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Teaching in Japan vs. China (and some questions about JP schools)

Jack Wolfe

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Hey guys,


I've recently returned from 6 months abroad teaching English in Osaka. I had a great time, but my next destination is going to be China.

Does anybody here have experience with the differences between teaching in Japan versus elsewhere in Asia? My primary reason for going to China is just that there are more, higher paying teaching jobs there. But I'm otherwise quite ignorant on how it might be different from Japan.

Interested to hear what you guys think about other countries in southeast Asia as well, if you have something to share on that front. I've heard that some public/private schools in China and in other less developed areas are less picky when it comes to teachers compared to Japan. I'm fairly qualified and I've had trouble finding ALT work in Japan, let alone a regular teaching gig at a real school.

Side note: Who has a good recommendation for a small Japanese town to look for a job in? Somewhere in southern Honshu or Shikoku/Kyushu. Ideally not Kanto.
I have ~2 years experience teaching ESL children, a TESL cert., a bachelor's degree, and I'm conversationally fluent in Japanese.

I know not everybody here is a teacher but if you have something to say about your industry's work environment in Japan versus the rest of Asia I'd be very interested to hear it.


Cheers,
Jack
 

nice gaijin

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Hi Jack, welcome back from your stint! Could you give us a little more information so we know where you're coming from? own experience is limited, but I understand there's quite a difference depending on whether you worked for a public or private school or eikaiwa and all the permutations in between. 6 months seems a little short, so eikaiwa? Was that the full term of your contract? What factored into your decision to move on, not only from your current school, but from the country itself? Was it just the money, or are you just looking for a change in scenery? Since you're asking about other spots in Japan, I'm guessing you just got bored after a while? If that's you in your profile photo, you seem like you're in your early 20's, and it's common for people in that age range to just use teaching as a means to travel. Would you say that's accurate, or is teaching something you really want to pursue as a career?

In my own experience and from what I've seen, I'd judge my salary not on how much I'm making, but how much it allows me to save with a comparably comfortable lifestyle. In this regard, Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan average out to about the same, despite having different salary ranges. The variations within that spectrum become more apparent in individual situations, but there are a lot of factors that play a role. The only way to really game this system is to find a job that pays well in a place with a low or subsidized cost of living, where the standard of living is acceptable to you. This last part really depends on the person, so unless your intention is to slog through your contract and put up with an unfavorable situation in order to bank as much as possible (as some of my friends have done in gulf states), the key questions I'd ask myself would be:
  1. Where do I think I want to live? Why?
  2. What kind of lifestyle do I want to have? (There can be more pointed questions here but start vague and work towards specifics)
  3. What kind of access to amenities/hobbies do I need in order to maintain my happiness and mental well-being?
  4. What kind of work do I want to do? (In your case, what kind of school do I want to work for?)
  5. What options are there for me? (ie, which of those schools listed above will hire me?)
  6. What's the minimum acceptable amount of money I want to bank after living expenses are taken care of?
There are probably many more questions that may factor in, like how this job will help further your career if that's a goal, or whether you have friends locally or are concerned with your ability to make friends. Feeling isolated sucks, and it's often self-imposed among expats when they're living in a remote area without access to other expats. Making local friends is a challenge, but a rewarding one, and it helps you draw a lot more enjoyment out of an area.

we hope to hear more from you in the future 🙂:

PS: regarding work in Shikoku, I had a friend in Niihama, Ehime that worked with one of the companies there, teaching English to their employees. I have another friend that works at public schools in Komatsushima. I really enjoyed my time in the big and small towns in Shikoku, but whether you'd want to live and work there is kind of dependent on how you'd answer questions 1 and 2 above.
 

johnnyG

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In this regard, Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan average out to about the same, despite having different salary ranges.

Have you worked in those places recently? (I have, tho my experience is way out of date.)

***

For OP, I'd suggest looking at reddit--there are subs for Taiwan, Korea, and several for both Japan and China. There's also a teachinginjapan sub, and a TEFL sub (that covers the world, but has info about these countries).

From my reading--and it's reading, and not actual experience--Korea is the best place to save, and with the least startup costs. China might be second, but if you stay and hustle, you can save the most money there. Taiwan is sort of 'ma-ma-hu-hu' as they say--good jobs can be found after you arrive, whereas in C & K you need some prep and pre-planning. For basic eikaiwa, Japan is okay, but you may be more isolated/rural than in the other three, and you'll likely need to arrive with several thousand $ more than the others, for startup costs.

China has the great firewall--so no google, Facebook, twitter, and so on. VPNs are a cat & mouse game, you get one, and then they block it; you get another, and so on. Korea is better, but it still has its quirks. Taiwan seems on par with Japan (which is open to everything). (And beware hiring scams in China.)

If I were younger, I'd go to Vietnam. (And there's a reddit sub for there, too.) Great food and people, cheaper than Thailand but teaching pays more. Pretty much open internet. (Teaching in Thailand is a subsistence game--you break even in a nice place, but can't pay off loans or save much.)

Japan
Expats in Japan
teachinginjapan: All of your teaching questions answered
Korea: Life, News, and Identity
/r/taiwan: Welcome to Taiwan!
VietNam
r/中国
Expats in China
Jobs in China
/r/TEFL - Teaching English Around the World to Speakers of Other Languages
 
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nice gaijin

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I figured that would draw out some comments, thank you for elaborating on it, @johnnyG! My own experience is a few years back now, and for China and Taiwan at least it's anecdotal to the friends I've had working there. The jobs are all different and the landscape changes extensively over the years, including opportunities for moonlighting for supplemental income (so the sky's the limit, as they say), but as of a few years back when I left Korea, saving $10k USD per year seems comfortably within reach as a baseline for anyone living within their means with little or no side work. If one finds themselves in a situation where they can't bank close to $800-1,000 per month, I'd say either their lifestyle is too extravagant for their income or they may want to consider a different place of employment. I'm loath to say that it'll be this way or that way with any certainty, so I average it out and say the deciding factor ought to hinge more on where someone wants to work and what kind of lifestyle they want to have. The point is taken on startup costs though, how much money one needs to hit the ground running is an important consideration if they don't have the funds to start with.

Personally, if I were still in the teaching game, I would probably be looking at Oman, as I have friends there with a good support network that can help me secure a reasonably good job, the cities seem to have all the necessary amenities, and there are plenty of outdoor activities nearby to satisfy my hobby needs. Sight unseen, however, I wouldn't sign any contracts just yet.
 

Buntaro

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Jack,

I taught for years in Japan and for years in China, and I have definite opinions on teaching in both countries.

The one thing I think everyone will agree on is that teaching in China is very, very different than teaching in Japan. In my opinion, the biggest difference is the very nature of the Japanese people vs. the nature of the Chinese people. (Let me say I am very biased, I prefer living in Japan, and not living in China.) In my opinion, Chinese people are very up-front and very assertive, even aggressive. If they have something on their mind, they will say it to your face, without any disregard for how you feel about it. Japanese people, on the other hand, are more reserved, usually choosing not to be so direct. Then there is the matter of yelling; I don't think a Chinese person is happy unless they are yelling about something; you will find the matter of yelling distasteful to Japanese people.

I think a lot of foreigners agree with me. There are a lot of English teaching job openings at universities in China, whereas it is very difficult to get a job as an English teacher at a university in Japan. (That right there should tell you something.)

I should say something in defense of Chinese people. Some people complain Japanese people are not friendly, and I can see where these people are coming from. Japanese people are usually reserved and not boisterous (whereas 'boisterous' describes Chinese people to a T). In addition, most Japanese people speak English poorly. I feel these two things make Japanese hesitant to talk to foreigners. (In my opinion, if a foreigner can speak Japanese, they will find Japanese people very friendly and easy to get along with.) It is not uncommon for a person in China to walk right up to me on the street and try to start up a discussion — something that never happened to me while I was in Japan.

Do you like being shoved while getting on a city bus, or having people aggressively cut in line in front of you at McDonald's? Welcome to China.

Then there is Chinese Communism. It is ILLEGAL to express your political views to a Chinese student in China.(One of my fellow college faculty members in China once made an unfavorable comment about Mao Tse-Tung in class. He was called into the office and told he would not make such a comment again.) If you stand on a street corner handing out Bibles, you can be thrown in jail. If you walk down the street holding a picture of the Dalai Lama, you can be thrown in jail.

There are foreigners in China who prefer the Chinese way, because China is a place where you say everything up front. There is no beating around the bush in China, and some foreigners in China prefer this to how things are done in Japan. I would also say extroverts like China whereas introverts like Japan. (Which type are you?)

Chinese universities also provide a free apartment which includes a washing machine and free (slow) Internet.

I taught at a university in China and several of my fellow faculty members preferred to live and work in China as opposed to Japan, so there are definitely foreigners who disagree with me. You might want to check out a Chinese forum where I am a member, to talk to foreigners in China who prefer China to Japan.


Choosing a job/career often comes down to which of these three things are most important to a person (1) quality of life — liking a job and liking a location (2) money (3) career advancement. Which of these is most important to you? (You might get two but I do not think you can get three.) What are your long-term career goals?

Regarding money, in China, if you want to make the most money, the younger the students, the more you get paid. In China, university English teachers are some of the lowest paid English teachers in China. (The highest paying English teaching job I ever saw in China was at a school called Disney English, teaching children in Shanghai.)
 
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