teaching-in-japan

9

What does an ALT do?

Every day - or, I guess, daily life? Kind of daily. 

I wanted to document my average day, but it ended up exhausting me just drawing it, haha. I’m glad it’s the end of the week.

Just some explanations - my base school is a Junior High School, but I go to Elementary Schools most days of the week in the morning. 

Sorry for my weird japanese

How to Become an ALT in Japan

Basic Requirements

1. A university bachelors degree
-Any degree is ok, Latin American Studies, German, Linguistics, Astro-Physics, Sociology, doesn’t matter as long as it’s at least a bachelors 

 2. A clean criminal background check
-Have you been convicted of a murder? Are you a pedo? Do you have outstanding warrants in 3 states? Did you go to jail for a hit and run? Japan doesn’t want you. 

 3. Appropriately healthy and able bodied
-If you have a something that will prevent you from doing your job well, you will most likely not be hired. For example; you can’t use stairs, you can’t stand for 45 minutes at a time, you have a severe speech impediment (I know people here with lisps), things like this prevent you from teaching at full capacity and most places don’t have the time or resources to make special accommodations for you. 

What other skills might recruiters be looking for?

1. Japanese language ability
-NOT required for most positions, but helpful for communication both in and out of the workplace. Unless you live in a metropolitan area, the average Japanese person’s English is VERY limited. I know many people who came here with zero Japanese, but nowadays there are many with at least rudimentary Japanese. People rarely come here fluent, but many people study Japanese while living here to take the JLPT and their level improves by leaps and bounds. I am not one of those people, so don’t ask me for more details lol

 2. TESL/TEFL certification
-NOT required for most positions, but some private companies are starting to lean more towards certified individuals. And honestly, those give you a lot of skills you will absolutely need when teaching English. 

3. Teaching degree
 -NOPE, not required in 99.9% of the cases. I know a few people with them who are ALTs, I’ve heard mixed opinions on how well it helps them as an ALT. Some find it demeaning to work subordinate and be given limited control/responsibilities, other find it freeing because they can spend more time teaching and less time with test related paper pushing and discipline management.

4. Good attitude, flexibility, people skills
-You need to be able to present yourself as someone trustworthy and amiable to recruiters. The environments ALTs work in are often high-paced, prone to sudden last second changes, and being able to make friends in the office and keep a happy face with students is incredibly important. 

5. Prior experience
-Have you worked in a daycare before? Have you volunteered in tutoring centers? Have you led discussion groups as a major requirement?  Have you ever studied abroad? Have you ever volunteered in foreign classrooms? Have you taken charge of a club and organized events? Did you dorm with international students in university? Have you worked for an international program before? Have you given private language lessons before? These are the kinds of things that show you have experience in things that ALTs frequently encounter.

Can I mention my love of [INSERT JAPANESE CULTURE HERE]?

Yes, but keep is professional, relevant, and brief. 

“I became interested in Japan after watching Spirited Away, the cultural aspects of the movie fascinated me and made me want to learn more about Japan.” OK
“I have a collection of anime pillow cases, my favorite is Miku Hatsune in this pose.” NO 

“I started listening to Japanese music in high school. I eventually started learning Japanese to better understand the lyrics.” OK
 "When Pierrot broke up, I was shattered that the fanfic community would move on to other ships.“ NO 

“My school offered a short course on Japanese tea ceremony, and I thought the way that it formed historically was extremely interesting.” OK
“I want to learn the way of the samurai.” NO 

“I’m very interested in Japanese video game production companies. I went to college and majored in game design and I want to further study it by living in Japan and experiencing the community in person.” OK
“I want to play Resident Evil on fiber optic LAN with Japanese players so I can pwn more n00bs when I get back to America.” NO

What kind of ALT positions are available?

First and foremost: READ AND RESEARCH

If you do not do your own intensive research, you can get taken advantage of. You hear horror stories from people here all the time, and those mostly come from people didn’t research what they were getting themselves into. I cannot make a comprehensive guide to the THOUSANDS OF KINDS OF ALT positions across the country, this is only an overview. Look at that link, and always do extensive research of the companies/programs you’re interested in working for.

1. Government
 AKA JET Program
-The JET Program is the only government ALT program. It makes the Japanese government the middleman in your arrangements, which takes less money from your paycheck and gives you a more trustworthy means of income. It’s very competitive and the application process takes about 6 months. They only hire once a year. It’s arguably the best program, as it pays well, you have a lot of guaranteed vacation time, and they pay for your flights to and from the country. On the downside, you don’t really have a lot of say in where you are placed. Also, you cannot get a transfer unless VERY specific requirements are met. Also some prefectures/localities are nicer to their ALTs than others, but if they try to fuck you over you know you have the Japanese government backing you and they will keep you from being taken advantage of.

 2. Private Dispatch
examples: Interac, AEON, Borderlink, JIEC and MANY others
 -These are private companies that workplaces hire to provide them with ALTs. Workplaces do this because some of the intricacies in hiring an ALT and getting them a VISA and housing are really complicated, and they’d rather pay a middleman than deal with it. Upsides, you get a little more wiggle-room with being transferred. Downside by far is the pay. It depends on the company, but that middleman definitely takes a big chunk of your pay. If you work for a place like this, you need to VERY carefully read your contract. Research dispatch companies carefully, check their ratings online, see what former employees have to say about them. 

 3. Private Hire
 AKA working directly under the local government office, a private company, or even one-on-one’s in wealthy households
-These are places that will directly hire you without a middleman. Obviously, you need to look carefully at the details of your contract before working privately. Most local government places won’t hire you without prior ALT experience in Japan. Private English Conversation Schools (Eikaiwa) have non-9 to 5 working hours to provide for business workers and students. They sometimes require you to already have a VISA prior to being hired. Private Hire really is outside of my experience, but from what I understand they can pay as well as JET, but don’t usually have as many perks.

Where do I look for open positions?

GaijinPot is the website I’ve heard of the most. Check there and research research research. There are scammers, be careful. 

JET hires once a year starting around September or October. It’s available online on their official webpage.

There are a bajillion different dispatch companies. I couldn’t possibly name them all, I don’t really have a lot of experience with them, and don’t know which are particularly good or not. Check Google-sensei for their applications, websites, and reputations.

Other than that, please be wary of Craigslist. Although legit job openings do show up, there are scammers. If it’s someone looking for a “private female in-home English tutor from ages 19~25” or something like that, don’t be dumb. Many will require you to have a VISA with a minimum of 1 year on it already. Many will require you to already live in the area of the position. Research everything carefully.

Words of warning

If you think mental health issues are stigmatized in your home country, oh honey you ain’t seen nothin` yet.

If you have mental health issues, Japan may not be the place for you. You may think going to Japan, being surrounded by your hobbies and interests, and just “getting away” will make things better… IT WON’T.

Please be aware that you most likely will not be able to get your meds over the counter in Japan. And it’s not uncommon for your meds to be banned entirely even with a prescription. Bi-polar, anxiety, OCD, depression? Your meds might not be available here. Oh and having people send them over from home by mail can get you detained and deported if you’re caught.

You’ll also be leaving the support of friends and family by coming to Japan. The ALT community is pretty cool, but people come and go so quickly, it’s hard to find groups of people that will stick together through really tough spots.

Supervisors and coworkers aren’t much help either. In Japan, people don’t talk about mental health issues at all. If you take meds for anything other than a physical illness, you do it in private where people can’t see you. If you see a psychiatrist, you do it in a different prefecture, where no one can see you. It’s not uncommon for Japanese people to be asked to leave their jobs because their boss or coworkers have suspicions.

If you self medicate with something like marijuana, be aware that recreational drug use here is VERY VERY VERY illegal. Marijuana use is treated with the same seriousness as crack cocaine. You WILL be caught, you WILL be detained, you WILL be tried without a lawyer present, you WILL be held in solitary, you WILL be convicted of drug possession, and you WILL be deported.

Some ALTs will replace their marijuana use with alcohol. That goes about as well as it sounds :|

For LGBT, if you’re used to a very supportive queer community, it’s not the same here. Japanese people are extremely closeted and unless you live near a large metropolitan area, getting into the gay scene is nearly impossible. I’m fine because I was never in the gay scene back home, but for some people it’s very hard.

If you’re trans and want to come here to transition, please reconsider. I would suggest not coming to Japan as an ALT if you intend to transition in the immediate future. If your gender dysphoria is pretty bad, you’re gonna have a bad time. Gender segregation and enforcement of gender roles will probably seriously affect your mental health. The paperwork for transitioning is even harder from overseas and lot of things need to be done in person so you’ll have to fly back and forth from your home country a lot (which is damn expensive and needs vacation leave). Even if you do get everything done, there’s no telling how your work will respond. They won’t outright say they’re firing you for your gender identity, that’s illegal, they’ll come up with some other reason.

People who come here with a goal like paying off college loans or wanting to experience another culture usually have a better time that people who come here because OMG I JUST LOVE JAPAN. Please keep that in mind.

[suddenly sits up straight on this train] OH MY GOD

So I’ve had a lot of friends who went to teach English in rural Japan and have been the only foreigner for miles, and they tend to become local celebrities. Like, they essentially get paparazzi following their errands. Right after the new train station on local news is “Rachel went to the store today and bought natto. Did she like it?? More after the break”

THAT IS VICTOR

HOW DID I NOT SEE THIS EARLIER

Imagine Victor showing up to this dying tourist town and everyone learning his name within the week. Does anyone know who he is? Idk, he looks kind of familiar - Sato-san swears he recognizes him from one of Yuuri’s competitions, but Yuuri competes against a lot of handsome foreigners so one can never be sure. He was probably in the audience. He’s definitely a Yuuri fan, but isn’t everyone.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, Victor went to the fish market this morning! Did he like it? Did he buy anything? More after the break!

10

Today was so slow, I drew a comic about my average deskwarming day.

sianori
I have to say, I’ve been an ALT only a very small fraction of the time you have, but I understand what you mean already. Some days are great, but others feel like we’ve somehow backtracked.


Forrrrr surrrrre. It’s hard to keep motivation levels up. But (and I have admitted this before to a few other ALTs) I don’t know that I view teaching as a permanent position anyway, for me. I burn out quite easily when I’m inputting emotional energy, but I think it’s okay to say “I’m taking a break for a year or two to regain my mojo”.

Had an ALT once tell me that they were going to go to grad school for teaching because “it is a calling” and asked me why I wasn’t going to do the same. I said I loved teaching but didn’t know if I wanted to do it as a career still, not after being an ALT for so long. They seemed taken aback and implied that my burnout meant I wasn’t suited for it, that being in a classroom required “being called to it”.

I’ma tell you right now hun, as a 5th year who has an undergrad in education: we all go through burnout. It doesn’t mean we aren’t ‘called’, whatever that implies. So long as we try our best to keep positive and change up our circumstances whenever we have a chance/the energy. 

But yeah it sucks sometimes haha

Cosmic Funnies in Japan?!

Hey guys, I have some news for you. 😉
I just had an interview with Interac, an international teaching company who has been trying to contact me over the span of two weeks. As it fated, I decided to answer the phone call not knowing it was them and assuming it was just telemarketing.

Boy was I in for a surprise! I had a 5 minute discussion with them yesterday and arrange a phone interview for today. They said they’d email me if i’d passed to move on to the second interview and around 15 minutes later, I received a congrats email that I’ve passed and to move on to the second interview along with going to the orientation this Saturday.
If I decide to go teach english in japan, I would leave America by next spring to begin my 1 year contract. (Hopefully I can extend it if all goes well.) 


What does it mean for cosmic funnies should I accept this job? I’ll still continue to post new comics possibly late at night after working in the school and weekends like I always do with my current job.
You guys have no idea how nervous and excited I am, but this is something I always wanted to do. Ever since I was a child, I always wanted to go to japan and work/live there.

If all goes well, I can live there permanently and work there, publishing cosmic funnies books there and creating an animated series in japan.
Let us hope. 😃 Until then, i’ll give you guys updates on what happens with the second interview and orientation.
Also, i’m trying to finish tonight’s comic while hyperventilating!!

Have a great night!

A little advice if you want to teach in Japan

- You’re going to do an intro lesson so be sure to talk about cool stuff near where you live. Keep it simple things like local food, festivals, sports, and things like that go a long way with students. I brought a picture of pulled pork sandwiches one time and I blew my 5th graders minds. 

-  Kids love Bingo. LOVE it! From 1st grade up to year two in JHS. Think of fun ways that you can change up lessons with Bingo games and ways that you can keep the games different so they don’t get burnt out on it. 

- Some thing grade school kids like more than Bingo? Stamps give for every Bingo they win. I bought a Pikachu stamp at the Pokemon Center in Tokyo for just this reason and the kids loved it! I think the best was from the 2nd graders when they all started jumping up and down shouting “Pika Pi!”

- You will be asked to sign everything! You’ll feel like a freaking rock star by all the notebooks, rulers, textbooks, ect that you’ll be asked to sign. They love it even more if you can draw a dumb little face along with your signature. 

- For every shitty kid there are three that want to learn. That’s not to say that these kids will stand up and tell the little bastard causing all the trouble to shut up and sit down, but they will come up to you out side of class and tell you that they like what you’re teaching. If you’re lucky they’ll even give you little gifts. 

- Don’t go over their heads but don’t be condescending. Remember that Spanish teacher you had in grade school that would only talk to you in Spanish even if what they were talking about wasn’t even covered in your text book? Remember how when you finally got them to talk to you in English they made it seem like it was your fault for not getting the lesson? Yeah, don’t fucking be like that. 

- Full color print outs do wonders. They are just so much more engaging and can really help to get attention. 

- Before you take off for Japan take a lot of pictures of things around you. Where you live is not like Japan, unless you live in China or Korea in which case you may be surprised how much the kids know about you’re home land. Kids want to see where you come from and what you and your friends do for fun. Show them the parks you go to or the Christmas tree your family sets up every year. They want to know all the stuff that the hollywood movies miss. 

-  Please don’t think that moving to Japan is going to be like an Anime or Drama. These are real people with normal lives, how much is your life like a sitcom or action movie? If your love for Japanese media is your biggest motivation for going to teach in Japan, don’t go. That would be like a middle eastern person moving to New York just because they were a big Seinfeld fan. Feel more than free to visit Japan and see it for yourself, but if you’re coming to Japan to teach you will be very busy and working a real job with real responsibility. 

Dear Incoming Newbies w/no Japanese Skills...

You are just as welcome as the people who spent years studying the language. You are just as apt to make this a good experience as someone who got to study abroad in university. You were hired onto the JET program for a reason, which is just as valid as someone who feels they’re going to adjust more easily because of their skillsets in the language.

Will things be tougher in some cases? Yes. Very much so.

Will things be more beautiful in some cases?  Yes. Very much so.

Will you have a harder time adjusting? Maybe, maybe not.

Will your experience be any less than someone who studies 10 hours a week to improve their language skills? It depends on you not comparing yourself to that person, or any other person for that matter.

To the newbies who DO have Japanese skills… I know it can be tough. You see someone struggling through and think, “If you just~” or “when I had to do this~” or “why don’t you~”

Stop. I know that you worked hard. Languages take dedication, and I know you got to where you are with a motivation that I admire and that I and many others do not have! But still… you gotta stop, y’all.

You don’t know what mitigating factors there were in this person’s life. You don’t know what they’re trying to do now. You don’t know anything except your own motivations and skillsets. Focusing on those is good! Comparing yourself to someone without them is not.

Just… wanted to make sure you guys come here and know what’s what. Every single year, I see a lot of people posting about “learn the language before you come” and “how frustrating that you can’t do this simple thing” and “why even come to Japan if you don’t wanna speak Japanese”….

That’s just shitty vibes, friends. And to be honest, this post should just be titled “comparisons are the devil” and just have a large bold NO SHITTY VIBES beneath it. Maybe I’ll do that next year. But for now, just have this as a reminder that you’re all coming out to a new country to experience it as you are going to, and trying to manage other peoples’ enjoyment/motivations while doing so just ain’t sustainable.

Okama

“馬鹿!” Megumi teases with a jovial smile on her face.

“Me?” I respond with feigned indignation. “An idiot?! How dare you!”

“鼻でっかい!” She accuses with a laugh.

I grab my nose, “It’s not big!” I fake tears for her amusement.

Then Megumi leans close to me, intimates that she knows a secret, and whispers, “おかま。”

I’m six thousand miles away from where I was born, and I have no idea what I’m supposed to do when an eleven year old Japanese girl calls me a faggot.

I dress pretty cis by my standards in Kochi-ken, Japan. I don’t think Megumi has ever seen me waiting for a train in a skirt, although other students have. Megumi wasn’t in the train compartment when I was going to visit a friend, and a high school girl literally collapsed with laughter to see me wear a dress. I don’t think she has more evidence for her insult than my booty shorts, my friendship bracelets, and of course the way I talk and walk. I see two explanations for why she called me a faggot: either we live in a world where cis people want trans people to hide, but will always sniff them out, or small villages talk, and even the kids hear. (It’s both.)

I don’t know how to help these kids. In America, lower schoolers were as close-minded as here, but it didn’t stop them from being my friend. After about third grade, Japanese children start to have an exhausted looking fear in their eyes when they see me. A gender-nonconforming person is so strange for them, but I’m an impermanent fixture in their village, it feels like they’d rather wait out this tumbleweed than work to befriend it. When one of my students saw me at a restaurant, she prefered to cozy up to the old men who smell of smoke and teased her mercilessly than interact with me.

I feel like a complete failure in front of my middle schoolers. If an ALT is a boy, they want a big, boisterous, confident foreigner, and if the ALT is a girl, they want a beautiful, smart woman who surprises them by knowing about K-Pop. No one signed up for a half-mad genderqueer. In America, middle schoolers were more vicious, but there was always one someone in a class with dyed hair or wearing a feminist shirt who was visibly relieved to see a nonconforming authority figure.

I haven’t always met with failure. In particular, I think of the two boys who saw me wearing a skirt at the train station. They’re my two biggest fans. One is just a goofball who likes anything weird, bless his heart. The other has a high voice that cracks when he laughs. He’s tall and popular, but he thrusts his head forward nervously, and has the slightest effeminate movement to his hand gestures. I don’t have a good “gay-dar” but I wonder who he will be when he grows up, and if seeing me will help at all. One victory after a year of teaching isn’t enough, but I think it would make me at least as useful, as much in-the-right-place, as a single rice stalk standing in the endless golden rice fields.