Stephanie, an ESL teacher from Maryland, began her Teach Away placement at the Berlitz Japan Inc. school in Chiba, Japan, teaching English about four months ago. We caught up with her to learn how she’s enjoying her teaching abroad experience so far, and see whether she has any advice for others who are interested in teaching in Japan.
What initially interested you in teaching abroad?
I've always desired the experience of living abroad in another country for cultural immersion and exploration, and also to learn more about myself, including my strengths and weaknesses. ESL seemed like an attractive option because it allows me to work directly with individuals living in Tokyo, and also exposes me to Japanese culture in a more authentic way.
Why did you decide on Japan?
Honestly, I was open to going to virtually anywhere around the world. My application with Berlitz moved quickly, and I accepted their offer and decided to give Japan a try!
Did you have any concerns before you left?
One of the major concerns I had about leaving America to teach abroad was leaving my friends behind. I had been living in D.C. for a long time, and grew comfortable there, but knew I wanted a life change. Another concern I had was about securing housing abroad before I left. This one was a challenge for me, as I had to be flexible and revise my housing situation once I got to Japan, but it all worked out in the end.
Describe the school that you teach at and what a typical workday looks like for you.
The school I teach at is a private language center where students attend according to their desired schedule. Class sizes are mostly small, either one-on-one or with a few students at most. This individualized or small group setting gives students more attentive teaching time and allows me to focus more individually on their learning needs. I tend to work the afternoons and late evenings during the week, and full days on the weekends. Typically, I learn who I will be teaching for the day when I arrive at the school for work, and the students vary everyday. Weekends tend to be the most busy as clients often have the most availability over those two days.
What have you learned about life in Japan from your teaching experience?
Japan is a country that greatly values its cultural identity, traditions, and customs. The people here are respectful, courteous, hierarchical, and disciplined. Due to small living spaces, people are economical and aware of their surroundings and how they affect them. Public transit is safe and convenient, and many people walk or bike everywhere, which is refreshing!
What is youf favourite meal that you've had?
I am a fan of Japanese comfort foods. I love Oyako-don, which is a traditional sweet and savory chicken, egg, and rice bowl dish. Also, freshly made ramen soup (not the freeze-dried type!) in Japan is always delicious. The noodles are slightly al dente, which makes it fun to eat and slurp. Slurping your ramen is considered good manners in Japan as it is a sign that you enjoy your food.
What's your neighborhood like?
I live in a quiet residential neighborhood with convenient access to the city, where I work. I'm just a quick 10 - 12 minute walk to the local subway station and everything that I need is close by.
Where would you like to go next?
I am open to many places. We'll see what happens!
Do you have any tips for teachers who are looking to apply to teach abroad?
Be flexible and adaptable regardless of where you go. There are natural ups and downs during the adjustment process, but just remember to be yourself and do things you enjoy to help you feel grounded!