#TeachAbroadBecause ... Every day will be a richer experience

by Dr. Jessie Voigts / Jan 30, 2018 /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Currently an associate professor of English at Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Patrick Foss has been a teacher in Japan for more than 20 years. He is the author of Across Tokyo, an ebook about an “urban hike” through one of the world’s most iconic cities. You can find it on Amazon here.

#TeachAbroadBecause ... Every day will be a richer experience. Talking with Patrick Foss, author of Across Tokyo.

What motivated your decision to teach abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?
This is embarrassing, but I wasn’t all that interested in teaching at first. I wanted to live abroad for a year, and teaching seemed like the easiest way to do that. I chose Japan because after traveling through Europe, I wanted to see Asia, and in 1994, Japan seemed like the easiest place in Asia to live. Hmm. I can’t believe I’m actually telling you this. This doesn’t make me look good at all!

#TeachAbroadBecause ... Every day will be a richer experience. Talking with Patrick Foss, author of Across Tokyo.

What was your experience like? Can you share some favorite memories - and challenges?
I ended up teaching English at a very small language school in Kyoto, and over the course of a year, I found to my astonishment that I loved both Japan and my job. Japan seemed to “fit” me in a way that I hadn’t expected—I felt at home immediately. As for teaching, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be, but it was much more rewarding. There’s something about helping people help themselves that’s immensely satisfying. At the end of that first year, I knew it was something I wanted to keep doing. I also knew that in order to be actually good at it, I was going to have to be better educated myself. A master’s and PhD followed, eventually, and obtaining them while still living abroad was definitely a challenge. 

What skills have you developed or what have you learned from your experiences? Do you feel changed from your teaching experiences abroad?
I learned to listen that first year, and in the years after that I learned to communicate better. You have to be very clear in foreign language situations—none of this, “You know what I mean, right?” I’ve also learned during my time as a teacher how fascinating people can be. Every student is different, and discovering who they are as individuals makes my life richer every year. Finally, I’ve learned that nothing will ever bring back my hair.

#TeachAbroadBecause ... Every day will be a richer experience. Talking with Patrick Foss, author of Across Tokyo.

Any advice for teachers thinking about working overseas? What are some highlights or things that you gained or changed your perspective?
Unless you get a job on a military base or at an international school solely for expats, realize that you will never be just a teacher overseas. Like it or not, you’ll be representing your country as well. You may be the only person from the United States or Great Britain (for example) that your students have ever met. It’s a serious responsibility, and one I’ve learned not to take lightly. Of course, if I ever get into any real trouble, I’m going to claim to be Canadian.

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?
I never realized how American I was until I started living and teaching abroad, and my experiences overseas have made me appreciate some aspects of the United States all the more. But I’m a lot more clear-eyed about my native country as well—some aspects of life in Japan, for example, are just flat-out better. (Like customer service. Also bathrooms. Not to mention that you’ve never lived until you’ve had Japanese mayonnaise.) So I think I’m more intelligently patriotic now, and I also no longer root for just one team, so to speak.

#TeachAbroadBecause ... Every day will be a richer experience. Talking with Patrick Foss, author of Across Tokyo.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
Living and teaching abroad is just like living and teaching in your own country…but it feels like there’s double the stimuli. Your life will be richer if you try it. (Also, read my book!)

#TeachAbroadBecause ... Every day will be a richer experience. Talking with Patrick Foss, author of Across Tokyo.

#TeachAbroadBecause...Every day will be a richer experience 

 

Photographs from Across Tokyo courtesy of and copyright Sean Kramer. Other photographs courtesy of Patrick Foss.