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Teaching English in Japan

Joe E Allen is a 23 year old MA graduate who turned his love of a country into a job. Joe was tantalised with Japan after visiting the country, so he decided to go and work there as an English teacher. The Graduate Guide caught up with Joe after his last trip.

How did you start teaching abroad? How did the application and interview process work?

I'd been to Japan twice before so I had plenty of connections there. A friend of a friend who's a manager at an English conversation school said I could get a job at his school. That meant there wasn't really an application process.

Did you need to apply for a visa? Was this a complicated process?

I had to apply for a working holiday visa, which lasts for a year. It wasn't that complicated. It just involved a few forms and one trip down to the Japanese embassy in London. There's information online about how to apply. Once you're out there and you find a job your school might be willing to sponsor you for a long-term visa.

Is there language a barrier in your day to day teaching?

This is one of the misconceptions about teaching English in Japan. You don't need to be able to speak Japanese; in fact, in some ways it can be an advantage not to. Some students want a more immersive lesson and want to know that their teacher won't fall back on Japanese. I could speak Japanese so I was often given low-level students who didn't know any English, but the average student will be able to cope with an all-English lesson.

What was your salary?

The pay at my school was 1800 yen an hour, which is about 12 quid. It's very good money for a relatively simple job. It was enough to live on and rent my own apartment. You're not gonna be able to save loads, but the way I look at it is you'd struggle to find such a well-paying job so easily in the UK.

How is working abroad different to working in the UK?

There are very different attitudes to work in Japan. You're expected to work hard and do long hours without complaint. But they do understand foreigners don't perhaps have quite the same mentality. Plus the English teaching industry is obviously mostly foreigners, so compared to working in a normal Japanese company it's very laid-back work. You might not even sign a formal contract when you get a job.

What are your reflections on working abroad?

It's a great idea. There's such a demand for English speakers in Japan and other South East Asian countries right now, and the pay is great. All you need is to be a native English speaker. You'll find good friends in the other teachers, and often in the students as well.

Life in Japan is constantly stimulating. If you consider what you'll experience abroad, it won't compare with a typical job in the UK!

What advice do you have for third year students who are thinking of teaching abroad?

There are plenty of opportunities to work abroad, and a lot of them centre around English. Just by being a native speaker you can find work teaching English in a foreign country, and you don't necessarily need to speak their language. However, you should still be prepared to learn it. Firstly, because it's courtesy to the local people, but it's also an opportunity to get really good at a language, and when you come back to the UK you'll have a skill that most others won't.

If you can, find a job online before you head out, although if you go to one of the big cities in Japan you should be OK finding something once you arrive. If you need more money, having two or more jobs is quite common. Remember to pack some formal business wear – you'll need it for all the job interviews, especially as appearance is very important in Japan.