The mere mention of Japan evokes imagery of a high-paced, technologically driven lifestyle that is unimaginably different from the lives we know in Toronto or New York. Though there are a multitude of reasons why people imagine Japan this way, it is important to know that it is much, much more than that. Japan’s tech sector is largely responsible for projecting the ‘high-tech’ image to the rest of the world and it comes as no surprise that Japan’s capital, Tokyo, is home to some of the most innovative and interesting tech gear you’ve ever seen. Tokyo is also Japan’s number one tourist draw. The city (and greater Tokyo area) houses nearly 20% of the nation’s 130 million people. To put that into perspective, the GTA (greater Toronto area) is home to just 6 million residents and is already the fifth largest city in North America. If you thought your downtown bachelor pad was cramped, wait until you see how Tokyo does minimalistic living.
So, you’re thinking of going abroad and the prospect of working in Japan inevitably comes up. You imagine yourself waking up in your Tokyo apartment, catching a train and maybe stopping for a quick breakfast at a local “combini” (convenience store, though not quite the same as one you’d see at home). While there you can pay your bills, grab a coffee and even pay for that too all with your cell phone. Before you allow yourself to succumb to your own imagination, there’s something you need to know. Japan is by far the most competitive destination for university graduates looking to go abroad. Several English teaching programs exist (JET, Interac and Heart to name a few) and each will offer you varying pay rates and living conditions in exchange for a few years of your life. Have your heart set on living out those years in or around Tokyo? Forget about it. Unless you are interested in working for a private English conversation school, the vast majority of placements will have you in some of the most obscure towns or cities across the country. If working in Tokyo is truly your goal though, don’t be discouraged. You’re going to need to arm yourself with an outstanding resume, teaching experience and a TEFL/TESOL certification to even have a shot at it though.
Japan has a tremendous amount to offer. It boasts some of the most incredible foodie destinations in the world, many of the world’s most beautiful heritage sites and a deep, rich history and culture that is an absolute pleasure to immerse yourself in. Prepare yourself well, as you may be thrust into situations in which you’re eating things you’ve never imagined existed or being asked questions you’d think are simply taboo. Acknowledge that the Japanese culture is one that is drastically different from your own but embrace the differences and invest yourself in learning the language. Competent English speakers are few and far between in Japan and this is doubly true if you find yourself anywhere outside Tokyo or Osaka. Learning and using Japanese will help you to form a bridge between yourself and the natives and will show the natives how much you respect their language and culture.
Recommendation: Japan is an absolutely mind blowing, life changing place to be for those who are lucky enough to experience it. If teaching there is your goal, do what you need to and make it happen! Be prepared, plan ahead as much as possible and build as much relevant experience as you can before taking the plunge. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts later when you’re able to negotiate a better placement or pay rate.
The Big Picture (10-point scale)
Work Culture: 8/10
Food and Leisure: 9/10
Ease of Adapting to Culture: 6/10
Overall (not an average): 8/10
Apart from their delicious barbeque restaurants, South Korea has not even registered a blip on the radar for a lot of graduates seeking employment abroad in years past. That’s all changing though. Korea is now riding a huge wave of success and popularity as their foods, entertainment, technology and culture are being exported all over the world at unprecedented rates. Samsung and LG are names known to nearly everyone and there are few people who haven’t seen a K-pop video (Gangnam Style, Gentleman and anything by Girl’s Generation to name a few). Their currency is gaining strength, their culture is gaining global relevance and as we all now know: where there is growth, there is opportunity.
The money in Korea, by most standards, is pretty great. With a TEFL and a little bit of experience, you can easily secure yourself a position paying in the neighbourhood of 2.3 million Korean Won per month. This works out to about $2400 in Canadian dollars. If you complete your 12-month contract, it is not unheard of to receive a contract completion bonus as well as airfare for your trip to Korea and then back home. When it’s all said and done, you will be looking at something like $35 000 CAD for your year of work. This may not stand out to many of you as being a significant salary but once you factor in the low tax rate (roughly 3%) and the comparatively low cost of living, you come to realize that you can bank a significant portion of your income. Or spend it on travel, parties and expensive restaurants. It’s entirely up to you.
South Korea makes for an excellent home for expatriates looking to set down some temporary roots. Between the moderate climates, salary, cultural explorations, nightlife and food, there is plenty to do and see while you soak in your surroundings. South Korea’s geographical placement makes it a great travel hub for those looking to see more of Asia while they are stationed there. It also doesn’t hurt that the next winter Olympics will be held there, as the country will be absolutely bustling with excitement during the lead up to the event. Make sure you get your applications in soon as this hidden gem of the English teaching world is quickly rising up the ranks of prospective teachers’ lists.
Recommendation: If you have student debt that you need to service while living abroad, South Korea presents a living situation that will allow you to send some money home and still live comfortably. The English education sector is growing and expanding rapidly, making right now a great time to get in on the ground floor. As with Japan, education and certifications are highly valued so get out there and get some experience before you throw your name in the hat for the next round of teacher recruitments.
The Big Picture (10-point scale)
Work Culture: 7/10
Food and Leisure: 8/10
Ease of Adapting to Culture: 7/10
Overall (not an average): 7.5/10