I'm 44, and I came to Sapporo in the fall of 1998 when I was 42. Not a spring chicken as far as teaching English overseas goes. My first experience with Japan came in 1985 when I was working for a Minnesota biotechnology company selling equipment to grow genetically engineered cells. At that time, they were breaking into the Japanese market and had established a branch office in Tokyo, run by a Japanese manager and office lady, but supported by American technical staff. The Japanese staff dealt with the business end of things, while we American techies set up the delivered equipment, trained the Japanese customers how to use it, and served as troubleshooters whenever problems arose mechanically or biologically. It was quite the experience considering the company itself knew little about mechanical or biological matters, but we worked very hard to resolve all problems and established a super-high reputation in the business. I spent 5 months living with a handful of American co-workers in Tokyo (1985-86) and was the only person to volunteer to stay during the Xmas holidays. I also stayed longer than anyone else, except my boss who made a couple of trips back and forth. So, you can probably tell that I had little problems adjusting to Japanese life. In fact, after I'd been there a couple of months, the Minnesota office asked me to move to Europe where they were setting up operations in Switzerland, and I turned them down to stay in Japan.
Two years after I returned to Minnesota, I was with the same company but in a research position, yet I still had a longing to return to Japan, so I took a year of night classes at the university to learn spoken and written Japanese. It wasn't much, but it was a great experience. Eight years later, I was working in Seattle for Bristol-Myers Squibb (a huge pharmaceutical firm) using equipment like the Minnesota company sold. Yup, I was a researcher making drugs for various ailments. Seattle provided me with a better environment to learn some Japanese cooking and buy books on Japanese culture.
I planned a 3-week vacation to Japan and made it on my own. You see, back in 1985, we worked 12-14 hour days, 6 days a week, so I had practically no chance to sightsee. My vacation covered 20 cities on Honshu and Shikoku, and I saw about 95% of my itinerary (castles, festivals, shrines, pearl farming, a couple of relatives, Hiroshima Peace Park, etc.). I ended up writing about a dozen articles for Neo-Tokyo online magazine upon my return.
That trip was in 1995. In 1997 Bristol-Myers Squibb decided to relocate the Seattle laboratories to a place closer to the main office on the east coast. Many of us refused to go, including me, so I was living on severance pay for a few months while I mulled over what to do. I applied for JET and even managed an interview, but I didn't get the job (thankfully). I figured at 41 I was still young enough to teach English in Japan, and that would be a way for me to return and support myself while I figured out what I wanted to do. Mid-life correction, not mid-life crisis. So, to prepare myself, I took a certification course (8 intensive classes) in TESL from a language academy in Seattle, and in the middle of the course, I landed a job in Sapporo with the Asahi Culture Center. Of course, I finished the certification, and in late September, I put all my belongings into storage and flew to Sapporo.
1982 - age 26, graduated with Master of Science degree in microbiology
1985 - age 29, worked in Tokyo for 5 months as biotech specialist teaching Japanese scientists
1987 - age 32, studied Japanese spoken & written language for a year at University of Minnesota
1990 - age 34, moved to Seattle to work for Bristol-Myers Squibb; exposed to more Japanese culture
1995 - age 39, spent 3-week solo vacation on Honshu & Shikoku
1996 - age 39, began writing travel articles for Neo-Tokyo online culture magazine
1997 - age 40, applied for JET program
1998 - age 41, completed TESL certification course to prepare for teaching English in Japan
1998 - age 42, moved to Sapporo, began work at Asahi Culture Center
2000 - age 43, became engaged to Japanese girlfriend
I've been working at ACC ever since. My 2 co-workers provided me with valuable advice. One had been teaching for 7 years in Japan and several years in Thailand, while the other had been teaching in Japan for about 2 years. Our chemistry was quite good, which helps immensely. My initial experiences weren't failures, but I've learned a lot about what to do, what NOT to do, and how the Japanese perceive these kinds of classes. Like you,[Mark, teaching in Japan Page Editor] I'd like to lend a hand to existing and prospective teachers in Japan. My predecessors at ACC were, for the most part, pretty typical examples of bad teachers, and I inherited some awful situations when I took over their classes. Students enjoy my co-workers and me mostly because we provide more than just lessons in conversational grammar, and they've told us how much they like our approaches.
We teach with two textbook series, Spectrum and Interchange, as well as hold some free-talking classes (for the higher levels, of course). The texts don't have nearly enough material for a single weekly lesson, 80 minutes long, so we improvise and add material of our own to promote casual repetition of grammar and vocabulary. Our classes are 2-14 people in size, and they're mostly adults average 50 years in age (range is actually 21 to 82). I've also held a class called Science Topics for a year, and I'm currently doing something like a debate class, both for very high level students.
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