Would you teach in Japan? – Read Kate’s story

  1. Introduce yourself, and tell us about your TEFL journey to Japan.

Hello! My name is Kate Burke, and I’m 23 years old. I’m from West Cork, Ireland, and I enjoy art, cooking (and all things food-related), and being outside. Trinity College awarded me a Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Sociology degree last year. My degree was enjoyable, and I plan to work in that field. However, I was unprepared to face the “real” adult world… This brought me to The TEFL Institute. I’ve always enjoyed travelling, meeting new people, and learning about different cultures, so when I started looking into TEFL courses to teach English in Japan, all my doubts about my post-university life seemed to fade.

  1. What was your path to a teaching internship in Japan? Why did you decide on this particular internship? Was the interview process arduous?

The TEFL institute’s Japan internship package appealed to me because I had to complete the online TEFL course on time and produce the necessary papers; the rest (finding a job, housing, and organising orientation weekends) was done for me. The notion of looking for work and accommodation in a nation I’d never been to and in a language I needed to understand made this choice way easier. I’ve always been attracted by many aspects of Japanese culture (mainly food, art, and spirituality), and the level of life in Japan appealed to me because it would be similar to what I was used to in Ireland. The TEFL institute partner that managed the interview procedure was constructive. They assigned me a mentor who was always available to answer questions. The interview was conducted online and lasted around 30 minutes. I thought my interviewer was pulling me! In addition, I had to film a sample lesson for roughly 6 minutes in an imaginary task.

  1. Do you think your TEFL course prepared you to teach English in Japan?

Yes, they offered a good foundation for my TEFL career. However, no matter how much theory you learn, there is nothing like on-the-job training to help create confidence! For a new teacher, the first few lessons might be nerve-racking, but everything can go smoothly with a sound lesson plan and some backup games and techniques. TEFL teachers typically work as assistant language teachers (ALTs) in Japanese public schools, co-teaching alongside a Japanese English teacher. This appealed to me as a first-time teacher since I knew I would not be utterly alone in the classroom. ALTs are also responsible for extending students’ cultural horizons; seeing their interest aroused when learning about other cultures has been a delight.

  1. How much to budget for accommodation? Was it hard to find a place to live? Any tips for future interns who will be moving to Japan?

The company where I work in Japan looks after locating accommodation for their staff based on their budget and needs, which is fantastic! My monthly rent is 370 euros, which includes furniture rental. Unless you come with your partner, almost everyone lives alone. The setup charges can be rather significant. Therefore my firm advised bringing around 3500 – 4000 euros to be safe, as you get paid on the 20th of the following month (for example, you get paid for April on the 20th of May). I had to pay “key money” and three months’ rent in advance, which was rather costly. Most apartments are generally furnished, so purchasing items such as tableware, towels, and so on can quickly add up. However, once this first phase has passed, lodging is reasonably affordable and comfortable – as long as you don’t mind the characteristic Japanese modest proportions!

  1. Describe to us your day in the life of a teacher in Japan? How many hours a week have you been teaching? How big are your classes? What’s your favourite style to teach?

I teach at a single Junior High School (13-15-year-olds), which is great because some of my friends teach at multiple schools. My teaching schedule is significantly less complete than I had imagined; I teach approximately 10/11 courses per week, so the rest of my time in school is spent lesson planning, creating worksheets, correcting students, researching games, or reading my book! It is optional to bring work home with you. The class number is around 36 pupils, which sounds more prominent than it is – especially because two teachers are present. My office hours are 8.30 a.m. to 3.20 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the holidays are ideal, with long summer and Christmas vacations and lots of national holidays in between. I work at a large school (approximately 1200 pupils), so I have one year per week. Each year is gorgeous and enjoyable; it would be tough to choose a favourite!

  1. Would you recommend learning a bit of Japanese before coming over?

I recommend starting with the fundamentals. Although no Japanese knowledge is required to obtain a TEFL job, it is advantageous! Japanese people’s English proficiency is often low, and they enjoy it when you try to meet them halfway. Etiquette is also crucial in this situation, so learning basic pleasantries, saying please/thank you/excuse me, and so on, is vital. Japanese characters can be challenging to know – I used Tofugu to learn hiragana and katakana (two of three Japanese writing systems, the third being kanji). To help you remember the symbols, this free website employs mnemonics. I also attend beginner Japanese courses once a week at my city’s international centre; they are reasonably priced and an excellent opportunity to meet new people.

  1. What are the locals’ attitudes towards foreigners?

There hasn’t been a reaction. I reside near Tokyo, so folks are accustomed to seeing outsiders. This may be different if you live in rural Japan. I teach, and the children I watch exhibit more interest as they become more unrestrained in their reactions. My blonde hair and blue eyes are lovely! Any good I’ve received has been positive.

  1. How much would you budget for daily expenses?

My primary daily expense is transportation; it is convenient and efficient it does mount up! Fortunately, my employer provides my vehicle to and from work. Revolut works well in this situation, so setting a weekly budget and sticking to it is your best bet, especially if you are new to being paid monthly rather than weekly.

  1. Were you able to travel around Japan? If yes, where to?

I’ve just been in Japan for approximately eight weeks, so I have yet to go too far. I’ve just travelled within Kanagawa and Tokyo prefectures because it’s more convenient. The proximity of urban, marine, and alpine areas is fantastic. My sister is visiting me shortly, and I’ll be taking her to Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka (all in the Kansai region). The Shinkansen (or bullet train) is a high-speed train that significantly reduces travel time, although expensive. I intend to visit Okinawa (the southern Japanese islands known as the “Hawaii of Japan”) in the summer, then ski in the Japanese Alps around Christmas. There are numerous sites nearby, like Hakone, Fuji, and Chiba, that I plan to visit on short vacations. The TEFL Institute’s partner company has organised for us to take a weekend getaway to Osaka, which is also included in the internship signup price. This will be an excellent opportunity to learn about Japanese culture and to network with other TEFL teachers in Japan.

TEFL teacher in japan

  1. Tell us what’s your favourite thing about Japan. What do you like doing on your days off?

I admire how people here value minor details; for example, different blossoms blooming have entire festivals dedicated to them! The food is superb; I have yet to eat anything I did not enjoy. I enjoy living near Tokyo since there are many exciting places to visit. On my days off, or even in the evenings after work, I enjoy exploring parks, cafes, and galleries in a region of Tokyo that I have read about. On weekends, I plan day trips to different areas of Japan that aren’t too far away. There are always events and festivals, many of which are free!

  1. Do you think a welcome orientation helped you? Did it prepare you for your first teaching lesson?

Yes, that was entirely beneficial! My first week in Japan was spent in a hotel in Yokohama, Japan’s second-largest city, with other ALTs who had recently relocated to Japan. This week was spent taking online training, which was beneficial and helped to establish my expectations for what was to follow. After this training week, the thought of TEFL teaching and lesson planning looked much more manageable. It was also an excellent method for me to meet new people and gradually adjust to life in Japan.

  1. Are you planning any other TEFL adventures?

The TEFL bug has bitten me, and I would love to work and travel in other locations. Living in a country rather than merely visiting gives you a much better understanding of its culture and people. I’d like to visit Korea, Southeast Asia, and South America in the future, and while I have no firm plans, I know that the TEFL Institute will always provide a helping hand in making these dreams a reality!

Also Read –

In general, you don’t need a degree to teach English abroad or online. Our certification stands alone and you can get employment without pairing it with a degree. However, some TEFL employers do prefer their teachers to have a degree. More importantly, for some countries, it’s a visa requirement. This means you can’t obtain a work permit without a bachelor’s degree or higher. Some of these countries include China, Japan, UAE and Vietnam. 

Our advice is if you have your sights set on a certain country, look into the visa requirements first before putting time and effort into finding a job there. This will save you time and disappointment. If it’s a school preferability, and not a visa requirement, there’s sometimes some leeway. 

You do not need any prior teaching degrees or experience to teach abroad. Once you have your TEFL certificate, you can secure work as a TEFL teacher. A BA in Education would enhance your CV, but it’s not a necessity. Completing a TEFL course that includes teaching practice, like our Hybrid TEFL Courses, will also help your CV.

If you want to experience different cultures and see the world, teaching English abroad is for you. Not only will you get to explore new places, you’ll also meet new people and get the chance to make a difference to the lives of language learners. A TEFL certification lasts a lifetime. So, you can dip in and out of teaching abroad whenever you feel like it. 

It is not necessary to speak any other languages. You’ll be able to find a job and work comfortably without knowing the language spoken in your chosen country. Of course, it is always an advantage, even if it’s just the basics. We recommend learning a few phrases before you move abroad like hi, thank you, goodbye and sorry.

You’re never too old to gain new qualifications! Some TEFL employers do have age restrictions, but there are ample opportunities for more mature teachers. There are also the options to teach English from home as a private tutor or online tutor.

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