The Life Eikaiwa Pt. 1: Deciding to Come to Japan

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Packing up shop in your hometown and moving overseas is a big decision to make, let alone coming to Japan. On top of that – working in an Eikaiwa can be tough – It’s not all bright lights and glamour as some people might expect – but the experience you gain will be irreplaceable.

Prospective Eikaiwa Teacher tip 1: Have a purpose

I needed a change in my life. After working in management consultancy for five years, with all the associated ups and downs that came with it, I started to feel a keen desire to get out of the pressure cooker and get some perspective. The goals were to 1) Spend at least a year living overseas in 2) a vocation that was totally different from my current schedule of meetings, presentations and Excel spreadsheets

Japan was the obvious choice. I had already been there twice for home stays and again for an amazing holiday to Niseko where my rudimentary command of “nani-nani wa doko desuka?” (Where is some place?) had me assume the role of tour guide for a group of 11 other Australians.

I had a strong sense of why I wanted to do this. That’s what got me through the sometimes tedious application processes. That’s what got me through the often tedious TEFL course I did. That’s what made me curious enough to do extensive research on the history of various Eikawas in Japan. (Hint, there are dramas!)

Once you’ve answered the Why, there’s still the What. It’s a good idea to set goals for yourself when in Japan. Your day job is not your life. Want to learn Japanese? Take up a new hobby? Make a new social circle?

Personally I wanted to check a couple of things off in Japan:

  • Visit my host families and all of the other people who accepted me as their own during my stays
  • Learn Japanese to at least an N3 level
  • Improve my interpersonal skills – and build a network overseas.

On the other side of the coin, you need to know what you’re signing up for too. There are horror stories out there from people that have had terrible experiences, but the best thing you can do is go in with your eyes open.

The two biggest items here are that you will be required to have or put on an outgoing personality at work, it’s part of the job. There isn’t really a way around that. The school is also run as a business, and this means you will be expected to help the business meet it’s objectives. Depending on the management style, can sometimes be in opposition to what you perceive the true needs of the student are.

Also do not underestimate how difficult if can be to teach children. This one isn’t from personal experience, but from some of the drained colleagues I’ve spoken to, it takes a certain type of human to corral Japanese children into something resembling a learning environment.

your performance is based on your ability to track hundreds of small tasks rather than complete one primary objective

Adopting the native Japanese business practices will also be expected, and these will often feel laborious and inefficient to someone that has worked in industry for a while. This is the part I had the most trouble with; moving from a fast-paced, high responsibility, low oversight position to almost the complete opposite, where everything is scheduled to the hilt and there are highly defined practices to follow for almost everything, and your performance is based on your ability to track hundreds of small tasks rather than complete one primary objective.

So with this sketch of what I wanted to do and how I thought it would be in mind, I sent the applications out. The same basic tips apply for any job application – be yourself, be honest but sell yourself and make the application specific to the job.

I managed to pass the first screening and eventually found myself at the group assessment centre of a large Eikawa with 20 or so other nervous hopefuls.

Next time: The trials and tribulations of an Eikaiwa Assessment centre

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Your Entry to Japan.
  • Jon E. says:

    Definitely looking forward to the rest of this article!

  • Rinchan89 says:

    Very nice article, I look forward to reading more!
    I am going to Osaka this April to start a one (hopefully two) year study of Japanese, but I am seriously considering working as an ALT/ in an Eikaiwa afterwards. Since I have some time, I would like to do some research in the meantime. Do you have any recommendations as to where I can read up about different Eikaiwa’s, and learn more about them?
    Thanks in advance, and for upcoming articles!

    • Ed Williams says:

      Hey Rinchan – sounds great! Testimonials from current/past teachers are usually a good bet, although they usually need to be taken with a grain of salt and you still need to use your own judgement. One thing to watch is how the recruitment processes go – and wether or not applying from within Japan will be possible for you.

      Good luck!

  • Ed Williams says:

    More on this later – but basically the ins and outs of everyday. Remembering to talk to specific students about specific things. Handing in your paperwork on time. Handing information to students. Even turning off the lights at the end of the day. The overarching expectation is that you will consistently tick all the boxes on your to-do list.

  • Ed Williams says:

    Hi Sarah, that certainly sounds pretty unreasonable to me. The next article will have some more of the ins and outs of the process I went through but in a nutshell it was nowhere near that level.

    I also (so far) don’t think the workaholism is as prevalent as I thought, particularly not in the English teaching industry. So far the hours and salary have been clearly stated and adhered to in practice; and the wage is certainly enough to live and have some left over to enjoy Japan.

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