A Singaporean ALT in Japan

It’s the time of the year when the fans of Japanese culture, pop and traditional, vie for a chance to spend a year or two living and teaching in Japan. Yes, the JET program application has been opened for a number of weeks now. How long exactly, I do not know but the deadline this year’s going to be on the 1st of December.

A little over a year ago, I took a month of unpaid leave from work and flew all the way to Thailand and did the CELTA course administered by Cambridge ESOL, part of the University of Cambridge all because I wanted to live and teach in Japan. Going up against “native speakers of English” from countries like UK, USA, Australia, NZ, Canada and South Africa, I’d definitely need more than my BA in English Linguistics, I thought. Alternatively, I could join the competition in Singapore and apply for the JET program. That would shrink the competition by a good margin. With my CELTA, I’d probably stand a good chance.

I printed the entire application form, went to my family doctor and got a health check, filled up some 80% of the form and I decided, nope, I’m not going to wait till August to visit Japan. Further, it’s no guarantee that I’d get a place. I abandoned the idea of applying for the JET program, threw the application form away, rejected a permanent contract from my superior and tendered my resignation.

To spare you my boring story, I headed to Japan for 6 months of Japanese language studies from April 2010 and with the Student VISA, I started looking for work towards the end of my studies. To be truthful, getting work with a Student VISA is a lot easier than with a Tourist VISA. The VISA conversion is much less complex and less time consuming. So, today, I am working as an ALT in Japan, not via the JET program, if there is a need to reiterate that point.

Part of the reason in writing this was also because, before I got this job, I was lost like most people (I’m assuming) and I thought that the only way to be an ALT is through JET. Well, at least, the easiest way, because the embassy does most things for you. And honestly, JET ALTs are overpaid and heavily subsidised for almost anything and everything, so you can be certain that you’d return to Singapore with a thick wad of cash to drown your DBS or UOB accounts with. I digress.

At that time, I had hoped that someone somewhere in the world would throw some light on how else I could get my way to Japan as an ALT or something. So, to people who are going for the JET program this round, I wish you all the best and for those who unfortunately miss out on the chance but want to have a wash of Japanese culture over you without waiting for August 2012, here’s some insight.

How to be an ALT in Japan for Singaporeans!

Nah, that’s not true. This is pretty much for anyone but it would sound so much prettier to my fellow countryhuman (not a feminist but giving a shot at verbal hygiene).

So, there are 3 ways to be an ALT in Japan:
1) JET Program (which you already know)
2) Direct employment from schools (which is impossible without references from schools in Japan)
3) ALT Dispatch Companies (this is where you should look)

So, where to find ALT dispatch companies? I teach in Aichi Prefecture and live in Nagoya City (though I don’t actually teach in Nagoya), where there are 4 big players here. Interac, Cosmo, ALTIA and W5. Outside Aichi, there are also big names like Borderlink and RCS. The pay is less than what JET participants get but it really boils down to how much you want to be in Japan. JET participants get ¥3.6 million a year, which is ¥300,000 a month. At the current conversion rate, that’s around SGD$4,800. Non-JET participants like myself get between ¥180,000 ~ 280,000 a month depending on the number of working days. Yes, you get paid by the day. No work = no pay. But at that rate, it’s around SGD$2,900 ~ 4,500. Not that bad, right?

Summer vacation is around 1.5 months long, so you get nothing during that month but alternatively, you can return to Singapore or go for a holiday, that’s if you saved up regularly.

The downside of being here via the JET program is that you are not allowed to engage in activities outside what the JET program requires you to do. That means no part-time work, not that you actually need one given the ridiculously fat paycheck, but that could also mean more difficulty getting other jobs here, if that’s what you intend to do after giving a shot at teaching. If you’re doing it the non-JET way, however, part-time work is not a problem and regardless of the length of your contract, you can get a maximum 3-year Work VISA. The company doesn’t decide. You do! And the good news is, your Work VISA doesn’t get terminated when your contract ends.

The urban legend is that ALTs must know some Japanese language. Sure, companies are happy if you know some Japanese because that way, you’d be able to communicate with the school teachers (not the students!), but I’ve heard some ALTs know no Japanese, so give it a shot anyway.

I hope what little information here is good enough to get you going!


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