Category Archives: life abroad

When the Supermarket Becomes the go-to Spot

I was never excited about shopping at the supermarket and nothing has changed now. Why not just have your groceries delivered you ask. Well…

A supermarket is literally two minutes from my place.

Delivery options are not as widely available here as in other places.

I like picking out my own fruits and veggies.

This social distancing thing isn’t fully understood and practiced in supermarkets here I find. In the last week, markers have appeared on the floor showing how far apart to line up for the cashier. Two weeks ago, I ran out of one to get away from the swarms of people milling around and congregating in different sections. They were taking it ‘easy like Sunday morning.’ Supermarkets in Japan are often small with very narrow aisles. My paranoia was in activation mode.

I went to that supermarket, about 1km from my house at around 11:00a.m. It’s the one with a good variety of local and international products but I am on hiatus from there. They have some good avocados and mangoes there though 😦

In these times, I have developed vampire like tendencies. I exercise at nights when less people are out and stay home during the day. Oh what joy it was to discover that the supermarket nearby still opens until 10 p.m. I even went in to confirm it the night I walked by. Since, mostly families and older people live around this area, everything is quiet by around 9 p.m.

Do you know the luxury of going into a supermarket in these times and having it all to yourself? This was me the other night. At a round 9:30 p.m. I strolled into the supermarket decked out in my mask of course. There were like two other people in there. Oh the joy of taking my time to pick out things I went for; others that just called out to me (you know how that goes).

Though there is this upside, the downside is that quite a bit of the fresh veggies were all gone. I went to the baking aisle and they were all out of flour, vanilla and other stuff. Apparently, some influencer has been giving tips on baking goodies in these times, so it’s now trendy. I give it two weeks before this runs it course. In the same way the panic toilet paper buying ran its course a month or so again, this will happen too.

I like the lengths that supermarkets are going to in order to protect their workers. They are all wearing face shields with masks and at the cashier a nice firm piece of plastic separates them from the customers. Cash is still king here, so we do exchange money which of course can transfer the virus. Now scrubbing hands like crazy, washing my glasses and face are a part of the routine after returning home. It is often easier to just jump into the shower.

I am learning to content myself with the basics at the supermarket nearby. To be truthful, they have more than that but if you are a fan of certain things, in certain places, you may understand. I mean things like good cheese, mangoes, avocados, teas…

The problems of the privileged I tell you. I am able to buy food and I am grateful. I am learning to be content with my smaller supermarket with less people where I can shop at nights when less folks are there.

These are the times where I count my blessings even more and cultivate contentment.

Life in Japan in the Time of the Coronavirus

  • Those who still have masks don them religiously everyday. There are no masks in the shops so many people are ‘maskless’. I don’t wear a mask, so maybe I am living dangerously. Based on informed research, I know the run of the mill masks most people wear are not effective. I have seen where people have pulled down their masks to sneeze before, let’s hope good sense prevails.
  • Announcements have been made for people to wash their hands. Yes, you would think this is normal practice but mine eyes have seen fingers on one hand passed quickly under a pipe, after people leave a bathroom stall. Yup, even when the soap dispenser is right by the faucet. There are bottles of alcohol at the entrance to many places where we can spritz our hands to help. This is a normal thing anyway. As for me, I wash my hands well with soap and around my mouth as well, when I get to work, when I come home and before eating lunch.
  • Interestingly, I don’t hear of or read about people being reminded to amp up things that boost their immune systems: eating fruits and veggies, sleeping enough, drinking water, taking vitamins and exercising among other things. Yep, I am even more intentional about these, as I often am during winter when influenza comes yearly.
  • There is information on signs and symptoms to look out for and when to book it to the hospital. Let’s keep these medical professionals prayed up.
  • There are announcements about avoiding crowded places. Well in Tokyo, we commute by train and rush hour is always crowded (think of over 2 million or more people each day) so yeah.
  • We all read about the quarantine of those on the cruise ship and those getting off now, just like people outside the country.
  • The atmosphere is becoming tenser everyday. I read today that someone pressed the emergency stop button in the train somewhere in the country. This was because someone who wasn’t wearing a mask was coughing. People will cough, sneeze and the like a lot now. It is allergy season, it is early this year and as brutal as usual. I never experience it but this year my nose is runny.
  • Many of us are still doing the things we would normally do everyday. This is not a bad thing because being stressed isn’t good for the immune system. This too shall pass…

Teaching in a Developing Country vs Teaching in a Developed Country

My experience is but a small blot about teaching in the two countries I speak about below. Don't take what I say to be universal truths.

I am from Jamaica and I taught in high school there for five years. I have now been teaching in Japan for 13 years. In Japan I have taught at the elementary, junior high and high school level.

In Jamaica I taught at two high schools in two cities. I have taught at 6 schools and 2 junior high schools in the Japanese country side (this was when I was on the JET Programme over a 5 year period). I have also taught at two high schools here in Japan. I am still teaching in a high school in a city here in Japan now.

Let me talk a bit about how teaching in Jamaica, a developing country lines up with teaching in Japan, a developed country.

In both countries I teach English Language and Literature principally to high schoolers. On the JET Programme I was teaching ESL.

Some Similarities I Find Teaching in Both Places

Teaching in both countries, like anywhere else in the world, requires passion and drive. This is essential to effectively deliver the contents of the curriculum and facilitate learning. I am preparing students to be lifelong learners, as well as, to do well in their final exams. This means balancing engaging content with relevant preparation and practice for different assessments. Consequently, like every responsible teacher, I do backward planning and craft lessons with the above in mind.

Students are students everywhere. There is the thinking that all Japanese students are docile and cooperative learners all the time. Many of my friends in Jamaica and other places think teaching in Japan is a magical land without any issues with students. At the very least, there is still the struggle of getting homework from all students on time without pithy excuses.

I also have the same level of satisfaction interacting with students. For the most part students are open and trusting and if you keep the standards you set for them, you will get on like a house on fire. Of course there are other components but that’s basically it.

Building relationships with colleagues work in much the same manner, even though in Japan, I work with people of various nationalities. We share a passion for our craft and like personalities gel and such. We work well professionally. There are of course some challenges because of viewing things through different cultural lens and being socialised differently. This is an advantage I find to help me mature more.

There are of course others but I will talk about those as time goes on.

What’s are the key differences I find teaching in Jamaica and Japan?

For me the most notable is the infrastructure. Interestingly, in some of the schools I have taught at in Japan ‘chalk and talk’ is still prevalent. Since, I have been teaching in the IBDP this isn’t the case. We have better access to technology – this doesn’t mean there isn’t more that’s needed – so that I can use this to further engage students. Students are also able to transfer skills they have learned to be more active contributors in classes. This also pushes me to learn more about what is out there that I can use in my classroom. I know more schools in Jamaica are on the same track compared to 13 years ago when I was teaching there.

The layout of the classroom and space, in the schools I have worked at in Japan, tends to be more suitable to getting around. There are on average about 30-35 kids in a classroom in Japan, while in Jamaica it can go up to 40 and above in a smaller space. This means it’s not so easy to move furniture and form groups as we do different activities. One thing that struck me, the first time I went into a Japanese classroom, was how much light came in through the big bay windows.

It’s a given that I earn more money here in Japan. In Jamaica, some of what I failed to get in money I got in time off, especially during the summer. Cumulatively, teachers get more time off and paid less months of the year in Jamaica. It is just multiplied by 12 (correct me if I am wrong). There are no built in holidays for only teachers in Japan; teachers have to use paid leave to take time off when students are off. This is with the exception of December 28th – January 3rd. Also, teachers work from 8:30 – 5:00 like other civil servants. In addition, there are a number of Saturdays that we go in for parents’ meetings or tests and other events.

Summing up my Thoughts

I am blessed to teach in both Jamaica and Japan. My time teaching in Jamaica has helped me to transition into effectively doing the same in Japan. I am honing my skills through practicing my craft in both places. Ultimately, I want to do a 180 and transfer some of what I am learning here in Japan to the classroom in Jamaica.

At the core, teaching English Language and Literature in both places is the same. If I am not passionate, focused and open-minded I can’t serve my students, whether in Jamaica or Japan. I am thankful for the opportunities I have had in both places, to push me to keep working hard to help my students. I don’t think one is better than the other though certain structures differ. It could be that I have just had the advantage of teaching in relatively high level schools in both places. There is some truth to this.

Thinking of Moving Abroad to Teach?

Take the plunge, try it and see how you feel about it. It is a great way to immerse yourself in a new culture, learn more about yourself and grow.

There are many countries that facilitate this and pay a living wage: Japan, Korea, China, Spain,Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the list goes on. Every year people from many countries move abroad to teach different subjects in different schools. Some are trained teachers and others have degrees in other areas that allow them to get a working visa to teach ESL.

Where do you start?

If you are a trained teacher with experience in your native country, then going to the different websites for schools and contacting people there may be a good start. Linkedin is also a good place to build contacts over time. Also check Facebook for different groups and join in to share ideas and make connections. Google blogs of teachers who teach internationally and reach out to them for tips and advice. This process should begin a year or two or more before you make your move.

If you have a degree in any area and want to try being an ESL teacher look into the JET Programme in Japan for starters. It’s often a good place to start here in Japan. This is how I came to Japan many moons ago. Since it’s competitive you may want to look at other sites like Gaijinpot.com and Ohayosensei.com among others to see if you can land a position here. You may need to fly here for an interview in some cases. Korea, China and Vietnam also seem to be popular with ESL teachers. Information can be easily found on YouTube from the many people who document their experiences. If you are from countries outside of America, England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it may be harder to get a job but not impossible. Here in Japan, I know people of various nationalities who teach ESL. It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a piece of cake to get a position though.

If money isn’t a factor, I know there are many positions for ESL teachers in South America, though salaries may not be an issue.

Spend at least a year researching, planning and budgeting.

Preparing to Move Abroad to Teach?

Moving abroad to teach may require that you have a pool of funds saved up. For teachers going to international schools this may not be a factor since most packages cover moving and settling costs. This is often not the case for many ESL positions.

I know people who come to Japan on the JET Programme have their flights paid for. Many of them need to have money to pay deposits for apartments and money for 1-2 months until they get their first salary. This can demand anywhere from USD 3,000 and more. If one needs to pay for his or her flight as well, then this will drive up the amount that needs to be saved up.

Bear in mind that apartments may come naked, so you need to buy all the necessary appliances, furniture, utensils and the like. While planning to move abroad to teach, remember to save and have more than you need. This provides a sense of security in a new environment.

Think about doing an TESL course to get some ideas for teaching if you have never taught before. There are many online that are worth investing in. The thing is you don’t know what you will be expected to do once you get to your place of work. Sometimes there might be a full curriculum with activities you can tailor to fit your style and your students. There are some cases where you are expected to plan everything from scratch or something in the between these two. Plan and prepare.

Do you need a particular wardrobe for work? Do they have your size widely available in the country where you are going? Will you be in a big city with many stores or in the countryside with little access to these?

Again, based on my experience here in Japan, I know teachers are required to dressed semi-formally in summer and a bit more formally in winter. This is something to research and plan for. In many places in Asia it is hard to get bigger sizes in shoes and clothes so one needs to prepare accordingly. Focus on things like these in the year or two leading up to taking the plunge to teach abroad.

Read about the culture and see other people’s experience via YouTube about the country you are thinking of. Take what people say with grains of salt. Resolve to have your own experiences regardless of what others say.

Do you have special dietary needs or medical needs? Investigate if these will be accommodated. A few years ago vegans had a hard time eating out here but things are changing.

Prepare mentally for this different environment. You will go from being a first class citizen in your country, in many cases, to being a second class citizen abroad. Really think about this and whether you can handle it or not. There are many people who spend their time comparing their country to the one they are living in and making themselves miserable.

Take the Plunge when the Time is Right.

Only you know when it is time. Age shouldn’t be something that holds you back. If you want to take a break from your career and teach abroad try it. Be open and flexible is all I say. If it has been going around in your mind, I say go for it and make of it what you will.

Go with a country that you can find much information about from others who are doing what you want to do. Reach out to them and get advice as you prepare.

All the best on your journey. It’s truly worth being outside of your country learning more about yourself, contributing to the global world and living your life.