#WorkAbroadBecause it will open your mind!

by Dr. Jessie Voigts / Feb 17, 2015 /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Lash is an expat American who's been traveling the world solo since 1998. She loves immersing herself in nature, culture and the arts of countries she visits.

Prior to that, Lash lived in Kyoto, Japan from 1991-1997 teaching English in order to save money to travel the world.

Since 2011, Lash has been running her popular travel blog, LashWorldTour, where she shares cultural insights, narrative adventure tales, travel tips and photos with the aim of inspiring others to follow their dreams.  

Lash is the author of two adventuring guidebooks to Bali: Hiking in Bali / Cycling Bali. Her articles have been published in travel magazines around SE Asia. 

 

Lash - #WorkAbroadBecause it will open your mind!

 

What motivated your decision to work abroad? How/why did you choosewhere to go?

While finishing up university in the US, I made the decision that I was going to travel the world. To get things rolling, one year later I moved to Kyoto, specifically to save money for a long world trip.

I figured it would take me about five years to save enough funds. I wasn't far off, as I ended up living & teaching English in Kyoto & Osaka for six years.  

I was clued into teaching English in Japan by a good university friend who had moved to Tokyo. He repeatedly wrote to tell me how much money he was making and to encourage me to do the same.

I took his advice, but chose Kyoto over Tokyo because of Kyoto's incredibly rich cultural & artistic heritage.

 

Lash - #WorkAbroadBecause it will open your mind!

 

English school secretaries. #WorkAbroadBecause it will open your mind!

English school secretaries.

 

How did you find your job? What resources did you use?

I moved to Kyoto without any job, leads, or specific information on how to find a job. After I arrived, I scoured local English-speaking newspapers and expat magazines searching for teaching work.

In the early 1990s, there were scores of teaching jobs available at all sorts of private English conversation schools and bigger chain language schools. From the job listings I was invited to dozens of interviews.

I actually moved to Kyoto with my best friend. He found a job within two weeks. It took me one month to land a good job.

 

Lash playing Koto in Japan - #WorkAbroadBecause it will open your mind!

Lash playing Koto

 

What was your experience like? Can you share some favorite memories - and challenges?

My first full-time job was at a small private English conversation school in Osaka that taught adults conversational English skills. Our students were mostly college students, young company employees, managers & SEOs, and a few housewives. In the early 1990s, English teachers generally worked only 25 hours per week for a full salary.

I worked alongside about a dozen other teachers who hailed from England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Austria, and Switzerland. It was my first experience meeting and working with other westerners from so many different countries. So that, in itself, was a fascinating and exciting cultural experience.

I also worked with our Japanese boss and several Japanese secretaries, several of whom I became friends with. That, clearly, was also an interesting cultural experience working with and getting to know Japanese people.

The school allowed teachers a lot of flexibility with our teaching materials and styles. The school provided several different English conversation text books, which we were free to use if we wanted. But we were also encouraged to bring in our own books, make up classes and interact with students in our own, unique ways. We could even take students out to walk around the city for lessons, as long as we were teaching something!

It was a pretty informal and very friendly place. The school organized regular student-teacher get togethers like karaoke evenings, ski trips, dinner parties, summer picnics, and special holiday parties. It was a lot of fun.

 

Lash - #WorkAbroadBecause it will open your mind!

Lash with students during a summer picnic in Osaka

 

The only real challenge I had was getting bored by having to repeat many core lessons over and over again. It got really monotonous at times. However, I attribute most of that to myself. I could have continued creating new lessons if I'd wanted to.

In addition to my core job, I also taught part time at a small private school for children on weekends. That school also encouraged me to come up with my own ideas, curriculum, materials, games and classes. Initially it was a lot of fun designing games, flash cards, and different ways to teach kids alphabet, pronunciation, topics, and English phrases.

Over time, I gradually found it more and more monotonous, which made it hard to keep up my initial enthusiasm and interest. But I stuck with it for about four years.

When my main school initiated pay cuts due to the economic downturn, I found a new job at a big chain English school and switched companies for the final two years I was in Japan. That school was much more formal and regimented in its guidelines, materials, and course structures.

That might sound difficult after having so much freedom in my previous job. But it actually proved to be really fun. For one thing, they used completely different books, so it was all new to me. Secondly, since the school was so big they had branch schools all over the Kyoto / Osaka region, and I was sent to teach at about 10 different branches. That also made it fun and diversified.

Finally, the school provided students with a variety of class types. Some of them were semester-long weekly classes that built upon materials from the beginning to the end of the semester. I taught some of those classes, including courses centered around video movies. It was fun and challenging having more formal, ongoing classes with students I got to know a bit better.

Overall, I had a great time everywhere I worked. Working with the Japanese and other western teachers was quite enjoyable. And interacting with Japanese students, of all age levels, was really interesting and rewarding.

The only downfall for me was the monotony of doing the same lessons over and over again. Otherwise, I loved it.

 

Lash teaching kids in Osaka - #WorkAbroadBecause it will open your mind!

Lash teaching kids in Osaka

 

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad?

I developed many useful skills with language and interpersonal communication plus awareness of different cultural habits & customs. (See next question for details.)

 

Lash in Osaka - #WorkAbroadBecause it will open your mind

Lash with boss and staff of small English conversation school

 

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?

Absolutely!

First, as I already mentioned, living and teaching in Japan helped me get where I am today financially. It allowed me to save enough money to invest and begin my world travels. I've been traveling continuously now since 1998 and, incidentally, I still have some of the money I saved in Kyoto in the 1990s!

Secondly, because of teaching English to non-native speakers, I learned to considerably slow-down and simplify my speech whenever I'm talking to non-native English speakers – travelers, locals, anyone else I meet out in the world. This allows me to communicate much more effectively with people from all over the world. I can't tell you how many people tell me, with much surprise and excitement, how easily they can understand what I'm saying.

Third, I learned many, many valuable interpersonal skills for interacting with people from other countries. I've become aware of the fact that people around the world use quite different hand gestures and body language. I can pick up on grammar and vocabulary patterns in different languages much more easily.

Fourth, I've learned about calm, respectful non-aggressive communication styles, much to my benefit and quite different from the often aggressive, confrontational, disrespectful communication styles so evident with many Americans. Thank goodness I got away from that C**P!

Living in a foreign country helped me gain a more objective view of the US and see some of its very serious problems.

 

Lash with students and teachers, Japan. #WorkAbroadBecause it will open your mind!

Lash with students and teachers

 

Any advice for students thinking about working overseas? What are some highlights or things that you gained or changed your perspective?

My first piece of advice is: Go! Do it!

Secondly, before you plunge in, take some time to choose where to go. Nowadays there are so many countries where native English speakers can teach English, from South and Central America to Asia.

But besides teaching English, there are all sorts of fields and professions in which you could work overseas. There are jobs in tourism: working on cruise ships, in hotels, restaurants & bars, airlines, teaching scuba diving. In addition, various corporations place employees in overseas positions.

Research about the countries you're interested in and choose one that sounds best to you in terms of daily lifestyle, culture, people and so on. This could make the difference between loving the place you move to or disliking it - having a wonderful experience or a terrible one.

For example: In my case, I love art, culture, and nature. So when I researched Japan in-depth, it was an easy & obvious choice to move to Kyoto. That was the perfect decision for me. In fact, I doubt I could have loved or even enjoyed Japan had I lived anywhere else, such as a massive city like Tokyo or out in a rural village.

But I absolutely loved Kyoto, from the day I arrived to the day I rather reluctantly left. I immersed myself studying traditional Japanese arts. I continuously visited Kyoto's 3000+ temples, shrines and gardens. I attended traditional festivals and performances. I easily reached nearby rivers, lakes and mountains and was able to surround myself in nature on a regular basis. Those opportunities were essential for me to love my life in Japan.

I highly recommend you choose your destination just as carefully as you would if moving to a new location in your home country.

 

Japanese temple.

 

Lash playing Taiko Drums. #WorkAbroadBecause it will open your mind!

Lash playing Taiko Drums

 

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

I always encourage all Americans to get out of the US for a while and experience at least one other country for some length of time. They will be amazed at the new perspectives they'll gain about, first, the rest of the world, and secondly, about the good old USA.

Americans are snow-balled from a young age by the media, government, military and big corporations and therefore, sadly, have no objectivity about their own country, both good and bad. Nor do they have any real understanding of the rest of the world or how other people view the USA and American people.

So if you're American, please, please get out into the world and open your eyes up a bit. I will thank you. You will thank you.

 

Lash with students and teachers at a school party. #WorkAbroadBecause it will open your mind!

Lash with students and teachers at a school party

 

 

#WorkAbroadBecause it will open your mind!

 

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Lash World Tour