Friday, 19 September 2014

Interview Experience ~ The First

So this might come as news to some of you, but I’ve decided to jump ship and look for work with another company. I’ve been scouting the interweb searching for new opportunities. I’d had a few bites, a couple of Skype interviews but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for my very first face to face interview in Japan. Because if I have ever experienced culture shock since being here, this is the very first time that I’ve been truly aware of it.

I interviewed for a position with a company called Berlitz. They are well-known in English teaching circles and apparently there was a branch in the Fukuyama city. After three weeks of back and forth emails (and a week waiting for a response), an interview was confirmed and I made all the necessary preparations. Because I couldn’t attend an interview at the scheduled time, I asked if I could interview earlier due to work commitments. They obliged so I was grateful.

Taking the Shinkansen would have gotten me to Fukuyama in twenty minutes but it’s also super expensive so I opted to take a local train instead. This was expected to take just under two hours so I bit the bullet, woke up seriously early, put together a moderately formal outfit and made my journey. I arrived there over an hour early and decided to find the location. The school was not what I was expecting. It was a rather old-looking structure on the first floor and there was no Berlitz logo in sight. I was feeling extremely sleep deprived so I sought to find a coffee shop but alas, at 9:30am in the morning, not a one was open.

Maybe this was a sign of things to come.

I opted for some water instead, downed about half the bottle and then decided to do the Japanese thing and arrive a little bit early. I walked up the steps and came face to face with about seven Japanese men sitting in an office. They gawked at me in shock and I suddenly felt extremely small despite the fact that I towered over most of them. I bid them “hello” and then my interviewer exited the office and an awkward introduction occurred whereby he confirmed my name and invited me to take off my shoes. What I found strange was that he didn’t even introduce himself.

Just pretend that this guy is Japanese and you've
basically got my interview today.
I was led into a classroom and the interview began. It turned out that Berlitz was opening a new school at the station and that our current interview location was an English cram school. I was asked a bunch of questions to do with my current experience and whether I could handle new ones. More often than not, he would simply make random grunts as I spoke but whether they were in approval or disproval, I don’t know. What I found peculiar however was that he would often repeat the same sorts of questions but in a different way and often asked me about my life in Japan. Whether he was trying to make me feel at ease or it was a simple interview tactic, again, I really couldn’t tell you.

The bomb was dropped however when he implied that they were really looking to fulfil the remaining part-time position as all the full-time ones had been taken. I can’t say my heart sank but in order to sustain my life in Japan, I know that I require something full-time. I expected him to terminate my interview right there and then but shortly afterwards, he stated that it was time for me to demo a lesson.

Now in the email he sent me, I had been given information about the “students” in my demo. I was to demo for two students, one of pre-intermediate level and one of upper-intermediate level. I had expected that my interviewer, plus another member of the Berlitz team would pretend to be students of that level; this was what I’m used to I suppose. Instead of two, however, I actually got three native Japanese students and this time, my heart did sink as I’d only prepared content for two students.

I started off okay. I introduced my vocabulary but as I moved in the meat of demo, I forgot to teach some of my content. I had also created worksheets but as I instigated the final task, I realised that even these were poorly structured. The “students” laughed about it and so did I, but I truthfully was dying inside. I finished the task and then wasn’t sure what to do until one of the “students” stepped outside the room and called the interviewer back in. As soon as he appeared, he muttered a rather informal “that’s it” and I said goodbye to the “students”.

Earlier, my interviewer had made a joke about covering my travel expenses. When he returned again, he handed an envelope with 5000 yen in it. I was so shocked that I’m not sure if I accepted it correctly (you’re supposed to accept with both hands in Japan) and shortly afterwards, I dropped the materials I’d used in the demo lesson all over the floor. I felt so clumsy and wanted to escape as quickly as possible until I was told that one of my “students” would drop me to the station. Again, I was shocked because these sorts of things do not happen in the UK. We are never reimbursed travel expenses and nobody offers to drive an interview candidate to the station. What’s more, the station was only a ten minute walk away also, so I found this extremely particular.

It was only after getting into yet another stranger’s car that I realised that this “third student” had probably been sent there to observe me as I demoed my lesson. I just hadn’t been told this and I really wish I had, because then I could have focused on the other two. I tried to instigate a conversation in the car and then fell silent until he started talking to me again so I spoke to him a bit more freely. He took me to the station as planned. I thanked him, we bowed in farewell and I couldn’t have scurried away into that station fast enough.

Upon reflection, I think even before having the interview, I knew I didn’t want the job as much. What I wanted however was the interview experience as it had been well over a year since I’d interviewed last. But I didn’t realise that I would actually be walking into a purely Japanese environment; I was expecting to see one or two foreigners walking around. As a result, I probably would have done a lot more research but I’m now starting to realise that the email address I’d be corresponding with should have been a dead giveaway. It had been created through Yahoo Mail.

The people in question were pleasant. They didn’t do anything bad to me but I felt a little shaken after the experience - epic culture shock, I believe. I highly doubt any of the men in that facility had met a foreigner like me before and I’d never been in an environment quite like that either. So as soon as I got on the train, I contacted people and found out that apparently, it’s not uncommon for companies to reimburse travel expenses to interview candidates here. It didn’t make me feel any better; I felt really weird accepting the money but I know that it isn’t custom in Japan to turn away kindness.

I was told I would be contacted with the result but I’d be surprised if they offered me the position. Irrespective, as I said, I don’t think I want the position as much and I especially don’t want a part time role. It was certainly an experience however. Next time, hopefully, I’ll be more prepared…and less sleep-deprived.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Date Experience ~ The First

It is common knowledge that when it comes to dating and romance in Japan for foreign (especially non-Asian) women, we have it harder. While Japanese women seem to fawn over our male counterparts, Japanese men are notoriously shy and some are even intimidated by us so the likelihood of being approached is a lot slimmer. We usually have to do the leg work. That said however, I actually was approached and ended up on an unlikely date of sorts so it isn’t entirely impossible.

If I’m honest, I didn’t actually realise it was a date at first. Or maybe it was just that I didn’t want to believe it but I should have known really. I met the guy in a club and he made it extremely clear that he fancied me. I remember finding him annoying at first because I don’t usually like meeting people in clubs. So his behaviour – to me – was like some sort of night-predator stalking its prey. Nevertheless, his antics soon shifted from annoying to hilarious, and by the end of the evening, I had given him my number. He texted me the following morning and we instigated a back and forth regime for three weeks before we met again – although I had stated that I just wanted to be friends.

Clearly, this was not the case for him however.

He picked me up in his car.

Yeah, I know. I got into a car with a stranger. But the journey we were going to make was not only going to take a couple of hours but would have racked up some serious expenses via public transport. I like saving money so I took a chance and let him drive us.

He actually opened the door for me if I recall and despite the language barrier – his English wasn’t so great and my Japanese was worse – we managed to communicate which was awesome. A friend of his had burnt a bunch of CDs for him as well so we had good conversation flowing and good music for atmosphere. We talked pretty much non-stop all the way to our destination and when we arrived, he insisted on buying me lunch and letting me take pictures.

While on a peer, I dropped my chopsticks and he got me new ones. He also insisted on walking on the side of the pavement closest to the cars; I think this was him being protective as this was constant on the date (and even in the club when another guy tried to move to me mind you). We checked out a shrine; I took more pictures and then we travelled to our second destination. Again, he insisted on paying for me. I tried to race him to the ticket booth but he wasn’t having it. More sight-seeing; more conversation; more jokes. He also showcased his confidence by bidding a couple of old ladies hello as we walked passed and navigating us safely back to his car.

Another drive led us to our third destination; I took more photos. Earlier, we had stopped off at a service station and he’d bought me a drink and at this time I had finished it. So while I took photos, he insisted on trying to find a bin for them.

He then drove me all the way back our meeting spot to which I began to notice how tired he was getting. After all, he’d probably spent the equivalent of four to five hours driving around. He would open the window to pump some cold air into the car in order to wake himself up but then worry about me because I was getting cold. I insisted he open the window though. What was more, a friend actually called him during this time to which he actually announced on the phone that he was on a date which made me tense a little. I mean, after all the buying stuff it should have been pretty obvious but I guess him saying it sort of made it seem more real.

We went to a Starbucks where I finally got to pay for something for him; I bought him a Matcha Latte. I said that I owed him but he said that he owed me for the drink and insisted more than once that he wanted to drive me to my house. I wasn’t comfortable with him knowing where I lived – which is also a bit stupid considering that I had actually gotten into a car with him – and plus, he looked virtually finished for the day. So I said I’d walk and bid him farewell; we parted at the station. He had asked me to message him to let him know I’d gotten home and I did. He responded when he got home and I did as well and then that was us for the evening.

As I sit here now though, I realise that I actually had a really good time but had failed to mention this in my message to him which might be why he virtually disappeared off the face of the earth. We even managed to talk about the differences between Japanese and English including things like intonation which I thought would be difficult to talk about considering the barrier. In all honesty, I think we surprised ourselves – or at least I was pleasantly surprised.

After the date however, I remember thinking to myself “what the hell have I done?” It was never my intention to become romantically involved with anyone out here – in fact, I had resigned myself to being single for my duration here; and yet, here I’d been…on a date. I felt bad because I felt like I’d led him on. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the attention but I was uncertain of him. I'm a tall woman and even taller by Japanese standards and he was a lot shorter than me (yes, even I am a little shallow). I also couldn’t escape the notion that all he was really looking for was a “good time” and that he was more than happy to "pay for it" (he could certainly afford it). The thing is, while it's a lovely thing when someone is willing to pay for you, I'm not used to being as spoiled as I was, and it makes me feel uncomfortable (and indebted). 

But I look back on it now and realise that besides these two concerns, there was nothing really wrong with him. He was polite to me; he had good taste in music; he was established (he was an architect) and above all, he seemed highly secure and confident – whereas I’m very used to attracting men who either lack confidence or have insecurities.

I’m still unsure of starting a relationship here as while I’m young, it won’t be long before I’m thirty and need to start thinking about other areas of my future more deeply. But I would have definitely liked to keep in touch with this one. Guess it just wasn’t meant to be…