Teaching English in Toyota, Japan: Alumni Q&A with Haley Olds

Teaching English in Toyota, Japan: Alumni Q&A with Haley Olds

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What is your citizenship?
United States

What city and state are you from?
Charleston, South Carolina, USA

How old are you?

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

Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Yes, I studied abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand and traveled throughout Southeast Asia during that time. I've also traveled with friends to Portugal, Spain, England, and Cuba.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
My love for kids, teaching, traveling and the English language! The perfect job!

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Money, loneliness, unclear job expectations.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My family was a bit apprehensive but overall supportive. My friends were equally as supportive and super excited for me!

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I chose ITA because it offered job guidance and a wide alumni network. I decided to get my TEFL because I knew I wanted to teach abroad and although not every job requires the certification, it made me feel more prepared and better equipped to part my knowledge onto my students in the best way I could.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?
I took the Online TEFL class while working full time. Super convenient!

How did you like the course?
I found the modules to be most helpful when it came to outside resources for further learning, video demonstrations and forum discussions! The instructors are there to answer any questions you may have and give you feedback on all assignments which I greatly appreciated! The tasks each week were super manageable, even when working 40 hours a week. For my practicum, I worked at a small ESL school in my town, first shadowing and then even leading some lessons. It helped me get a feel for the target students, the classroom environment and who I was in front of a class. I was a bit nervous about this requirement initially but now I feel grateful for that experience before going into the actual job!

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
I am often looking back at my notes for inspiration in my classes. Although, the curriculum is given to me with the basic layout of lessons, the notes I kept during the course are valuable when coming up with games or planning activities. It keeps me inspired to make them the best they can be!

How long have you been in Japan and how long do you plan to stay?
I moved to Toyota, Aich Prefecture, Japan this year (2019) in March. I have been here for four months and I plan on staying for at least a year but am thinking of staying on for a second.

Why did you decide to teach English in this location?
This location was more or less chosen by my company but the general area was chosen by me. I am in a big town only a few train station away from the third largest city in Japan. The town I'm located in is the home of the Toyota Corporation so there are lots of foreign workers to make me feel at home in what is an extremely homogeneous society, while also offering a lot of hip restaurants and bars AND beautiful countryside and mountain views. It's the best of all the things!

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What school, company, or program are you working for?
I work in two public junior high schools through an ALT (assistant language teacher) dispatch company called ALTIA Central.

During which months does your school typically hire?
Typically they'll begin the hiring process in October and November for the following March for the biggest group of incoming teacher and a smaller hiring period in April for teachers wishing to come in September.

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?

How did you interview for this position?
Both in-person and video, however the in-person interview is more of a sit down with a recruiter to get a feel for who you are before offering you the Skype interview!

What kind of Visa did you enter on?
Work visa sponsored by my company.

Please explain the visa process that you went through.
To live and work in Japan legally, you must be sponsored by a company so my company asked for a few things from me via e- mail (copies of my passport, visa photos, drivers license) and then they sent me a document and some simple paperwork to fill out by mail that I had to send off to my local consulate along with my real passport for them to issue the visa. It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be!

What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers?
Bachelor's Degree
Native English Speaker

What is the best way to apply?
Online. I found anything I needed to help me with my application on their recruitment website!

Tell us about your English teaching jobs!
So I teach at two junior high schools (my students are anywhere from 11-15 years old) from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. I switch between each school every other week, so one week I will be at one school, the next week at the other. This depends greatly on the schools you're given by your company, however. I only have two schools but many of my coworkers have four schools and their schedule is a bit different. I also only work with junior high school students but depending on your preferences you can work with elementary school students or both elementary and junior high.

I'm currently on my summer vacation, as we work alongside the Japanese public school calendar. I have about 5 or 6 weeks off for summer (with the option to work at some summer camps through my company to make extra money if I wish), two weeks for winter, two weeks for spring and one week for Golden Week. So plenty of time off! Additionally, Japan has a lot of national holidays so we're always coming up on some sort of three-day weekend. The best part about working with ALTIA for me is that my salary isn't prorated during this time like most other companies, I'm still getting paid my full salary.

I'm paid about 240,000 yen or $2,200 USD. From this, my company, who secured my apartment for me, takes out my monthly rent, health care, pension and my car plan (because I chose to use the car they gave me to get to my schools for more than just work, it's about $80 USD each month to use it freely). After all of that, I'm left with about $1,300 for each month. You can definitely save about $500 a month here if you tried. However, I like to travel and experience all that Japan has to offer so a lot of the time that extra money goes to karaoke outings, arcade trips, shopping...so, yeah, I'm usually anxiously awaiting my next paycheck!

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Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...  
As someone who has traveled a bit, I found the language to be the biggest shock. It's hard to find a lot of English outside of places like Tokyo and Osaka. Everyone speaks a little bit of English but you do have to put extra work in with hand gestures and broken Japanese. The language barrier is probably the hardest part but regardless, everyone is super nice and eager to help you out. I recommend learning some basic Japanese before you get here, having a translator app on your phone and studying it when you can. I wouldn't say it's essential but I would definitely say it's helpful.

In Japan, you should try to be respectful on their terms. This means, not showing tattoos outside of big cities, bowing when saying thank you, not walking and eating at the same time, being quiet in restaurants, etc. You do get a pass often for being a foreigner but they'll appreciate you more for taking their culture into account.

Public transportation in Japan is awesome. You're never more than 15 minutes walking from a station in urban or suburban areas. It's a bit pricey when you compare it to America or the UK but a lot cleaner, a lot more punctual and a lot more friendly.
There is a lot of nightlife in bigger cities and some in smaller cities like mine. Luckily for me, the big hub of bars near me is about 20 minutes walking and my favorite, a place called Booby's (misspelled from Bobby's, amazing right?), is full of foreigners, soccer on TV and cheap drinks. However, the rub is if you don't fancy walking a lot, having to get back to the train by 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. when the last train leaves or staying out until the first train the next morning at 5 a.m.!

Beyond nightlife, I enjoy hanging out with my friends at coffee shops or the arcade, going to Nagoya (the big city near me) for shopping or cute cafes and hiking around the mountains.

Eating out in Japan can be really cheap where a bowl of ramen or a trip to the conveyor-belt sushi restaurant in your neighborhood will only cost you about 500-1000 yen (roughly $4- $9). Grocery shopping is super cheap here too. I cook a lot, so I appreciate that. Already made noodle packs, tofu, milk, fresh fish and meats all run super cheap. The best is snagging the already-made food at the grocery stores after 5 p.m. when they mark it down a bit! Cheap, filling and fresh! Can you tell I love it here?!

Dating in Japan is hard but doable. Many Japanese men don't like to make an effort to pursue women and dating is often on the back burner for many. From the few dates I've been on, I felt this to be true. However, this isn't necessarily true across the board and if you're patient and have good Japanese I would imagine it would be a lot easier for you!

The expat community is really great here. There is even a whole floor of the cultural center here that offers free Japanese lessons, a bunch of cultural excursions (like green tea harvesting or soba making lessons) and more.

What are your monthly expenses?
Rent (including internet) - $500
Utilities (water, electric, gas) - $100
Food (both groceries and eating out) - $200
Social activities - $300
Transportation (monthly car fee, gas, occasional public transportation) - $120
Phone plan - $40
Travel - depends on the month but maybe about $100?

How did you find somewhere to live?
My company secured my apartment for me, called a Leopalace, which is what I like to think of as a mix of tiny-house living with a studio apartment! Pretty much all first time foreign workers coming to Japan will live in one of these. I don't have any roommates which I actually love, everything is exactly the way I want it to be. I have a small kitchen, a fancy toilet, a deep tub, plenty of storage space, a nice TV and central air conditioning so I'm happy!

How would you describe your standard of living?
Above average, definitely above what I was able to do in America with my paycheck!

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In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
When first getting here, I would say bring at least $2,000, but more realistically $2,500 so you can settle into your life here easily until your first paycheck which doesn't come for over a month. Many people live here on about $1500 a month but that would require some intense budgeting. What I get paid is competitive and it allows me to live fairly comfortably!

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
There's no reason not to try! It seems unattainable and scary until you're on the ground. You can make it work, you just have to put in the effort. And if you're interested in Japan, COME! You can make good money here, meet wonderful people, experience both a rich historic and vibrant modern culture and eat the freshest seafood you can get anywhere in the world! Why not?


Posted In: Teach English in Asia, Teach English in Japan, Toyota

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