Congratulations! All of your hard work in college paid off and you landed a gig teaching English in Japan. So what do you do between now and then?
I found a lot of websites that tell you how to get the job, but not what to do when you get the good news. Here are a few things you can do set yourself up for success in the land of the rising sun.
1. Think about your goals
This one is the most important. When most people apply for a job in Japan it's because they want to live in Japan, experience the culture, and gain experience. There's no problem with that, but you will have a much better time if you start thinking about what you specifically hope to do in Japan.
Setting smart goals with regards to your personal life, finances, fitness, and education will help you get the most out of your time in Japan.
2. Think about your budget
Before leaving you should know your starting salary and have a ballpark figure of what your monthly expenses will be. ALTs can have a lot of expenses setting up their new lives in Japan so you'll be spending more money than usual your first couple of months. If you plan to purchase any big ticket items in Japan (like cars, expensive bicycles, phones, etc), make sure you have money set aside.
When making your budget, it's important to think about how much money you plan to save and how much you plan on spending. It doesn't have to be detailed, a general one is fine.
If you have high interest credit card debt, paying that down should be your priority. Using a credit card responsibly can help you out in an emergency or if you are going to travel. Since you will be living abroad, try to get a card without foreign transaction fees or an annual fee.
For those of you that will have student loans breathing down your neck, make sure you look into your payment options and research how to send money back home. If you will be sending money home often, a checking account without incoming international wire transfer fees can save you some dough.
3. Make an exit strategy
Wait, I haven't even gone to Japan yet and you want me to think about leaving? That's right! Even though you're getting ready to come to Japan, it's a good idea to start thinking about what you want to do when your contract comes to an end.
If you constantly keep your professional goals in mind, you'll be able to make a smooth transition to your next job or graduate school when your time teaching English is over.
Reading, studying languages, engaging in community activities, volunteering, and joining professional groups will go a long way to improving your transferable skills and boosting your resume. Your plans will more than likely change, but that's all a part of the process. Just keep working towards that next big step!
4. Think about what you need
This will vary from person to person, but it can help to do some research. Japan has a population of roughly 126 million people and they seem to get by without too many problems. That being said, certain products from your home country will just be a lot better than their Japanese counterparts.
Think about the things that you can't live without or things that you use everyday. See if you will be able to get them in Japan or not. Some good websites to check out are Amazon Japan and Rakuten (Japanese site and English global market). If you can't find it, try asking people who are already in the area you are going to if they have seen it.
It is possible to order things from overseas website and have them shipped to Japan. Based on the product, there may be additional duty fees for importing.
An item most of us will need is deodorant. There isn't a lot of it and it's weak in Japan. Medicine is also a big one. They have cough medicine in Japan but it's not the same as Nyquil or Dayquil. Multi-vitamins are also available but way more expensive than the USA.
Depending on your size and body shape, clothes may be challenging to get too. I'm pretty big even by American standards at 6'2" and 240 lbs so I'm literally huge in Japan. At most stores, the only things that I can wear comfortably are t-t-shirts, socks, and hats. Before leaving, I made sure I had a nice fitting suit, some dress shirts, long pants and good shoes. I'll do a post on finding man sized clothing later.
5. Learn some Japanese
Most job listing state that Japanese isn't required to be a teacher, but your life will be a lot easier with some Japanese skill. Try to learn hiragana and katakana before you arrive. When I studied in Josai International University in Chiba, there were a few students that came to Japan with zero Japanese. It was a challenge for them to even know what they were buying from the grocery store!
Something else that will help you is practicing is your self-introduction in Japanese. You're going to have to do it a million times so it's worth the practice.
Your teachers and some of the staff will speak English, but there will be a lot of other important members of staff (like the principal, visiting officials, etc.) that may not. It doesn't have to be perfect and most people will appreciate your efforts to learn their language.
If you want to get started, Duolingo recently launched it's Japanese course. I haven't tried it myself, but it's been working well for studying Portuguese. Once you get to Japan, you can take inexpensive classes at local community centers. If you don't mind paying extra, you can enroll in the Kumon Japanese course.
6. Learn about where you're going to live
A quick search about the city you're going to live in will give you an idea of what your life will be like. Japan is a geographically small country but the variation in lifestyles is huge. Life in Tokyo will certainly be different from living in a fishing village in Hokkaido.
Most cities in Japan have community and international centers that host monthly events and classes. These are good places to meet the locals, make friends, and learn more about your town and Japan.
In my area, I often check the Yokkaichi International Center, the Nagoya International Center, and Nagmag for information about the area and events that are going on.
7. Chill out!
Now that we've come to the end, you're probably thinking about all of the things you need to do before you leave, but don't forget to make time to relax!
Your last semester in college was probably hard work, so it's good to take some time to catch up with friends, eat some of your favorite food, and visit family members before your departure.
Moving to live and work in another country can be a bit of a shock to the system, but the rewards you'll get from it are well worth it. You'll want to make sure you're in the best shape, both mentally and physically, so you can enjoy your time in Japan!
That's all for this post. How was your experience? Did I miss something? Feel free to comment below, thanks for reading!