Friday, 19 September 2014

The Pain of CELTA

I waited a LONG time for it.

See, in Australia you need a TESOL or CELTA to be certified to teach at a language school here. If I decided to give up teaching, this of course wouldn't be necessary.

I decided on CELTA as it has a bit more clout than a TESOL certificate. I first applied at an institute in Melbourne as it was slightly cheaper, but I never got contacted back. Instead I went for the course offered at UQ in Brisbane.

I was hoping to be accepted for the April intake of the course, but unfortunately I had to wait until the 25th of August to start the course.

The application form has some grammar tasks and evidence of your written work. If this is accepted, you are offered an interview to see if you are suitable to do the course. Basically at the interview you are told about the course, and they will drill the word, "INTENSIVE". Also you'll be asked if you have anything that might be problematic during the course. At first I thought this strange but as I started, the reason for this "weeding out" of applicants became all so clear once the course commenced.

Once accepted they expect you to do a pre-course task (with an answer key here) to acclimatise you to the content of the course. Although you won't need to hand it in, it does provide a bit of primer to what you will learn.

The course can be taken 4 weeks full-time, or 12 weeks part-time. In the first week I REALLY wish I did the part-time course.

There are 12 trainees split into two groups for two (real) student groups. In my case the students were Upper-Intermediate and Pre-Intermediate. First two weeks you teach one level, and the last two it switched.

I was at university from 10am-6pm. Every day there is input (sessions of information learning), lesson planning and feedback. I had 8 teaching practices, and 4 assignments to complete. Each lesson plan took approximately four hours to prepare every night, and after a teaching practice was done I was expected to write a reflection how I thought the lesson went, to be critiqued by my tutor and peers.

What everybody, including myself wanted to know is "How hard is the CELTA?"

The content itself is not particularly difficult, but every day there is new information being thrown at you, lessons to give, prepare and reflect on, and assignments, that it does feel like juggling. One trainee dropped out after the second day. $3000, no refund. It's demanding for sure.

After the first week I cried. I failed my second teaching practice. There was a lot of pressure. I felt that if I failed the course, I would be failing not only that, but my seven years of teaching in Japan.

My head was buzzing into the second week. My sleeping patterns were totally screwed, and I just wanted it all to be over.. quickly.

By the third week I found my groove. I was better organised. I passed all my assignments. Only one I had to resubmit because I had silly mistakes. It was resubmitted in half an hour.

The tutors you have, make a huge difference. My tutor for the first two weeks was quite abrupt and seemed to dwell more on the negatives. He answered questions with questions and generally made me feel like he was setting me up to fail.

In contrast, the second tutor was much more sympathetic and approachable. In my (short) hindsight, I can see how the first tutor pushed me to do better with "tough love", but at the time I was a complete mess.

There are a few people that find the rigours of the course particularly difficult - us "oldies", trainees that had been teaching for a number of years already, and the emotionally fragile. So, basically me, me and me. If you're even mildly suicidal, I suggest not doing this course (or at least part-time). I did feel there were times like I was going to be pushed over the edge. REALLY.

So how else can I prepare for the CELTA, I hear you ask?

While grammar IS important to be a teacher, it wasn't as critical as one might think. There was a pre-grammar course available, but I decided to cheap it out with the free 5 hour grammar primer on Cambridge English Teacher. DO IT.

For a great grammar textbook get, Practical English Usage (Swan). It's a fantastic reference. While you don't really need to buy anything else, I'd personally HIGHLY recommend Classroom Management Techniques (Scrivener). I have a STRONG feeling, my tutor referred to it quite a bit, and classroom management was a key area I needed improving (for example, Teacher Talk Time).

You really want a step ahead to doing well in the course?

Pre-learn about PPP and PDP frameworks. Also REALLY get your head around, MCQs/CCQs (meaning/concept check questions). These are simple yes/no questions to make sure your students understand what you taught them. They seem deceptively simple, but are very challenging to get perfect. If you get these key areas, you'll be a step ahead.

So, should I have done this course before going to Japan? I think it gave me some great ideas, and has made me an (even) better teacher. It would've saved me this waiting time. To teach in Asia, CELTA isn't necessary, for pretty much anywhere else it's a prerequisite.

Last piece of advice is, make friends with your peers! I started a Facebook group, so we could all support each other. I initially felt isolated so it really helped.

I think that is all I can think of to say. If anyone has any questions or whatever, leave a comment :)


Saturday, 31 May 2014

Seven Year Itch

Today would have been my seven years in Japan.

I wished I didn't leave earlier. In the time I have come back, I haven't found a job.  I applied for many kinds of work. I even applied for a position at a famous computer company (yeah, the fruit one), but I didn't get called back for a second interview.

Getting used to living back in Australia wasn't so hard, but I still feel a massive disconnect. After so many years of waking up at midday it's hard to shake THAT habit. To be honest I'm missing Japan a lot.

Since I left Australia there has been an explosion of sushi shops here. I realised very quickly though that sushi pales in comparison to even the worst I tasted in Japan. Most places sell only the sushi rolls which are actually uncommon in Japan, forcing you to rather use your fingers than chopsticks. The fish is often dry and tiny, and the maguro (tuna) is usually the cooked variety. Having said that the best alternative that managed to evoke memories of "home" is Sushi Izu in Woolworths. A little bit pricey, but they're onto a good thing here.

I managed to find green tea ice-cream which thankfully wasn't too bad. It looks like Haagen Dazs closed shop in Australia a few years ago, so no more weird and wonderful flavours from them. Anko or anpan sweets are nowhere to be found.

I was thrilled when I saw that the Japanese dollar shop, Daiso was here, but instantly disappointed when I found out they marked up the prices to $2.80 for everything. Not so much of a bargain anymore. Uniqlo recently opened their first store in Melbourne but looking over the Australian pricing, it seems to be close to double the price.

I don't want this post to wallow in my self pity, so I'm happy to say I have been accepted in an intensive month long uni course that will allow me to teach foreigners English in Australia. Unfortunately that doesn't begin until August, but it is something I am excited and very nervous about.

I was getting a little bored so I decided to get my motorcycle license at the end of February. In Queensland it's pretty easy, and I was licensed in only two days!

Next step was a bike. I had my sights set on a Harley-style cruiser, so I did the next best thing and got myself a new Yamaha 650cc beast. Although it's quite heavy, along with my (temporary?) beard, I look the part.

I've joined some meetup groups which have given me a great opportunity to go for some fun rides and socialise. I kind of regret that I didn't get the licence BEFORE I went to Japan. I even talked with a Japanese expat that is in the same position as I was. He thought Japanese food was expensive here and not as good too! He is also thinking whether it's the right time for him to go back.

Looking back over my blog, it feels like Japan was a dream. As more time passes I am reminiscing the good times. Life was pretty good. What's next for me?

Monday, 27 January 2014


I don't know if I forgot to tell you, but as of the 21st of January, 2014 I left Japan. Anyway I thought it'd be nice to leave you with a FUQ, or Frequently Unasked Questions.


Well as you know from reading my blog (you've been reading it? WOW), I've been here close to seven years, and things have been plateauing for a few years. I'm getting older. Over the years a few of my relatives have passed away, and I value the time I have with my immediate family. Recent events have also fast-tracked my planned departure date.


No, not at all! With amazing technologies like Skype, it felt like friends and family were in my room at any time. There are also heaps of free wifi hotspots. It's much better than the bad old days of phone cards and Internet cafes.


Yeah, of course. I'd like to have had more opportunities to advance in the company. I applied for management/training positions and I wasn't considered. I wish I really learnt Japanese. I should've persued my music dreams harder. I'd like if some people were kinder. That'll do. Can't stop 'dem regrets you know!


The SMOKING. I am not a smoker. Japan has it backwards. You can smoke in bars and restaurants but outside you can't. WTF? Tax the f**k out of those cigarettes too!

OLD PEOPLE - Now don't get me wrong I don't hate them per sé. It's just that I think old people generally don't like foreigners "changing" Japan. This goes for a**hole police officers, and is it a coincidence all the taxi drivers are senior citizens? I rest my case. Actually they often leave seats beside me free on the train. I guess it's not all bad.

SPITTING - Is it so hard to f**king swallow? It's worse in winter when your footpath gunk doesn't evaporate. It just stays there forever. Gross.

BLOCKING FOOTPATHS - Do you have to walk/stand in a "wall of stupid" making it difficult to walk or ride past? I used to use my bad squealing brakes to make people sh*t themselves. Hilarious.

BANKS & PHONE COMPANIES - Now I'm sure there were other so-called businesses, but these two really annoyed me. SIM locked phones? docomo changed tack when they got the iPhone. Shame shame shame. Banks charging after hours and transfer fees really sucked. OH, and piss poor bank interest. Thanks for nothing UFJ.

SHOGANAI - This means "it can't be helped". To me this means Japanese people compromise too much so that the above companies and more get what their greedy minds want. Sure, packed trains can't be helped. I'll let you have that one.


Well, it's going to sound horribly cliché but the food is awesome; I hate flowers, but the cherry blossoms "affect" me; the Japanese girls are super pretty and more approachable (gonna miss the bikini girls of Summer); the plentiful cheap and accessible alcohol, and drinking in public; the wonderful music shops with beautiful instruments (new and used). I'm really going to miss my friends AND my best friend :(


YEAH! As a tourist, Japan is unlike any other country I've been to. Actually it's like another planet. Japanese people are very friendly and accommodating to tourists. You'll feel very welcome.


Now this one is harder to answer. WHY do you want to work in Japan? I had someone tell me, "I don't know". Now THAT I see as the wrong reason.  Life will seem better when you are arrive, but it will progressively get worse. Anything that is wrong with your life will be amplified. You'll be looking for substitutes of all the good stuff you'll miss. I say YES if you can speak Japanese or have a very strong will to learn the language. Use the visa to do something BETTER.

Japanese people will treat you differently, or you'll see them differently when you've been here a while too.


I wish I knew, then I might have left earlier! For me, the right time is to go before you end up hating the place.  It's when you realise that you have a job here, not a career. It's before you get "stuck" here either through marriage or being too lax to go. Once the roots start growing it gets harder to cut down the tree.


In the past I think I suggested using Go Lloyds.  GoRemit (Shinsei Bank) took over their services, and should be the equivalent. I actually used Japan Post Bank this time. You can take out cash from your account and do a 口座あて送金 telegraphic transfer (2,500 yen for any amount), which takes a week to get in your account.  Just don't mess up the information! Don't bring lots of cash on the plane. Banks don't like dealing with paper money.


I'm not sure. I wouldn't mind teaching English here but I don't know if my time actually counts for much. I could go back to my old job. I could be a rockstar. LOL. Right now I'm in a bit of limbo. Getting over my "lost weekend" and trying to join the real world.

Well that's all the questions I can think of right now. I want to thank all the people that have stuck with me all these years with my blog. It's nice that it wasn't for nothing. If you have any other questions or want to say hi leave a comment. I'm not dead yet.

I hope I gave you a good FUQ


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Resident Card

Since July 2012, Japan changed their residency management system. Instead of the Alien Registration Card ("gaijin" card), new arrivals would be issued with a new Resident Card. Generally speaking some details are not directly written on the card itself but on an IC chip. Also, things like re-entry permit stamps are going to be a thing of the past.

Now I don't actually need to do this until my visa renewal, but considering what I'll be doing shortly I've decided to take the fun trip down to Shinagawa to get dat card! I arrived at the immigration office at about 11am. I was thinking I was getting there late but surprisingly it only took about 40 minutes! Maybe because it was a day predicted to snow everyone stayed away *booya!*

 You can pick up a form for the new card at the information desk as you walk in. They are actually in a tray so you don't even really need to line up. (If you LOSE your card you have to ask for another kind of form though). Around the corner you can take your photo at a photo booth for 700 yen. I did the photo myself in photoshop and printed it out for 30 yen instead :) Oh, bring a pen when you go. I had a hell of a time asking people to lend me a pen. No one helped me out ^$*#^!!

Once that's done go to the 2nd level D line which you can use the easy to follow guide line on the floor! If you leave Japan you don't have to pretend you lost it to keep the card. They'll actually let you keep it as a present but they punch a hole in the card to invalidate it. YAY!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Two Towers Part 2 - Tokyo Tower

After the Skytree I knew the Tokyo Tower would pale in comparison.

The Tokyo Tower's highest "special" observatory (+600 yen) is still only 250m high. The main observatory (820 yen) is 150m. Even at the top height it's only marginally higher than the nearby Midtown Tower. Unlike the Skytree it's essential to go to the top level.

Built in 1958, the tower is definitely showing its age. The windows look "fuzzy". Taking the best photos was more of a challenge. I was really spoilt by the Skytree's newness :( Still there are some good views out to Odaiba, and like the Skytree you'll be able to see Mt Fuji at sunset.

If you have a choice go to the Tokyo Skytree. The view is MUCH better. Heck, even go to the Metropolitan Government building. It's free! The Tokyo Tower really needs a renewal renovation, a complete makeover.

BUT to say something good about it, the Tokyo Tower is more beautiful than the Skytree even though it ripped off the Eiffel Tower's good looks. It's also substantially brighter lit. Maybe being more residential out in Oshiage they didn't want a "Christmas tree" shining in their windows every night. I kind of wish the Skytree was a bit more central rather than out where it is. They should've knocked this one down ("jokingu").