Most of Natalie’s days consisted of island hopping and exploring the luscious life her glamorous job provided her. At first, she thought she was living the dream until feelings of isolation and loneliness crept in. Natalie decided it was time for a change and that the nomadic lifestyle wasn’t for her. Natalie packed her suitcases one last time with her soon-to-be husband at the time and set sail to teach English in Japan. Read on to discover why being a TEFL teacher in Japan is so rewarding…
Natalie! You started in Australia and now you’re in Japan. Wow! Can you tell us about your path to wanting to teach English in Japan?
While many people choose to teach ESL for travel and adventure, my story is the opposite. I had spent the last three years of my life traveling the world in a glamorous and well-paying job. I worked in Pacific Island nations including Australia, Fiji, Vanuatu, and Kiribati. It was a dream come true until it wasn’t. I started to feel lonely, isolated, and tired living in hotels and out of a suitcase. I had left behind my friends, family, and hobbies for my career. Whilst it had its perks, I was starting to feel stressed and unhappy. While on assignment, I met my future husband, a Japanese citizen working overseas. After dating for almost two years, we decided to move to Japan. I was ready for a sea change and my next big adventure – this time, to teach English in Japan.
What led you to teach English? Were you on a different career path previously?
I have had a few different career paths over my life, like many people I suspect. Before teaching English though, I was working for a prominent University in Australia. I had a scientific background and was in a non-profit global health initiative aimed at reducing mosquito disease. When exploring what I wanted to do next, I consulted my family. I had a cousin who had previously taught English in Thailand and my sister was teaching English online. This led me to the possibility of teaching English.
How do you feel after completing our 290 level 5 course? Do you feel well prepared and confident to teach English in Japan?
I researched many TEFL and TESOL options. Ultimately, I liked what was on offer with Premier TEFL so I decided to sign up for the 290-hour level 5 course. I would spend my next few months preparing to move to teach English in Japan and studying to be able to find a job as an English teacher after moving there. During this time, I learned a great deal about teaching English, educational methodologies, English language learners, and their motivations. I was ready to go and I was prepared to continue to learn and grow as I went along.
What does a typical working day look like for you? Give us a rundown!
After getting up and having a nice breakfast I am off to the train station and to work to teach English in Japan. I work Monday to Friday in a public junior high school as an Assistant Language Teacher. Each class is a team-teaching situation and I work alongside a Japanese Teacher of English (JTE). I also prepare a lot of PowerPoint presentations focusing on grammar points, vocabulary, reading, and listening. I also plan games, activities, warm-ups, worksheets, and more.
What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher abroad? What has made your teaching experience in Japan so unique?
Working alongside experienced teachers I have been able to watch their different styles and approaches. Learn from them, adapt and interact while team-teaching. Seeing children get the confidence to come and speak to me is very rewarding. Watching them try, encouraging them, and celebrating their growth and successes is a wonderful feeling. My teaching experience may not be super unique at the moment as there are many foreigners teaching ESL abroad. One unique aspect of my experience is settling in with my family, learning and living the culture more deeply than if I was by myself. Also adapting to life during a global pandemic in a country where everyone wears masks, social distances, and is innovative has been a relief but I still look forward to the end of the pandemic.
What is one thing about the life of teaching abroad that you never expected/weren’t prepared for? What have you learned for future situations?
One thing I didn’t expect was the amount of repetition and drilling used in school. This can sometimes be boring for the students and I can see their enthusiasm wane when this goes on for too long. Also, the school year started late as a result of Coronavirus, causing the curriculum to be packed into a shorter time frame. I’m still learning to use my opportunities to be creative and get the kids to use the grammar points and vocabulary in more realistic and interesting ways. I am also lucky because the JTE’s I work alongside are experienced, supportive and wonderful. It’s great to be able to bounce ideas off them and even test things out in the classroom making improvements as needed.
What words of encouragement do you have for individuals considering getting a TEFL certificate to teach English in Japan?
I consider myself an optimist and a bit of a risk-taker. I’ve lived in many different countries and worked alongside many different people. Ultimately, I have found that people are kind and warm. Our world is expanded when we meet new people, learn and experience other cultures. Getting a TEFL certification isn’t scary or overly difficult – you can do it! When opportunity knocks you will be ready to go. Travel the world and have adventures or teach online from home or abroad. The possibilities are endless. Go for it!
What’s your favorite word or phrase of the English language?
Now, I want to be clever, but I am afraid I am not. I do believe in positivity, making mistakes, laughing, learning and experiencing new things to stay young, following your heart, everything will work out, and so on.
A few words that mean a lot to me are love, friendship, and adventure.
A famous American poet named Maya Angelou once said, “Success is loving life and daring to live it”. I think this is beautiful.
Now finally, the last question. What does the future hold for Natalie?
I am starting a family; I have a baby on the way. But I will continue to teach English in Japan working with kids and teenagers primarily. I am learning Japanese as well which helps me relate with my students in their language learning processes. Online teaching has become a prominent part of education in the covid-19 era.
I am also taking the opportunity to learn and integrate various tools and techniques that are available into my English teaching. It is very interesting, and I am currently learning how to make interactive slides for my students. Lastly, I am looking into starting a part-time online master’s degree in education to improve myself even more as a teacher. My husband and I both love to travel so if we find ourselves overseas again in the future, I am confident I can use these skills to teach online or in other countries anywhere in the world.