Part 1 covers the practical stuff of getting the job and bad employers. If you're wondering what it's actually like teaching or living in Japan, head to part 2!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you’re doing at the moment?
My name is Stacie Eriksson. I’m an English teacher for a Japanese kindergarten, in a tiny little town. I take 'one class' and 'two class' so my kids are all aged 5. Originally I’m from Rainham, a small town in Kent, England.
How did you end up teaching English in Japan?
I’m a secondary school RE teacher. I’d really struggled getting work at home and to be frank I didn’t want to do it.
A very good friend of mine came out to work in Japan before I left the UK, and I saw how well she was doing. She loved it and she loved Japan, so when the opportunity arose I got a flight and an interview out here.
This wasn’t your first job here, how did you get this current position?
I did a lot of the searching online, I was signed up to Gaijin Pot, but I was getting a lot of wishy washy feedback. The applications were fine, but companies were terrible at organising interviews, setting a date and getting everything together.
"She wasn’t particularly clear on what she wanted me to do so I kind of made the role myself."
Unfortunately I think that’s kind of how English speaking companies get run in Japan. You can be a bit of a king if you’re white and live out here. You don’t have to be organised and competent. Often they hire people who don’t know anything about the job and just swan in.
I got a job in the end with a female enchyo sensei headteacher at a small kindergarten out in the sticks. She wasn’t particularly clear on what she wanted me to do so I kind of made the role myself.
She got a translator to post a really small and vague ad in O-Hayo Sensei (which is the worst website ever) and I sort of improvised around the job advert. I was probably one of the very few people who applied because it’s out in the sticks.
How can you make up a job?
The headteacher is very passionate about English, she’s passionate about it from the perspective of someone who’s now quite old and wishes she’d learned it a lot earlier. Her English isn’t fantastic but it works. She’s one of the many Japanese people who believe English is a status symbol, if you know English it makes you better than people who don’t.
Giving the opportunity to children as young as four to learn English means her school's reputation has gone through the roof and parents are trying to get their kids in left, right and centre. She just knew she wanted English thus the really vague advert.
Ok so that's where you're working now. How did you get your first job and why did you end up leaving?
I got the interview for the first school off my friend who was living and working out here.
I signed a contract to stay there for a year and looking back on it, it’s laughable how terrible an organisation it was.
My friend also hated the company but she’s not very gung ho and still there.
Why take a bad job?
I knew it was a terrible company, but I was between a rock and a hard place. I’d bought a house and subsequently had to leave it with the man I shared it with. I lost a lot of money, had a really terrible year career wise and I just wanted to leave.
"I knew it was a terrible company, but I was between a rock and a hard place."
I decided come hell or high water I’d get out here. I took the bad job based on the fact it would give me the opportunity to start travelling which was always my dream and my goal. It was worse than expected.
The guy we were working for was a bully, he didn’t make it as a teacher back home, he’d had a lot of trouble so he came out here. Because like I said, you can be a bit of a king if you’re white and live out here.
There are some things I can put with, like being disorganised with a schedule, or sending people to watch you teach on a regular basis. But he was just terrible.
At one of the training sessions we went to, he proceeded to get very drunk and tell racist stories. I went to one more training session after that before I decided that this is not someone I want to work for at all.
How did you leave, presumably you were tied into a contract?
I broke my contract. Because my friend had introduced me and she still works for them I tried to stay on a relatively even keel. I said I was going to go home because my mother was ill.
I wanted something which was unarguable and where he wouldn’t blame her. If I’d just done a moonlight flit he would’ve been furious at her.
He was fuming anyway and took quite a lot of money from the deposit I’d left on the apartment. All of the apartment payments happen through the school and the expenses of getting an apartment are astronomical. You have to pay a deposit for one months rent, gift money to the person who owns the the apartment which is another 1-2 months rent (non-refundable) and then a finders fee for whoever introduced you - another months rent.
The school normally pays upfront for all those and then takes it out of your earnings for the first three months.
"Switching to English meant everything I hated about teaching was removed from it"
It’s a reasonable way to do it with a reasonable company but dangerous if you’re doing it with a terrible one.
When I applied to new jobs, my employer obviously wanted to know who I’d come out here with and I told her. I was also very lucky that the translator she brought with her had come out with a terrible company too and informed her in fluent Japanese of the situation. She was nothing but sympathetic, as a female teacher she’d had her fair share of terrible bosses.
The money wasn’t too big a deal either, the job I went to was better paid anyway and I recouped that money in a couple of months.
Going off that, did you run into much sexism?
There’s a lot of sexism flying about. I don’t get as much of it here as I get at home, which obviously suits me way better, I also don’t get as much sexism as native women do. I am tall and broad and don’t take much. I think Japanese men are aware of that in western women so they very rarely even push that.
Especially for people a little further into their careers TEFL can be viewed as running away or an easy year out, were you worried about the career effects of heading out here?
I was completely aware that a lot of people would view me as running away and if it helps I did feel like I was running away. I kind of embraced that. For someone who spent a fair amount of time at university I’m not especially career driven and even though being without a career and not being able to teach at all was awful, I didn’t need to teach my specific subject.
I really enjoy teaching English because it’s quite simple in relation to what I was teaching. Teaching religion is not simple, there’s a lot of resistance and potholes. Switching to English meant everything I hated about teaching was removed from it and I could just teach the easy bit.
Part of the problem with being an RE teacher was as soon as you come in with anything new, especially as an atheist, they really didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy it and I’ll never go back to it.
What are the career plans now? You’re coming back soon.
I’m going to get a CELTA because it’ll allow me to get a better calibre of job. I’m doing it over in Kent University.
Why did you choose Kent?
It’s partly proximity, it’s close to where my parents live. I also looked on the British Council website, they list the kinds of courses they think are legit and so I went for one that was legit as opposed to one I could get for 99 pounds. The main thing was I didn’t want to waste my time and this is fully fledged.
In part 2 things get happier as I stop asking questions about bad employers and we talk about living and teaching in Japan, the connection of students to their teachers and a Whiter Shade of Pale. Read it here.