Today, teaching English as a second language in a foreign country is one of the most popular ways of working overseas for speakers of English. I personally have done this in two countries – the Republic of Georgia and Japan. The former for three months and the latter for 2 full years. I enjoyed them both enormously, but they were very different experiences, and I thought it might be a good idea for a post to compare them to each other.
I’ll start with the companies. In Georgia the company that employs foreigners to teach English is called ‘Teach and Learn with Georgia’ – TLG for short. It’s not really a company, but a government initiative that started at least six or seven years ago and is still going today. That’s pretty much your only choice if you want to teach English in Georgia.
In contrast, you can find dozens of companies looking to employ English teachers in Japan. I worked for a company ‘Interac’, the government runs the JET Programme (most popular) and then there are dozens of others if not more! Choose your company wisely!
Both times I had an orientation, and very quickly I could see how the experiences were completely different. Firstly, the Interac Orientation in Japan was so strict. As a matter of course in Japan you’ll be wearing a suit and tie for men, women need to dress ‘neatly’ – admittedly that’s a little more vague. Anyone not on time for sessions at orientation at Interac had to get up on stage in front of the more than 200 people doing orientation, and apologise profusely in Japanese! I’m not kidding.
TLG had a far more informal start, with only 40 or 50 at the orientation. We learnt some Georgian, we were encouraged to explore the capital Tbilisi and go out. Japan is a highly formal society, and Interac were terrified that indiscretions by their employees would make the company look bad. We had a talk from a police spokesman who told us that drugs were bad and less than 1% of Japanese had EVER tried any drugs and that basically foreigners were all drug taking hippies.
In Georgia, everyone drinks wine all the time, usually homemade. TLG actually paid for the flights there and back, in Japan you need a fair amount of startup cash to take care of your bills and rent for the first one to two months because you get paid per month at the END of the following month. Of course, on the plus side, wages are decent in Japan for Japan, whereas it’s barely pocket money in Georgia. Compared to local wages though, well let’s just say I soon discovered I was earning more than double what the other teachers at the school were.
I was billeted out to a family in Georgia, and that was brilliant. You are much more on your own in Japan and may need to rely on other foreigners to help you through the first couple of lonely months before you start to make connections etc. I was in a small village and at one school in Georgia, in Japan I was in a country city (still pretty big) and had two schools. In Japan you could find yourself at 4 or more schools though.
In Georgia people are more flexible, there are far less rules. For example, I co-taught with a teacher who would answer phone calls in class. She was late a couple of times and I had to take classes on my own. No one is ever late in Japan. To be fifteen minutes early is to be on time. Lesson plans are mega-important in Japan, the concept is not always known to your co-teachers in Georgia.
In both countries, but especially Georgia, you will co-teachers with an unexpectedly poor grasp of English (and some who are perfectly fluent). Don’t let that put you off; why else would they want native speakers? Don’t be surprised, be encouraging and understanding. Do YOU have a fluent grasp on a second language?
In Georgia you can party hearty. You’ll get invites by the dozen and the hospitality of the place is amazing. Be caught drunk by police in Japan and you might find yourself without a job! Appearance is everything!
Japan is a country with amazing infrastructure which Georgia doesn’t have. Small cramped buses that leave when full (Georgia) versus the Shinkansen. Power outages are common in Georgia – it’s not a rich country.
BUT it is a beautiful country, one that doesn’t see a huge amount of tourism, yet has plenty to offer the visitor. As does Japan, in bucketloads. And that’s one thing that both countries have in their favour, they are brilliant for the traveller! So which experience sounds more like the one you’d prefer! Please do comment! May the Journey Never End!