This month former Hyogo Times editor, Australian born, Matthew Stott took the time to answer a few questions about his life since leaving Hyogo. Matt was based in Tarumi 2007 – 2010 when he worked at Akashi and Takatsuka Senio High Schools.
1) What did you do immediately after leaving JET?
My partner was beginning her PhD, and we had just bought a house in Perth, so we didn’t have any time to go travelling as some do when their time on JET comes to an end. Within a week of returning to Australia, I started my current job as an ESL teacher.
2) What are the main differences between teaching English in Japan and back in Australia?
The most obvious difference is the student profile: I teach young adults—professionals and university students—from all corners of the globe, including a large cohort of Japanese. My current students tend to be more proficient at English, on the whole, than were my students in Japan—not to mention a lot more confident at speaking. They also have specific motivations for developing their English skills—generally career- and visa-related—so while games and creative activities certainly have their place, you have to work hard at selling their benefits. I fondly remember decorating the walls of my Japanese high school classrooms with my students’ haikus and cinquains—I also used to show them off at bunkasai–but I think it would be difficult to get away with that in my current position. Perhaps I should give it a try!
3) How did you approach the job search process? Did you wait until you went back home to start?
I started applying for jobs soon after the Conference for Returning JETs in May 2010—chiefly teaching positions, though I also applied for communications and editing jobs, hoping perhaps to parlay my stint at the helm of the Hyogo Times. I had a phone interview with my current employer and on the day before I was due to fly back to Perth he emailed me asking if I was interested in the position. And so here I am.
4) Whilst on JET you completed a CELTA course, how did you find balancing those studies with your job, and would you recommend it to those considering teaching English in the future?
I took the CELTA part-time on Saturdays and Sundays over five months. It was a tougher course than I’d expected, but I can’t say I had much difficulty fitting in weekly readings and assignments around my ALT duties. I found I had a lot more downtime on JET than in any other position I’d held before or since, so I was able to get a lot of coursework done at school.
I’d recommend CELTA to aspiring ESL teachers for two reasons. First, CELTA gives you most of the hard skills you need to survive in an English language teaching environment: how to plan lessons, how to teach grammar and vocabulary effectively, how to concept-check and instruction-check, and so on. Second, for many ESL teaching positions around the world, having a CELTA is mandatory.
Being in Japan and being on JET brought me out of my shell, and I was a lot more adventurous than I had previously been. I think it’s a natural effect of uprooting yourself and immersing yourself in a new and different culture: the slate is wiped clean, you become a new person (if only in a small way).
6) What did you hope to gain doing JET? Did you?
Prior to JET I had never been on a plane, let alone to another country. I spoke no Japanese whatsoever before I went to Japan. So what I wanted from JET was exactly what I got: the experience of living in an entirely unfamiliar culture. And in the three years I was there, I never experienced a moment of culture shock: every day on JET—even school days—was like a holiday.
7) What do you miss about Japan and what is your favourite memory of Hyogo?
In no particular order: I miss the generosity of my JTE colleagues and my Japanese friends, I miss the convenience, I miss hiking, I miss the onsen, I miss the castles and temples, I miss the public transport, I miss being able to walk to work, I miss playing frisbee on Suma Beach and I miss the cherry blossoms. My favourite memory of Hyogo is hiking from Ashiya across the Rokko Mountains to Arima Onsen, which I would do several times a year, and which I make a point of doing every time I go back.
8) I know you have been back to Japan a couple of times since finishing on JET, if you return again what is top of your list to do?
If we’re able to get there in autumn, I’d like to do the Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto. Other than that, it would be great to catch up with old friends.
9) Did you experience the dreaded reverse culture shock when you returned home? How did you manage it if so?
The night before our plane trip back to Australia, I remember sitting in an onsen (of course) feeling very depressed about leaving Japan. I’d say for the first six months to a year the reverse culture shock hit me pretty hard: I was quite negative about Perth and was constantly comparing it to Japan.
It wore off eventually, but what helped was that I had a network of friends here, including many who had been on JET with me. I also looked for things to do around Perth that in their own small way replicated aspects of the Japan experience: bushwalking, karaoke, local food and wine festivals (our own version of matsuri), nabe parties. And I got involved with JETAAWA.
10)You have been Treasurer of the JET Alumni Association of Western Australia since 2012, why did you decide to take on the role and what does it involve?
That was my punishment for always turning up to Committee meetings! But I was looking for something that would give me more responsibility, and while being the keeper of the purse is an important role, it’s not especially difficult. JETAAWA is partly funded by CLAIR and partly funded by the Consulate-General of Japan: my role is to do the necessary paperwork—including grant applications, activity reports, budgets, invoices and receipts—to keep the funds flowing and ensure we can hold awesome events like quiz nights, hanami picnics (involving jacarandas rather than cherry blossoms), and okonomiyaki BBQs.
11)Do you have any advice for ALTs moving home?
Before you go home, make sure you go the Conference for Returning JETs: it’s full of great advice for moving on to the next phase of your career. Be prepared for reverse culture shock, especially if you’ve been in Japan for several years. Keep yourself busy: find ways to pursue those interests and hobbies you picked up on JET, and get involved with your local JETAA—they offer networking opportunities and career advice (particularly for Japan-related jobs), and they run events and activities that will help you feel connected to Japan.
Questions: Charlotte Griffiths