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KS Cover no. 71 2006 April

APR 2006 :: 071


Leaving on a jet plane

English teachers flock here in pursuit of adventure and a fast pay cheque. But how do they know when the party is really over?

When Ian Sheldon* left Japan in December 2004, he only packed the essentials. Dozens of photos to remind him of the three amazing years he spent in Osaka. A Hanshin Tigers jersey and some Japanese langu-age and travel books were also carefully tucked into his suitcase. He left behind his old shirts, ties and jackets. After all, he was going to study Chinese in Beijing, so the student lifestyle called for a more casual dress code than that of an English teacher. Many of Sheldon's other possessions were given to Japanese friends, sent home to England by ship or orphaned in Osaka.
It may have been easy for Sheldon to leave his things behind in Japan, but leaving Japan completely behind was another story. And after one year in China, Sheldon returned to Osaka in January 2006
to find a higher paying job.
“I had university debts still outstanding so I knew I had to go to a country where I could quickly make money. I also really wanted to live in another Asian country. I thought that Japan would be a good choice due to its links with China, culturally and historically, plus I was able
to continue my studies with Chinese co-workers.”
Like Sheldon, many foreigners come to teach in Japan because
of the wealth of opportunities that can be had in the Land of the Rising Sun. A comfortable, and some would say, easy pay cheque. The chance to meet new people, learn a new language, travel to incredible places and for many, a second chance to live like a university student —excessive partying, minus the midterms or consequence.
But all good things eventually come to an end. As a new school year approaches and a new flock of teachers swarm into Japan, many vets are packing their bags to go back to their native countries or try their luck elsewhere. Still, many teachers may find themselves torn when it comes to booking that one-way flight. Once Japan gets into your system, the line between staying and going often gets a little blurry. So how do you know when it's time to leave and go back to the “real world?”
Twenty-four year old Ana-Liza McDonald knew it was time to go when she had “gotten all she could get out of Japan.” The Brisbane native has been living in Japan since July 2003 and is leaving early this month.
“It's truly time to leave,” says McDonald. “All my friends have started to leave. I have a nice little nest egg and memorable experien-ces. It's time to see what the real world holds for me.”
Jevon Clement, 25, is “nervous about leaving a country that has presented him with so many interesting challenges.” But after 13 months of traveling and teaching English, he's also ready to pack his bags and face another challenge — reconnecting with friends and family, finding a job and re-adjusting to life in Ontario, Canada. “I've accompli-shed a lot of my goals,” says Clement (who will have already left Osaka by the time this magazine comes out). “I miss Canada so it's time to go.” Clement won't go home empty-handed. In addition to his savings, he also says that he has gained a lot from his time in Japan.
“I've been able to survive in a country where I don't really speak the language so I feel I've gained a lot of confidence in myself,” says Clement. “I feel much more independent and I can deal with a wider range of people and situations.”
It's this very independence that Karning Hum, a 30 year-old televi-sion producer from Toronto, Canada says helped him land a job. Hum spent two years teaching in Tokyo after graduating from university in the mid-nineties. “Japan was truly liberating for me,” says Hum. “I learned tolerance, a new culture, bits of a language, made friends with people from all over the world, have stories that are simply unbelievable — became a better person, and I managed to save a few bucks. I had no job lined up when I left, but I had plenty of drive and work place experience that was invaluable.”
But not everyone who comes to Japan intends to leave. Forty-
two year-old William Kennedy has called Osaka home for 13 years now and he has no plans to go back to his former home in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
“Being in Japan for such a long time has totally reshaped my way of looking at everything, and I think this has helped me grow as a per-son much more than would have been possible if I had stayed in the US.”
And despite endless complaints from the mass exodus of teache-rs who leave because of their jobs, Kennedy stays because of it. “I can live comfortably in Japan doing an enjoyable and challenging job, being both happy and stimulated.“
Andrea Dinan, Territory Manager at Toronto's Global TESOL College, also knows that teaching overseas can be quite rewarding because she taught in Mexico, South Korea and South Africa. But she warns other teachers to recognize the warning signs and know when to move on to something new.
“If the job is no longer challenging or intriguing and especially if you have become very negative. If you find yourself not looking forward to seeing your students, if you have begun to watch the clock during your class, it's time for something new,” says Dinan.
If this sounds like you and you are thinking of heading home, Dinan also has advice about selling your experience to employers back home.
“The great thing about teaching overseas, and this is becoming a well known fact, is that people who do so, always come back a more independent, confident and patient person, says Dinan. “These chara- cteristics are important to any job. If you are looking to gain employ-ment at a place that involves teamwork, teaching abroad definitely helps you become part of a team.”
And if you do decide to stay another year, Hum has some words of advice as well. “Take advantage of every opportunity,” says Hum. “You are truly in a unique situation that will shape and change you unlike any other — and it's all for the better.”
*Not his real name

Text: Antoinette Sarpong

:: Online Articles


White space for sale
Art galleries to rent in Osaka


Way out west
Golden Week in Yamaguchi-ken


Walking with history
Yamanobe-no-michi, Tenri


Convergence: come together
The future is wow!


Leaving on a jet plane
Are you ready to leave Japan?


DJ Cashmere: Sweet like candy
DJ who spins the town

:: Listings


Up to date cinema listings guide so you always know what's on, where and when!

:: ART

Best exhibitions + listings


Best events + listings


Best gigs + listings


Parties not to miss + listings

:: Also in this month's mag


Falafel Garden
Israeli Vegetarian Café, Kyoto


Wanna get drunk?
Bar, Isn't It?, Umeda


Six days in the Sahara
Alan Ryan on the world's toughest footrace


Art of living
Meditation course of the most wanted peace


Anthony Pappa
A man who made his name from Melbourne to Moscow


Best festivals + listings


New releases and top ten paperback books


Reel reviews of the silver screen


Domestic and international news

Be off with you!

If you are ready to pack your bags, here are some tips to help you prepare for the culture shock.

• Brace yourself. Going home is exciting, but this excitement won't last long. There will be no big parties, no one wants to hear about your stories, or if they do listen, it may be with half an ear.

• Many people say that it's also very strange to be able to understand all the conversations that are going on around you all the time and to be able to speak quickly all the time. Sometimes people wonder why we speak so slowly! You will start looking for Japanese people, and when you see someone from Japan, you may actually feel a sense of relief.

• Look for cultural centres, ESL schools, or TESOL schools so that you can either meet some Japanese people, continue with the job you have been doing or share your story with people that are all ears about Japan.

• Not being in as much demand in your own country is also a strange feeling! Make sure you have money to tide you over for a couple of months because finding a job back home is not as easy as overseas!