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A Typical Day at my Eikaiwa

I was given the full-time position with my company so I had to work eight hours everyday even though classes didn’t start until 3pm. My day started at 12pm and ended at 8pm. For the first 2 hours I would clean, write lesson plans, make decorations for my classroom, or hand out flyers promoting my company. Then I would have a lunch break for an hour, which I could leave the building for.

The first class would start at 3pm if I had one. I usually had on average 3 – 4 classes per day. Each class was about 50 minutes long. Generally the younger kids came earlier in the day and the older kids at night. I taught kids ages 3 – 17. Most of my students were around 7 or 8 years old.

The classroom had small tables and chairs for the kids in the lower English classes (That correlated with their age) and the higher levels had normal tables and chairs. All of our materials had to be exactly the same as everyone else’s, so I didn’t have to provide any materials and I wasn’t actually able to use anything of my own. For the lower levels, we would go through on average 6 – 8 different English grammar or vocab activities that all lasted around 7 minutes. So this was very fast paced and high energy. In congruent with the lower levels of English was also a mandated phonics class. It was taught much the same as the conversation based classes by using games to learn concepts. There was however more emphasis on writing.

The upper level English classes had textbooks so it was a little more low key. You were actually discouraged from using the textbook very much in the class. Mostly just as a guide for the conversations and assigning homework. The games for older kids were more complex and would usually take more time.

In between classes you have 10 min to clean up and prepare for your next class. This makes the time between 3pm and 8pm go by super fast but it can also be really draining. Generally I would leave work on time or a few minutes after 8pm. The Eikaiwa I worked at had a clock in and out system and which saved me from doing any “free” overtime than many Japanese companies have you do.

Eikaiwa vs. ALT

These finding are based off of my experiences and I am sure depending on the individual, circumstances, etc someone else could have a very different experience.

Teaching English

As an ALT I was teaching with either the home room teacher, or Japanese teacher of English. In an English conversation school I was my own teacher. The pros of being and ALT is that you don’t have to worry about classroom management, curriculum, or grading, just lesson planning. The cons of being an ALT is that you don’t have to worry about classroom management, curriculum, or grading, haha. This aspect was frustrating for me because I really enjoy having more responsibilities as a teacher. It was also clear to me that some of the teachers didn’t know how to handle troubled students well so that also bothered me.

Classroom size/ culture

Classroom sizes in public schools, where you generally work as an ALT, are fair big between 25 ~ 40 students. So it’s fairly impersonal but you do get to experience school life in Japan. In an Eikaiwa you classroom will rarely get bigger than 8 and usually sit around 4 or 5. This is great for bonding with your students and really seeing improvement in front of your eyes.

The company

In my experience neither company is all that great. However, the big ALT companies that deal with overseas applicants are generally more trustworthy and reliable. The Eikaiwas really tend to squeeze every ounce of work out of you in the time they have you and have high expectations for what you are getting. I personally had a terrible experience dealing with the corporate part of the Eikaiwa I worked at. They were late on many important documents and overall flakey on support.

Pay

ALT work pays marginally better. Most Eikaiwa jobs only offer part-time and no insurance. You are still looking around the 230,000 yen/ month for both.

Vacations

ALTs get more paid vacation and time off in general. Eikaiwas kind of suck at this since they don’t need to close during normal school holidays.

Conclusion

Get a teaching degree and work at a private school or international school.

Job Hunting

After an entire year of living in rural Hiroshima I decided it was time for a move. First,  I thought about moving to the city of Hiroshima and looked into changing locations within Altia Central to do that. Despite having an easy-going exterior, Altia Central is not very flexible about moving. So that didn’t happen, also no positions opened up in the area I wanted. Therefore I set my sights on Osaka.

The way I went about finding a job was through gaijin pot. It is really the best website to find jobs in Japan, while living in Japan. I got asked to interview by a couple English conversation schools and one international kindergarten. The international kindergarten was kind of intense, they wanted three reference letters and those were a real struggle to get since my co-teachers seemed to think it was wrong to look for another job while I was still in contract, despite already notifying them that I would not continue working. Oh well, culture differences. I ended up settling on an English conversation cram school that only served students.

In hindsight, I should have looked around a little more and continued to apply for different jobs because the first job to offer you a position is usually not the best. I started applying for jobs in January and went through a couple of interviews before receiving an offer in mid-February. This process is fairly typical.

Living as a Foreigner in Japan

This issue has been the rock in my shoe for some time now. I feel like I have landed myself in the middle of a serious and historic concept of us and them and I’m completely powerless to stop it. The magnitude of this issue is simply unfathomable not only by your average Japanese person but even other foreigners living here as well. Japanese people of course feel offended and become defensive if you suggest that racism exists in Japan in any way and other foreigners will tell me to go home because that’s just how it is here. Since this is not my country and I am basically a long-term visitor who am I to make this my problem? Also even trying to convince someone who is open minded that Japan has a serious problem with racism is exhausting. I have never had a Japanese friend who saw me as Valerie and not the foreigner Valerie. Even friends I have known for years ended up growing distant because their exploration phase was over and it was time to live and act like normal Japanese people, which is to not really have any foreign friends. Or they will have foreign friends kind of on the side for when they want to travel or seem like an exotic person at parties or company meetings, “Yea I have three foreign friends, check out how diverse I am!”.

You know what gets to me the most though? Despite all of this crap that I have to deal with here, sorry fellow expats I can’t just go back to America because it’s no different. Except of course I wouldn’t feel that America has any kind of race problem because I’m white. When I realize that how I’m feeling now is possibly how every Latino, Asian, or African American etc feels since they were born, practically everyday of their life I feel so ashamed.  Ashamed because I’ve been living under this happy lie that America is progressive and I ate it up wholeheartedly because I didn’t want to deal with the reality. Well, I didn’t have to deal with the reality and because this problem is so grand I preferred staying in my fantasy world, like many people. However I’m going to stop beating myself up about it because until you experience the marginalization, discrimination, assumptions, and exclusion that a privileged group can put you through, you really have no idea how bad it is. How much inner strength you need to get by day after day.

Getting back to Japan if you don’t believe that Japan has a serious race issue then take a look at this BBC video where company officials, who are the heads of robotic units. say literally they they are making robots to keep Japan from resorting to immigration.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8687196.stm

Apart from this being economically idiotic, and overall unrealistic, this is pretty potent racism. Maybe in the back of your mind you are saying America isn’t that bad! So I will politely remind you of the bill Arizona tried to pass to enable police stop Latino looking individuals driving who might “look suspicious” but are otherwise following the rules of the road and so on. More details of that bill can be found here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/22/us/22immig.html

So what can be done about it? Well personally I think the first step is deciding that something can be done about it and it’s not a lost cause. A lot of companies who hire overseas ALTs try to weed out people who come off as too feminist or outspoken against racism because the Japanese BOEs would discontinue their contracts most likely. I understand that for these companies staying afloat in the sea of numerous Eikaiwas and competing companies is a priority over this social issue. However I also think there are polite and positive ways one can remind their coworkers, students, and peers that the world is changing and becoming more and more global and it is important to be able to have positive relationships with different kinds of people because of this.

My Adventures in OZ

Adelaide

From Japan my plane ride was about 15 hours. I flew from Osaka to Shanghai, China to Sydney and then to Adelaide. Adelaide is a mid-sized city known for it’s laid back atmospere and many beaches and it’s south west of Melbourne. I stopped here first to visit my friend Katy and her family for Christmas and I also spent the most time here. When I arrived Katy’s sister greeted me at the airport and from the car ride back I noticed that the houses were very southern-California like. Later that night Katy and her mom took me to town for some last minute Christmas shopping. I noticed that fresh juice making stands were really popular. The next day was Christmas Eve and we went to Katy’s father’s house. Their neighbors had pet kangaroos and to our surprise let us in to pet them. One of them got a little excited and tried to play boxing with Lucy, Katy’s sister. Luckily Lucy has some mad fighting skills and fought that kangaroo off valiently. Christmas dinner was really interesting because it was all very traditional English food that I hadn’t had for quite a while. Christmas day came and I was surprised by how many presents I recieved, being a guest and all. I met Katy’s extensive family, which was a lot since her mom was one of twelve. The following day was boxing day, and observed holiday in Australia. So we didn’t do much this day, just went to an outlet mall a bit. We went to a nature reserve the next day called Clemont Reserve. There I got to pet kangaroos, wallabies, emus and even hold a koala (for a price). The day got even better when we went to this little German town with handmade products, soaps, jewelry and the like. The evening was topped off with a movie in the park where we watched Rocky Horror Picture show and a lot of people dressed up. It was nice to know people down under had good taste, haha. Katy, her friends and I went to the beach a couple more times before I left but those were the highlights of that trip.

Melbourne

I stayed in a hostel in Melbourne and some people I met while traveling showed me around a little bit. For those who live in Chicago, Melbourne reminded me of a big wicker park. I went to this old church that basically was a free restaurant giving out healthy vegetarian food and basically lived off of donations. The food wasn’t bad but the experience was pretty cool. I was in Melbourne for new years and the hostel had a party at their bar in the basement. I even got a free drink on the hostel. During the countdown everyone went to the rooftop to see the fireworks go off. Apparently Melbourne got overexcited with their fireworks and something caught on fire, but I didn’t see it.

Cairns

On New Years day I went to Cairns, which is up north past Bristbane. This is where I planned to swim in the Great Barrier Reef, and swim I did. I was actually really lucky to find a good tour for my money on such late notice, and on such a popular day but it all worked out. I decided to rent a digital SLR underwater camera to take some amazing underwater photos. Well out of the 400 pictures I took I think only were pretty good, but it was worth it. I didn’t see many different fish that I had not already scene in Hawaii except for the infamous nemo fish (clown fish) and an array of corals I definately had never scene before. People who were diving on the trip saw some turtles and small sharks. The climate in Cairns was much different than the other parts of Australia I was in. Adelaide and Melbourne were very dry but Cairns reminded me of southern florida and had some areas that reminded me of the Everglades. They even had saltwater crocodiles. Cairns was very much a tourist town and it was clear many Asians came here. Some of the signs were in Japanese too. Apparently many Aboriginals also live in Cairns and I might have seen groups of them but I really couldn’t tell. From afar they look like Africans. Since Cairns was more tropical I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find bats one night, but at first I didn’t even realize they were bats since there were so many of them, making a lot of noise like bird. Then I looked up to see what was making the racket and what I thought were crows were actually bats. It was pretty cool.

Sydney

My final stop was Sydney, just for a day. I stayed at a hostel that was by Bondi Beach, which is famous for some reason. It looked like a normal beach to me but rather large. Later that evening I decided to make a trip to see the Opera House at night. Standing on the bay and seeing the city lit up and the Opera House was really amazing. I felt like I was IN Australia.

Shanghai

My travels to Australia took me through China and on the way back I had a night in Shanghai. I had probably the most typical experience you could imagine. I actually booked a hostel before entering the plane while still in Sydney. When I got to Shanghai I asked several people that were by “Airport Shuttle” signs to direct me to the shuttle I needed. Well they were actually people who worked for the hotel their airport shuttle went to and got commission for whoever they get to stay at said hotel. After talking to a few people I realized I was not going to find the shuttle I needed and gave into getting a new hotel close to the airport. I figured if I could stay in a nice place for around the same price it could be worth it. Well the photos in the broshure the guy showed me were wayyy different than what I got when I arrived at the hotel. It wasn’t a bad hotel persay, just obviously old and not the 5 star hotel they showed me. Also the shuttle drive over was pretty amusing, apparently red lights are suggestions and not the law, like at all. Many a time we’d slow down and stop briefly at a red light and when it was clear we’d just go. The next day I went to the airport, asked for a glass of water at a restaurant and got hot water. At this point things stopped being amusing and were just annoying but anyway at least I know for next time if I decide to visit China again.

Alright so after you have waited oh so patiently for a little over a week you should get your ATM card, personal pin #, and telephone pin # in the mail. I haven’t needed to use any of those pins yet.

1) Now you can set up your online Japanese citibank account. You can go to their website and do this in English.

2) Snail mail again! Download and print the register overseas transfer account, fill it out and send it in.

3) In about 5 days it should appear in your account under registered payees.

4) Now you can directly deposit yen into you Japanese citibank account from any citibank or post bank ATM.

5) Finally you are able to transfer money hassle free to your US account.

Happy bill paying!

Shobara

About twenty minutes from my little town in the middle of nowhere is another even smaller town called Shobara. A few friends and I went on a little trip on our day off where one of them who had worked there before showed us around. It was actually surprisingly different in culture. Miyoshi is just big enough to have the kind of attitude where they don’t really care to meet new people or new foreigners. However with all the family run places and everyone knowing each other and few people traveling through, Shobara people seem to really welcome newcomers.

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Now the real reason why I decided to write this post about Shobara is because it happens to have something very unique. For some reason they happen to have a very famous national park and lake. Every year they have a “Winter Illumination” festival where they put up some spectacular light designs.

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