Interviews with three teachers in Tokyo and Fukuoka
Here Jeanie in Tokyo, talks about the ups and downs of teaching in Japan, she gives advice and talks about the "banana game". Later teachers Jay and MD in Fukuoka, share some of their tales. They talk about whether Japan is foreign friendly, racist or ethnocentric.
What's your name? Jeanie.
Where do you come from? Baltimore, America.
How long have you been teaching English? Since 2005, so four years.
How long have you been living in Japan? I lived here for 2.5 years before then I lived in Germany for a year then I just came back in January.
What have you enjoyed the most about teaching and living abroad? I guess the two go hand in hand. I like meeting new people and I really like the English language because I like grammar. I like structure and the cultural experience as well. Teaching language is also just sharing your own culture. So in Japan having a debate is a really big issue. So it's totally different. Like in America we like to argue all the time. But in Japan people don't. Some Japanese students find it easier to debate in a different language like English. So that is always interesting to see. So that is what I like, different experiences.
What has been the biggest challenge that you have had teaching abroad? Students who don't believe you that you are actually aware of how to use your own language. They like to tell you that you are wrong.
Do you teach adults? I used to teach adults, but now I teach high school kids. But teaching adults was much more challenging. In that whole "I lived in America in the 1970's and I know English." Well, my dad uses that English, but if you go to meeting no one is going to take you seriously now. If you talk to younger people they have no idea what you are talking about. That was the most difficult or challenging. Not bad though just challenging. Try to keep your cool.
Does your school provide your accommodation? I work for a company and they would provide accommodation for me, but I don't need them too. I think what companies provide for English teachers tends to be overpriced and small in areas that are full with foreigners. So there is not much there. There is not much character. So the best thing to do is just stay in a guest house in Japan. Then you meet all kinds of interesting people. They might be foreigners, but they are from different places. It's not just Americans living in one apartment building working for the same company.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of teaching abroad? All I can say is do it. Honestly as an American think about the economy right now. English isn't going to go away. Conversational English might go away, but people still need English to do their global transactions. It's only going to get better. It's not a dwindling job market. So that's where the stability is if you want to travel abroad. Teach English. And if you don't like it at least you don't have to be in the States and struggle.
Do you have a favorite tip, game or classroom activity that you would like to share? I like to use the word banana. I don't know the banana game. So you use the word banana to express intonation. And the way you say it is supposed to express some sort of feeling. So for example it's like banana? banana, banana, oh, banana, banana. It's very silly, but some of the students don't know how to express emotion and that is one of the layers of the language. So I like the banana game it's very fun. It's silly. Give the student a card with a feeling and the other students have to guess what the feeling is based on the conversation with the word banana.
What are your names? Jay and MD.
Where do you come from? New York and Atlanta.
How long have you been living in Japan? I have been here for ten years. 10 years.
How long have you been teaching English? I have been teaching for four years. Teaching for 8.
What kind of schools do you work in? The ones that tend to fail (laughing). I worked at a school named Outy and another named Ups and a few travel agencies as well. International schools, companies, private schools - a couple of those failed, just about everything. Same here as well. Private teaching and a bunch of companies.
Do you find Japan to be foreigner friendly? No. Not at all, but it all depends on how you look at it. You might just be the foreigner that they are friendly to. If you want to go out and party then maybe yes, but on a daily basis when the sun is out... Not.
If you have had friends who taught in other countries (Asian), how do you think it compares? I think in Asia man it's really up to you and your experience and what the fuck you want to do. I am sorry I told you I was going to curse. It's up to your experience. The things that you like to do. I mean it's really up to you. I have heard people here that have really enjoyed every minute of it. It was wonderful for them. And I have heard of people who hated it from the moment they stepped off the plane. It's really up to you.
Once in Korea I called a school about a job and they asked what color I was, so I am curious about what's been your experience with racism and that sort of thing? I haven't had any of that. That wasn't on the list (laughter). It's a sensitive question maybe, but I have experienced it somewhat. When I applied for the jobs I might have gotten a quick look like, wow, I wasn't expecting you, but I pretty much landed every job that I applied for and they didn't give me any hard times. You? I am black and I have an Afro. Think about it. Yeah they do give you a second look and sometimes it does make a big difference. At the same time they do sometimes, because of the differences, just want to know the other side of the tale. They do tend to want you or see who you are, but all in all it's a lot harder depending on who you are. Some things could be easier and some things could be harder. I am sorry it's the truth that way.
I know that like Philipinnos and Malaysians experience racism in Asia - places like Korea, Taiwan and probably Japan too. Ohh, yeah. They experience it a lot. Just cause their skin is a little darker. Trust me they experience it a lot. I have seen it first hand. That's just the way it is. But then again it's not just their skin being darker it's just you're not this nationality. Asians are extremely nationalistic. They are extremely... ughh, what's the word I am looking for? They really only care about their own people.