Teaching English in Osaka, Japan - Alumni Q&A with Valerie Lynn

Teaching English in Osaka, Japan - Alumni Q&A with Valerie Lynn

What is your citizenship?
United States

What city and state are you from?
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

How old are you?
24

What is your education level and background?
Bachelor's Degree.

Have you traveled abroad in the past?
I studied abroad in France!

If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
France and Greece.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
The LinkedIn grind was fruitless and tiresome, so one day my brilliant mother asked, "Why don't you teach abroad?" She was right. Why don't I? The best thing to do with youth, vigor, and post-bachelor's degree mobility is travel the world. I also wanted to learn about Japan, where I am teaching, beyond Western notions of it. I know some people whose knowledge of Japan is from video games, manga, and anime, and though those genres are all valid means to learn about Japanese culture, they are not (and should not be) the only means. I wanted to know more about Japan - unfiltered Japan - and the best way to do that is by living there and learning what it really is. I am also obsessed by language and loved the idea of sharing mine while learning theirs too. Japanese is very different from English, and I wanted to accept the challenge of learning it and the overall challenge of picking up and moving to the other side of the world and doing a job I have never done before.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
In the U.S. I am a volunteer coordinator for national Super Smash Bros. tournaments and an organizer at the local and regional levels. I was worried about leaving my friends and passion behind, possibly jeopardizing that as a potential career option. I love the Smash community and all of the friends I've made in it. Leaving that behind and missing all this year's tournaments was a hard decision to make, but I knew that this was something I wanted and had to do.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My dad, who has hardly traveled, was pretty vexed and confused, and my mom was the one who suggested this. My Smash friends told me they'd certainly miss me but were definitely supportive. 

Valeria Lynn - Osaka, Japan 5

TEFL CLASS INFORMATION

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I found that International TEFL Academy had the most accessible, thorough information on teaching abroad available, complete with country charts, webinars, blogs, Q&As, and even representatives willing to talk to you (shoutout to Matt.) I also read that many countries require that you have a certification. Even if it weren't required, I knew I would feel better having some formal instruction in TEFL, and International TEFL Academy appeared to offer the best value.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Class.

How did you like the course?
Though I prefer a classroom setting, I was impressed with the online course, complete with helpful videos, English grammar and mechanics review, teaching methods, and classroom management strategies as well as everything else you need to know. It also strongly emphasized the lesson planning process, which I use for my job now, and it never fails me. My JTEs (Japanese teachers of English) also love it, and it's easy for them to follow when I submit it to them before we have classes together. My ITA instructor always provided thorough, useful feedback and was quick to respond (shoutout to Jenny Wilson). The required practicum, however, is easily the most important part of the course because you need the experience of standing in front of people and actually executing. Quality is by no means compromised on the online platform.

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
As mentioned above, I still use the lesson planning process taught in the online course, and I overall felt more confident starting work because, again, I had some formal instruction in and experience teaching ESL. I also got some great perspective on what's involved in teaching and living abroad and had a better idea of what to expect. And of course the class activity ideas are freebies to use in your own classes.

How long have you been in Japan and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been living in Osaka, Japan for eight months and plan to return home to the US soon, but indent to come back to Japan or go to South Korea.

Why did you decide to teach English in this location?
As mentioned above, I wanted to know more about Japan beyond Western notions of it. I also read that there is a high demand for English teachers in East Asia, so I decided to go where it was needed.

What school, company, or program are you working for?
Interac

During which months does your school typically hire?
Interac hires year-round.

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
Yes

How did you interview for this position?
I had both a phone interview and an in-person interview. First was a cursory screening and the second one was a seminar that applicants attended where they perform a demo lesson.

What kind of Visa did you enter on?
Work Visa

Please explain the visa process that you went through.
My company sponsored my visa. First, I emailed a copy of my passport, a copy of my university diploma, my updated resume, and a completed Certification of Eligibility form. In addition to this, I sent by traceable courier two identical, professional photographs of myself - the requirements for which are rather particular - and one original graduation document (e.g. official transcript or certified letter of graduation from the university). All materials went to my company's U.S. office and then sent to the Japan office on my behalf. A few weeks later, I received in the mail my Certificate of Eligibility for a work visa in Japan, which I took to my nearest Japanese consulate to exchange for a work visa. My passport with the work visa was sent to my house a couple weeks later. Notes: Times here are approximate, but the point is this process requires patience. My company also already had some of the aforementioned documents because they were received by my recruiter at the in-person seminar I attended.

Valeria Lynn - Osaka, Japan 1
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers?
Bachelor's degree, TEFL Certification, and a native English speaker.

What is the best way to apply?
Apply online.

Tell us about your English teaching job!
I work Monday-Friday 08:20 - 16:05. I am paid 230,000円 + 10,000円  (~$2,050 USD + ~$90 USD) allowance/month before taxes. After income tax, health and employment insurance, pension, and phone bill (I elected to get a cell phone through my company), that's 195,000-196,000円/month (~$1,750 USD). After the aforementioned expenses, rent, transport, food, entertainment, and miscellaneous purchases, I save between 20-30% of my salary, but this will certainly vary depending on your lifestyle preferences and what sort of adventure you embark on in a particular month. I spent more in February because I went to the snow festival in Sapporo!

Interac typically dispatches employees to elementary and junior high schools. Senior high school assignments are less common. Conditions vary depending on specific placement. Some of my cohorts had one school, and others had as many as five. Those with elementary schools tended to be much busier than those in junior high schools (and naturally busier if more than one school was assigned whether it be ES/JHS/Mix). Some were always the lead teacher (T1) during the lesson and the Japanese teacher of English (JTE) was assistant (T2), some were only ever T2, leading only during the activity/production segment of the lesson, and some had a mix of both.

I had one junior high school, and class sizes were anywhere from 33-45 students in each class. I generally had two-three classes a day, but this was not always consistent. Some weeks were slow, some were stacked. When I did teach, I was the lead teacher 90% of the time. (The other 10% of the time I was reading aloud for listening/repeating exercises or doing oral/listening assessments during class.) When I was the lead teacher, I would design the lesson plan, discuss it with my Japanese teachers of English, who would give input and help make adjustments, and then run it in class with them.

I had five paid vacation days and six days designated as "work days", where I was not required to go to my school but be on call for whatever assignment my company may task me with that day. In addition to this I had two weeks off during Christmas and the new year and the Japanese national holidays.

Those with a less demanding assignment tend to have some down time, so it's important to know how to use that time effectively. I often planned for future lessons, studied Japanese, studied my student's names (all of which I eventually learned!), or, with permission, sitting in on other teachers' lessons, typically the English lessons I was not teaching in. It's important to put yourself out there during down time!.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
I elected not to get housing through my company, so I looked for an apartment on gaijinpot.com. After sending out a few inquiries on certain properties, I was immediately contacted by a very helpful person with an excellent deal on an apartment right next to my school. It is surreal how lucky I got. I live in a Leopalace 21 apartment, which is typically single-occupancy and the option that many teachers choose during their first year. I thus do not have roommates. Because I got housing on my own, I have communicated and worked with Leopalace 21 directly for every step of the process, and I pay rent and bills on my own whereas my friends who got housing through our company get rent and bills deducted directly from their paychecks. Though some may find the latter option more convenient, I have liked managing everything on my own, and I feel confident and prepared for when I look for an apartment again in Japan.

Valeria Lynn - Osaka, Japan 2

COUNTRY INFORMATION

Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...  

Cultural Aspects – It is rather easy to navigate Japan even if your Japanese is trash because most people know at least some English. It’s more ubiquitous than you would have thought before coming here. This is not surprising after all, though, because English is taught in schools throughout the nation, and the number of tourists demands a wealth of English signage. You should, however, begin learning hiragana and katakana immediately after you finish reading this if you are seriously considering coming to Japan because you will need it. If there is one thing I wish I had done differently, it’s learn as much Japanese as possible before arriving. Any effort you show that you are putting into learning Japanese will certainly be appreciated by the Japanese.

The Japanese are orderly, civil, and courteous. They always form lines to board trains and buses, stand on the right and walk on the left of escalators, and are quiet on trains, their belongings on their laps or in front of them, never on the seats next to them where someone else could be sitting. When money, receipts, or just about anything is handed to you, it is done with two hands and a smile. Crime is rare, and theft perhaps even more so. I have never felt unsafe here, and when I lost a lot of money a few months ago at the grocery store, it was turned in and I got all of it back.

No matter what job anyone has, work is taken seriously here. Everyone is either busy or doing something to look busy, wearing a smart uniform, and overall very happy to be there and help you.

I could go on for a while, but that’s all I’ll share on cultural aspects for now. If you have any more questions, hit me up @vallysonwonderland on Instagram.

Public Transit – There is only one train station I occasionally go to where the train has been late a couple times, but other than that, you will not be disappointed. Japan is well connected, trains and buses are always on time if not a little early, and the cars are clean. As mentioned above, everyone on the train is courteous too. I get around just fine by trains and buses if I really need them.

If I remember correctly, Uber only exists in Tokyo, and even there it’s scarce. Taxis exist everywhere, but I advise against them unless you are desperate because they are unspeakably expensive.

Nightlife, Social Activities, Expat Community – Namba, central Osaka, is the most urban area of the city with loads of young people eating out, playing at arcades, drinking at bars/out on pub crawls, singing karaoke, shooting pool and darts, shopping, and exploring to find something else to add to that list because there is always a surprise. My cohort and I especially enjoy going to the one board game café, checking out new places to hike, and going to the park to throw the frisbee when the weather is nice. There certainly isn’t nothing to do, and you will be very happy if you ever teach in Osaka. It’s also important that you find a cohort while you’re at training because you absolutely need friends, and I’d be lonely and lost without mine!

Dating Scene – With the number of people there are in the city, it’s not impossible to meet someone you like and think is cool. If this happens, awesome. Refer to the above for some good date ideas. When my boyfriend was here with me for the first two months I was living here, we were always thoroughly entertained and easily found things to check out and do.

Food – Japan is a rather homogenous country, so although there is not as much variety in its cuisine as there is in American cuisine, there is still a lot to try. As a ramen connoisseur, I highly value living in a place that abounds with it, and I have found many other new things that I like and am not tired of. Off the top of my head, things I usually eat are takoyaki (fried octopus balls, which is what Osaka is best known for), okonomiyaki, katsudon, gyoza, butaman, omurice, onigiri, yakiniku, tempura soba/udon, tamagoyaki, yakisoba, yakiudon, karaage, and of course sushi (you can Google everything else). You do occasionally see crêpes, pizza, Italian, and Indian places around, but they’re not so common. There is also a dessert/sweets culture here, but it’s not as much about the food as it is about the novelty of how pretty this dish is, and they certainly make it too beautiful to eat. This is often done with pancakes, French toast, waffles, and parfaits.

Travel Opportunities – Japan is small, remember, so most places are easy to get to. My friends and I occasionally go to Kyoto or Nara, which is only about an hour or less of trains. Tokyo is only two hours away, but it’s less expensive to fly there than it is to take the shinkansen (bullet train). I myself have yet to go there, though. Either way, Osaka is a convenient location.

Anything else – You can get a credit or debit card, but for the most part, cash is king here.

You can wear shorts and shorter skirts, but be careful about tops. You never see anyone showing cleavage or wearing a low cut shirt. If you do see someone with a low cut shirt, they are not Japanese.

You don’t have to tip at restaurants in Japan.

You can return things after buying them in Japan, but it's generally frowned upon. Be very careful, then, when buying anything. It's understood that when you buy something, it's your responsibility now.

Valeria Lynn - Osaka, Japan 3

What are your monthly expenses?
Rent - $550
Food - $250 (average)
Social Activities $100 (average)
Transportation - $126 (average)
Phone - $48

How would you describe your standard of living?
I am somewhat of a minimalist because I didn't want to have to be burdened with getting rid of too many things when I move elsewhere within or leave Japan, but I make enough where I am not uncomfortable dropping money on the other things I feel like doing or buying, so things are pretty solid here and I am happy!

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
My salary is perfectly sufficient to live comfortably, but if I have to give a number, $1,700-$2,000/month is fine, especially for my lifestyle. Again, it depends on your lifestyle.

ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
I was at first hesitant about leaving many things behind, but don't think of it that way. You are not leaving behind nearly as much as you are seeking ahead. If you want the challenge of trying something new in a new place and you have to mobility and means, I recommend doing this. It is a sobering experience that will teach you more patience and understanding that you already have. There is a whole world around you. You must not only see but do it.

 

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Osaka, Japan


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