So, welcome to the last episode in ‘The Interac Experience’. I’ve told you about the orientation, trainings and a bit about the teaching. Let me tell you about the students and the rest today!
Absolutely, without a shred of doubt, the best part of the Interac Experience was the students, and the people. Depending on where you go, you might have a number of Interac teachers or other ESL teachers close by you’ll end up hanging with from time to time, or you might not. I didn’t have a lot around me, but there was the odd karaoke session as you might well imagine.
The students on the other hand can make your day. And that’s why you’re there teaching, at least to some extent I hope. So, don’t let them down. I don’t mean be brilliant day in day out, I can’t do that and few can, but I do mean be patient, understanding and giving of yourself when it’s possible. If you get the chance to help a student one on one for university entrance exams or speech contests (they love English speech contests in Japan. No idea why!) then take it.
Staff rooms are big in Japanese schools. Where as in Australia many teachers have their own office, and if not a they have a desk in a smallish faculty office, in Japan it’s everyone in the same space. There’s the morning meeting where everyone stands and say ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Yoroshiku Onagaishimasu’ and I had a little desk where I could put my computer. I was allowed to use my own laptop, which helps because I wasn’t allowed internet access (only a few Interac employees get net because the company policy is for schools not to allow it, terrified that someone is going to damage the company image by being caught downloading something or you know, watching porn that their desk) so I needed to go home to get clip art to spruce up my work sheets.
Once you’ve been around a while and the students see you are approachable, they will start coming to your desk occasionally. I admit to a bit of jealousy when I first started with other teachers seeming far more popular than I, but once I was marking worksheets and the like the students had a reason to come and see me.
Sure, not all of the students thought I was ‘cool’, maybe none of them did, but quickly enough I was getting random high fives and chatting away to kids in the corridor and at my desk. When I left, three classes at one school all wrote thankyou notes, and at my other school pretty much each class presented me with something – a present. A card, etc. It was moving. And it really made my time in Japan seem worthwhile.
My second year revealed a lot to me about life in Japan, and about Interac. Whilst they were brilliant at settling me and others into Japan, organising lease cars and apartments, after the first year you are left more to you own devices. I saw why so many stay just that one year. Second year saw a small pay increase compensated by a halving of the travel allowance for people in my prefecture working for Interac. Basically it amounted to a pay cut.
On top of that there were city/prefectural taxes of around $1500, plus medical insurance went from around $20 a month to $200. Come leaving time there were a number of things to pay for, and also the company did their best to make sure everyone paid or would pay the city/prefectural taxes for the next year. For those leaving before the last pay, there was a 20% tax on the final pay on top of the normal income tax. To transfer the money to a foreign account they also deducted around $45, although at the Japan Post bank it was $25 to transfer to a foreign bank account. Hidden costs spring up everywhere in Japan, and that’s something you need to be mindful of. Always have a bit of money in reserve for emergencies. Don’t presume that everything Interac tells you is correct. They do their best but sometimes info passed on proved to be wrong, such as the last pay not needing to contain rent, when they did indeed take it out. I had lost the will to argue with them by this point.
Your security bond for the apartment usually goes into paying for the place to be cleaned, so don’t expect much if any of it back. The landlord decides the company to clean, so you don’t get a say in how much. you HAVE to pay. Personally I think $240 to clean a 2 room apartment which was already cleaned diligently by us is a bit precious. Also, you’ll need to fork out for things like light bulbs that don’t work.
All I’m saying is that when you finish your contract with Interac and leave Japan, expect BILLS. Quite a few of them, some for things you never imagined you’d get a bill for! Nevertheless, after all these frustrations I still had a rewarding and valuable two years in Japan. My only regret is not having a proper go at learning the language! Interac was a big part of the experience, and was both good and bad. If I had my time again, I probably would have really tried to get a contract with JET and waited until August 2012 before moving to Japan, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
There are limited options coming to Japan for your first time, and there are certainly dodgier and worse companies to work for in Japan than Interac. It really won’t hurt to check around.
That concludes my series on working for Interac. Next Saturday I will begin a series looking at my first solo backpacking trip which took place LAST CENTURY. In 1999. Please join me as I relive the experience of backpacking for the first time, and I look at the places I visited, the people I met and how different it is travelling for the first time to when you become more seasoned!