Winter vacation starts tomorrow! I'm very pleased to have a chance to relax and do nothing for 2 weeks.
How was the coverage of Hurricane Sandy in your part of the woods?
1: I'm assuming that you got your position through a sponsorship deal (much like I am looking into). Which one did you use? Would you recomend them? How have you managed to stay there for so long? Most of these deals claim to be for a single year and then they ship you home.
I considered a sponsorship deal, but the waiting period was a bit too long for me (I wanted to get out as soon as possible). So, I basically did a Google search for 'teach English in Japan' and went from there. I know that most of the bigger schools are short staffed due to Japan fears from the nuclear reactor problem, so that's a good way to get your foot in the door. Companies to consider are Nova, Berlitz, Aeon, ECC and GABA, although I would avoid GABA due to several factors which I can explain if you really want me to.
The single year issue is a bit tricky. Technically, English teachers are contract workers here and are given a year-to-year contract, but as long as you do an ok job, you'll keep getting renewed. Also, after 3 years, schools are obligated by labor laws to continue renewing until you decide to leave. Of course, if you get fired for doing something dumb, that's another thing, but labor laws are fairly strong here. If it worries you a lot, just join one of the unions.
2: The two deals I've been looking at are with JET and iTTTi. What have you heard about these companies? Do you know any pro's and con's of using them or your own service over any others?
JET is a great program that pays a lot of cash. I think the average salary is 300,000 yen a month, which is going to go far. The downsides are that you have a 3 year limit, there's an age restriction (under 30 I think), and you usually get placed in the middle of nowhere. Great for saving money and learning the language, but if your dream is to live in the city, you're rolling the dice. I don't know anything about iTTTi.
With JET, though, you get sent to actual Japanese public schools. That can be good or bad depending on your perspective.
3: I've heard that having a foundation in Japanese might actually HURT my chances of getting accepted for one of these programs, due to them wanting people who will only ever speak English in the class rooms. Have you ever heard anything about this, or know it's validity?
When in doubt, feign ignorance. Some people DO get turned off to people who know too much about Japanese culture. Honestly, it makes you harder to control if the company hiring you knows that you can skip out on you Visa and find a new job shortly after they pay for you to get there. Knowing the language won't get you a higher salary anyway, so aim to just look really enthusiastic and interested in Japan.
It sounds a bit bitter of me, but a lot of the job is appearance. If you look like a friendly, non-threatening, ignorant foreigner, you'll probably get a better shot at it then looking like you know too much.
That's not to say play yourself down. If they ask about your knowledge of the language or culture, answer honestly, but don't try to show off. It can be big bonus points for JET to have proof of your interest in Japan because the JET program stresses intercultural relations. Most of my rant is aimed at the money side of things.
4: I've been warned that you will not only need to pay tax on your earnings to the Japanese government, but also to your home government (in my case Australia). Something to do with receiving the benefits of your home country requiring you to pay them tax as well. Has this been your experience?
Americans, luckily, are exempt from this, but that's also a condemnation of our private insurance system. Since we're not protected unless we fork over cash, we don't have to pay both ways. Canadians do, but they get the luck of having universal insurance at home, too. Americans are exempt from taxes up to $80,000 income.
5: The act of moving cross countries seems incredibly daunting. I know I won't be able to bring most of my things with me, but how did you handle this process? What kinds of tough decisions did you have to make in regards to what to bring and what to leave behind? (Also, I've heard that transporting a computer internationally is very hard and can be somewhat dangerous if it contains files on it, as they can be subject to scrutiny by customs, and having anything they deem not acceptable is grounds to lose the computer and eat a fine. Any ideas regarding this?)
I think you're being paranoid about the computer thing. Unless you have something to hide, then why worry? Delete all your porn/illegal music and ship it with you. If you're worried so much, hide the stuff on a flash drive or something.
The 'what to bring' process is covered beautifully in this guide
You get two suitcases and a personal item so you gotta plan carefully. Clothes are essential. I have a lot of problems finding clothes in my size (183 cm).
6: I have 0 teaching experience, but the websites for the sponsorship programs I've read assure me that it's not at all a problem and that it will all be taught in a very short time (like, a day or two), as somebody with first hand experience, what was your experience with this? Or were you already a teacher?
I had no experience teaching whatsoever. Actually, I like to think that it probably would have hurt me to have experience. The people who hire you will train you in the method they want you to teach. Bringing in outside stuff interferes with that process. For me, I had training for a few days and was sent on my way.
It's better to learn on your feet, anyway.
Glad I could help!
Is it really true that hospitals in Japan are rarely open on weekends?
That Cracked article is full of shit. Clinics are closed on Sundays, but hospitals? Really? I'm sure the 10th-ranked country healthcare wise in the world lets people die of heart attacks on Sundays all the time. Please.
If you have a cold, you probably have to tough it out, sure, but if you have a legitimate emergency, every ER is open and ambulances will come and save you. I went to the ER with a stomachache on a Sunday at 6 am and was helped.
Really, it's dumb as hell that someone would write that article with the assumption that hospitals don't help people who are dying 24/7.
Just as an odd addendum to my previous comment ages ago, I am now moving over to Japan to live for a few years, starting Christmas Day. Sudden much?
Sweet! Where will you be?