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Teaching English in Tokyo, Japan: Alumni Q&A with Alexandra Eilinsfeld
Written by: Alexandra Eilinsfeld
Last Updated: February 18, 2021
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
Colorado Springs, CO
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Never left the country
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
In college I started working as an English tutor for Japanese exchange students. At least once a week I met with a student and helped her with English essays. I even prepared homework, vocabulary sheets, as well as tests for her. She was interested in American culture as well, so we would spend time talking about the differences between America and Japan. Through this job I realized I loved helping others learn English.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Before teaching abroad, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to afford to live as well as do things that I enjoy doing just off of teaching. I was also scared because it was the first time I lived away from my family in my own apartment. So not only was I going to be teaching abroad, I was moving out for the first time.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My family was 100% excited for me. I've always been a safe person where I make plans for every thing, and I wouldn't go outside of my comfort zone. I had also rarely ever left my state, so moving all the way across the world was definitely outside of my comfort zone. They all thought this would be good for me. On top of that, it was my dream to move to Japan for seven years before I finally moved there to teach. My family was proud that I was achieving my dream.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I decided to get TEFL certified because I wanted to have some training as a teacher before I started teaching. I had been a tutor during high school and college, so I knew a little bit about teaching. However, I felt like I needed to learn different teaching styles as well as how to specifically teach non-native speakers. On top of that, having a TEFL certificate is necessary for some positions in Japan, so I wanted to make sure I would be able to apply to any English teaching job I found.
I chose International TEFL Academy for two reasons. First, International TEFL Academy is they offer a top online TEFL course option. At the time I was doing this certificate, I was working full-time as well as going to school. The closest place where I could receive TEFL training was over an hour away from my house. When I was finished with school and work, I was able to complete the training at my convenience throughout the week.
Second, I found the student experience stories really authentic and motivating. I was able to find stories of people just like me who wanted to move to teach English in Japan. Hearing their experiences abroad and their experiences with International TEFL Academy made me feel comforted.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
How did you like the course?
I really enjoyed the course overall. I liked that I could contact the instructor at any time that I needed help. Although I felt like the information and assignments were extremely well explained, so I never needed to contact the teacher personally. The readings/classes were simple enough that I could understand, but not too simple as to leave out a lot of details. As for the tasks, I felt they were well put together and incorporated what I learned that week in the class. Every time I would sit down to make the lesson for that week, I would really have to think about what I had learned and apply that to the lessons.
What I enjoyed most out of the course was the practicum portion (live practice teaching). At first, I was scared that I wouldn't be able to find a place to do the practicum at. But it was really simple to find volunteer English teaching in my city. During the practicum, I was able to watch another teacher doing the job that I wanted. I was able to see what I learned online in practice. When I would teach, I would use what I learned in the class to make the lessons. I felt like I was experiencing exactly what I would experience as being an English teacher.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
My TEFL training has helped me prepare my lessons. I always use the lesson plan format to prepare my lessons every day. I remember the last part of the course we were assigned to make a continuing lesson plan from day to day. This is exactly what I have to do every day as an English teacher in Japan. On top of that, I am constantly using different strategies to teach which I learned from the TEFL training. When I teach adults as well as children and even small babies, I know how to teach to meet their needs thanks to my training.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Japan in the city of Tokyo. I had wanted to move to Japan for seven years prior to teaching English there. I love Japanese metal music, as well as the fashion there. Tokyo was the main place for me to experience these two things, so I decided to move there. On top of that, I knew that there would be a lot of opportunities to teach English in Tokyo versus the countryside.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I have been in Japan for three years now. I love every second of it, and I plan to stay as long as possible!
During which months does your school typically hire?
Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
How did you interview for this position?
What kind of visa did you enter on?
Please explain the visa process that you went through.
For my visa I had to get a certificate of eligibility from my employer. For the Certificate of Eligibility, I had to submit a signed copy of my working contract, two small pictures, and a copy of my passport. I sent these to my employer, and then they applied for the certificate at their local immigration office. My employer received this certificate one month after they applied for it, and then shipped it to me. After that, I filled out an application form for the visa and submitted it to my local embassy. One month later I received my visa and was ready to go to Japan.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
- Bachelor's degree
- Native English speaker
What is the best way to apply?
Tell us about your English teaching job!
Hours: I work 40 hours a week (9-6), Monday through Friday.
Salary: The pay starts at around 270,000 Yen ($2,470 USD) per month and goes up from there based on your abilities and work ethic.
Savings: Each month I save at least 30% of what I make. However, I am supporting two people on this income, so it would be more for a single person.
School and students: I work for an international school, but it is not what it sounds. Basically, in the mornings I teach Japanese and Indian students ages two to six kindergarten. In the afternoons I teach three-year-olds to twelve-year-olds. I teach both group and private lessons each day.
Vacation: I get all national holidays off as well as Christmas vacation and a week of vacation in spring.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
My company works with a real estate company, so they found some apartments for me, and I was able to chose the one I liked the best. I don't have roommates, but I live with my husband. In Japan, the apartments are extremely tiny. So if you are coming from a place with a lot of space, it takes a little getting used to. The average apartment size is around 400 square feet, so be prepared to live tiny! I've had to be very minimal with the things that I bring in my house.
It is common for you to introduce yourself to your neighbors and bring a small gift to them. I never talked to my neighbors in America, so this was different for me. At first I was nervous, but when I did it, I was glad I did! This way, I've gotten to know a little about my neighbors, and they have given me advice about living in Japan. It's nice being able to leave your apartment to go to work and your neighbors say your name and wish you a great day!
COUNTRY INFORMATION - FUN!
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Culture: While living in Japan I have noticed many cultural differences. One is not talking on the trains or buses. Most of the time, people are dead silent. It is not uncommon to see people listening to music, playing games on their phones, or reading books though.
Bowing is extremely important in Japan, and you will have to learn when and what degree to bow depending on the person you are bowing to.
Another difference is the business culture. It is extremely common to have to work overtime WITHOUT pay. Some companies are great and will pay for overtime, or they will not ask you to do overtime, but there are many where it is expected of you to give overtime. Another business culture difference is going out to 'nomikais' which is where you have to go out drinking at bars with your coworkers and bosses.
Public transportation in Japan is amazing! There are many buses, trains, subways, taxis, rental cars, etc. that I never feel like I can't go anywhere when I want to. To get around locally, people often ride bikes, and there are a lot of bike parking lots around to park your bikes.
Nightlife: I'm not a nightlife person, but there are many clubs, restaurants, karaoke places, as well as live music houses just about everywhere in Tokyo!
Social Activities: As for social activities, I would say there are endless opportunities. You just need to find what you like to do. For example, I love the fashion scene, so I often frequent the fashion areas of Tokyo where I can meet other girls who enjoy fashion. I also love working out, and I have found a weekly yoga get together at a store in Tokyo where I have met some girls. Both of these I found through the internet. A lot of my American friends here have also met people at bars, karaoke places, as well as through work.
Dating scene: I moved to Japan married, so I don't know much about the dating scene.
Travel opportunities: It is extremely easy to travel here. Japan is relatively small, so it does not take long to fly or take a bullet train to a far away place. I am able to travel to places locally on weekends, and during my longer breaks it is easy to go anywhere in the country. There are temples, shrines, gardens, zoos, interesting cafes (like animal cafes) and so much more so close that even if you don't want to go far, there is always something interesting to do.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - MONEY
What are your monthly expenses?
I live in a 2K apartment. This means I have two separate rooms and a kitchen, as well as a toilet room and shower.
Rent/utilities: Each month I spend around 12,000 yen ($110 USD) on utilities and 70,000 yen ($640 USD) on my apartment.
Food: I spend around 50,000 yen ($457 USD) a month.
Social activities: I spend around 50,000 yen ($457 USD) a month.
Transportation: I spend around 2,000 yen ($18 USD) a month. I do not need to take a train or any paid form of transportation to get to work. This amount is just for when I take the train to another area during the month. I usually go out once every weekend.
Phone/internet: I spend around 5,000 yen ($45 USD) a month on internet and I just use free WiFi on my phone that I brought from America.
Health insurance: When living in Japan, you have to pay the national health insurance based of your income and number of dependents. I pay 20,000 ($182 USD) per month for ten months out of the year for this.
National tax: There is also the national tax which you begin paying after living in Japan for two years. This is a one time payment, or is broken up over four months. This varies based on your salary and dependents.
How would you describe your standard of living?
I am not rich, but I am not poor either. I don't feel restricted in doing anything based off of my pay. I can pay all of my bills, spend money on things I want, and save some as well. I have everything that I had in America, only much smaller! I have easy and quick access to anything that I may need or want. Every neighborhood has everything you need within walking distance.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
My experience is different from a single person, since I live with a dependent. In my situation, I need to make at least 250,000 yen ($2,285 USD) a month to live comfortably. For a single person they would need less than that to live comfortably.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Some advice I would give would be to try to learn about the country beforehand. That way when you get to your new home, you will have some comfort in knowing what it will be like. I feel like knowing a lot about Japan prior to teaching here helped me understand my students and where they were coming from. I absolutely love teaching in Japan, so I highly recommend it! There are so many different kinds of schools (Eikaiwas, International Schools, Primary Schools, day cares, etc.) So there is something out there for everyone!
Alexandra had never left the U.S. before earning her TEFL certification online and heading to teach English in Tokyo, Japan. While in college, she developed an interest in the country while tutoring Japanese exchange students. Despite the challenges of going abroad, she has taught in Japan for three years and "loved every moment." She picked Tokyo as a teaching destination as it provides ample opportunities for her to delve into various aspects of Japanese culture, including Japanese heavy metal and fashion.
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