan for a 2-year exchange (truth is, he only chose Japan because of me, but eh, story for another time) and I went with him. My tourist visa allowed me to stay a maximum of 90 days. I thought it would be easier if I were applying the job from within Japan, but in the end it didn’t really make a difference.
Of all my job applications, I heard back from just one. One! But one is all I need! I was floating with euphoria!
There was a pre-interview call, a written task (10 painful pages long!) and a final interview in which I was told on the spot to also give an impromptu lesson. When the final interview results came back, my world came crashing down. They rejected me.
I don’t know what went wrong, but if I had to chance a guess, it would be that I messed up the lesson part.
For a while, I was entirely deflated. Broken. Inconsolable. I had one chance, and I blew it. There’s nothing left.
While I was wallowing in self-pity, my time in Japan was almost up. At that point I had a job offer from the Ministry of Education waiting for me in Singapore. I held it off as long as I could, but with that chance at a job in Japan lost, I decided to finally take up the job in Singapore. Besides, it’s good for me to gain additional experience teaching, right? And at MOE, no less!
It pained me to leave Fu and Japan behind though :(
When I got back to Singapore, started my teaching stint, and generally got my shit together, I got myself back on the track I wandered off from. I fell into a slump for a while, but that’s ok. It hit that hard only because that’s how much it meant to me. And I’m back to fight for what I want even harder than before. I scrolled through job listings ferociously, hungry for a chance again. Any chance. Anything certainly beats nothing.
I applied to jobs everywhere. Yes, I mean EVERYWHERE. A site that has job postings? I’m on it. At that point, it was also battle of mental strength: me against myself.
Instead of automatically thinking: “Sigh, what good is this? I’ll probably get rejected anyway.”
I forced myself to think: “Yes! Another place to send to! Another chance at Japan!”
Thinking positively really helps and gives me the energy to fight, even if just a day longer.
Besides, what’s the worst that can happen? They’ll just delete my application. Big deal. It won’t hurt me. But I have the world to win! I must have sent out hundreds of applications, and I heard back from just one.
But it’s ok, because this was the one and only one that mattered. I was hired.
My search finally ended after more than six months of intensive searching, and what laid ahead was an exciting and eye-opening year in teaching, which you can read more about here.
From this experience, I realize that if I want it badly enough, I can, and will achieve it. The first thing I had to make sure I do is: never give up. It’s ok to feel dejected. It’s ok to take a break. I am on the path to it as long as I never stop. If I give up, it ends right there. Because who else will fight for my dream when even I don’t fight for it myself?
Want it? Do it.
Here is a list of some sites that I used back in the day. I can’t vouch for their validity since it’s been so long, but hopefully it will be of some use to somebody.
- Gaijinpot – This was where I got my job
- All About Teaching English in Japan
- Ohayo Sensei
- AEONet Homepage
- ELT News: Teaching English in Japan – Jobs
- International Teaching Jobs: teach in Japan
- BERNARD ENGLISH SCHOOL RECRUITMENT
- Work in Japan :: Jobs in Japan and Japanese Jobs
- Jobs in Japan
- English Village
- Grace Learning
- Peppy Kids