Updated: Feb 25
THE WAY Returnees Edition introduces women who continue to shine and empower themselves even after returning to Japan by making use of their experiences abroad.
This time, we meet Ai Yamamoto, a Japanese teacher who made a big career change after studying abroad in Korea. She became interested in Hangul while traveling to Korea and studied abroad in Korea to learn Korean in a more authentic environment. At a local language school, Ai learned about the job of a ‘Japanese Language Teacher’ and made the transition from learning to teaching.
In this article, we’ll share the beauty of being a Japanese teacher and Ai’s trajectory of advancing her career as a teacher.
Ai’s encounter with Japanese language teaching
Ai has loved Korea ever since she first travelled there and after traveling several times, she started to learn Korean by herself. At first, it was fun to just start learning Korean but it gradually went beyond the scope of her hobbies. Ai took a leave of absence for half a year and studied abroad in Korea.
Ai’s goal of studying abroad was to learn Korean but she gradually developed an interest in becoming a language teacher.
"It was strange that although I wasn't fluent, I could have a conversation with a language school teacher for some reason. I thought that was interesting."
After doing some research, Ai discovered Japanese language teaching and how there were several ways in becoming a Japanese teacher. One of them was to complete a 420-hour Japanese language teacher training course.
Ai took a training course as soon as she returned from studying abroad. Some people take short-term intensive courses but Ai had a full-time job, so as soon as she finished work, she ran to school and studied at night and on weekends.
The decision to make a career change as a Japanese teacher in Nepal
Ai reached a turning point when she was about to complete her course in becoming a Japanese teacher. A friend invited her to volunteer to teach Japanese in Nepal for a month.
"At the time I actually wasn't thinking about changing jobs to be a Japanese teacher. I was just glad to be getting qualified."
However, through volunteering, Ai made a 180-degree turn.
In Nepal, Ai was mainly in charge of classes for local adults who teach Japanese to children. Since there are no Japanese language teachers in the area, the purpose is to train teachers so that children can learn Japanese even after the volunteers return to Japan. All the students were serious and it was fun and rewarding to teach.
"I did some trial and error in preparing for lessons but it wasn't bothersome at all. While teaching in Nepal, I felt that I could do it as a Japanese teacher.”
When Ai returned from Nepal, she immediately changed jobs to working at a Japanese language school. After that, she started her career as a Japanese teacher in Korea which she loves.
Moving overseas as a Japanese teacher and two years of testing the waters in Korea
Ai, who loves Korean culture, fashion and food and wanted to live in Korea again one day, was a qualified Japanese teacher and would have the opportunity to work in Korea but it didn't work out from the beginning.
"The training course for Japanese teachers taken in Japan is a curriculum that assumes teaching in Japan. That’s why in Korea the teaching style and purpose were different so it often didn’t work and it was difficult at the beginning."
The school where Ai worked in Korea had a lot of discretion for each teacher and it had a sole-trader-like system. Students could choose a teacher and unpopular classes wouldn’t even open. Ai created original teaching materials and devised ways to make the lessons easy to understand.
"During class, it is necessary to consider not only easy-to-understand explanations but also setting the context. Student ages range from their teens to 80s and especially in history, there may include sensitive content, so I was trying to understand the background of the culture."
Ai always ran popular classes. Her communication skills improved during the two years spent in Korea because she paid attention to each student and showed their understanding of each other's culture.
Ai has seen various students come and go. Some students have mastered Japanese from being a complete beginner and have found employment in major Japanese companies. For Ai, seeing the students who improve their Japanese in this way is the moment when she feels that her work is worthwhile.
Restarting her career from scratch in Japan
After returning from Korea, Ai started to find jobs in Japan. However, unexpectedly, the two years of experience of teaching in Korea did not count towards her career because the content taught at schools in Japan and Korea are completely different.
"In many Japanese schools, the goal of learning is to acquire qualifications and in the Korean school where I worked it focused on conversation so the skills and experience that I gained in Korea were useless."
As a result, Ai decided to work at a major Japanese language school in Kansai and an at-home Japanese language school with small groups. She planned her career with the idea that if she was considered to have no career, she should build the one she needed.
"As a result, I have gained experience working in various schools, from major companies to privately managed ones in Japan and Korea. On top of that, I think that the number of people who are honest with their language learning will grow. I felt that it was important to be honest in accepting advice. "
Even after returning from Korea, Ai finds an opportunity to visit Korea. Every time she goes, she gets together with the students who used to teach Japanese to.
"You may have the impression that there is an anti-Japanese sentiment but in personal relationships, Korean people are filled with kindness."
Advancing her career as a Japanese teacher
According to Ai, being a Japanese teacher is a good job for women. If you have the skills, you can work from anywhere, the wages are high and you can work during your spare time so it is easy to balance with taking care of your children.
On the other hand, when it comes to career advancement, there are no career advancement courses available and it’s said that there is a plateau and improving skills can feel limiting. Therefore, in order to advance your career as a Japanese teacher, it is necessary to acquire A+ skills and knowledge and expand your work.
After working at two Japanese language schools, Ai changed jobs at an engineer dispatch company where many Koreans work. Originally she was in charge of a class for adults in Korea so she was looking for a job for adults. At that time, she found a company that provided in-house Japanese language education for foreigners. In order to expand the scope of her work, she chose a place of employment that wasn’t a Japanese language school.
"Simply teaching Japanese wasn't enough so I got a job at an engineer dispatch company. My experience in Korea which didn’t count as a career in Japan is now being used here. I don’t think it was time wasted."
Ai decided to learn IT knowledge from an engineer and to work in-house to carry out visa procedures. In this way, she gets to work herself and gradually expand her work. Now that she is also in charge of recruitment and business etiquette instruction, she has been appointed as the person in charge and chief of Japanese language education.
Ai started her career as a Japanese teacher, stemming from her love for Korea. It was a hobby, but she was able to connect to her work and improve her career.
"I still can't forget the seriousness of the students I met in Korea. At that time, I worked hard and enjoyed it."
The appearance of Korean students studying Japanese hard while working and Nepalese students studying Japanese in a situation where the learning environment is not in place encourages Ai until this day.
Thank you for reading this, and We are always here for you !
Women can fly.
Much love, xxx
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