Pros and Cons

As I mentioned a few times in past postings, I’ve been trying to hightail it out of the countryside. I just feel like Tokyo is where I need to be if I want to stay in Japan for longer than two years. It was a tough decision to sign up for another year in Ibaraki. In early March, I really considered not renewing the contract and taking a risk in moving to Tokyo with no job actually set up. My gut was telling me that I could make it happen. My mind was telling me I had student loans. My constant salary is the only thing keeping me from making late payments on them. My mind was also telling me that I would be needing that steady salary to buy a plane ticket in June.

So I searched for jobs, looked at my wallet, gave up and repeated the cycle. Moving around in Japan is expensive. If I found a new job, I wouldn’t see any pay from it until two months after I was hired; maybe three if I was hired late in the month. In addition, I was considering coming home in June for my cousin’s wedding. That’s about $1200 for just the ticket. Who knows if a new job would even give me the amount of time off I would have wanted? These were all things I was considering.

I weighed the pros and cons of my situation. I’ll start out with the not so good stuff first:

One negative thing about my job was that I was living in the middle of nowhere. Honestly, living environment isn’t that much of a big deal. It’s just that the people I should be networking with, the jobs I would be applying for, and the social life I would like to have (well, really the mexican food I would like to have) is not easily accessible from my location. Simply put, staying here would not provide any upward mobility for my career. Unless, I develop some passion for farming (highly unlikely).

Another con: money. I started out saving money very well on my so-so salary. But things came up; I started sending more money home. During the months of January and April I was hit with decreases in monthly pay, due to winter and spring vacation respectively. In this past contract, I’ve come to realize that the months in which I save the most are the months in which I don’t do much of anything. I’m not addicted to having a social life. I equally value alone time as much as I value time with friends. But a balance is healthy, that’s just a fact.

Speaking of money, I also have expenses beyond student loans. My rent and bills are actually very affordable considering the size of my apartment. But what’s really biting into my paycheck is rental car payments. I get 10,000 yen to go towards the car each month from the company. 3000 of that (about $30 USD) goes toward gas. The rest goes to rental fees, around 30,000 yen. So yeah, do the math. I’m losing money each month from car payments. I’ve been considering buying a bike, seeing how I don’t use my car for much things beyond going to school and going to play basketball in the night league. That ride will be intense when the winter comes. Yet 6 months of biking is $1000 in the bank right there. Living in the city with a monthly train pass is cheaper than a monthly car rental. Most likely I wouldn’t even be paying for that in the city. Out of the twenty or so jobs I’ve considered applying for, 90% of them reimburse for public transportation.

So location and external expenses are really a pain for me right now. As much as I like living here, I don’t see the point of me staying if I can find a job that pays more, and doesn’t require me to use a car. I could be saving money, while giving more to the student loan mafia each month. But there are some pros to my current job. Let’s take a look at those:

I have time. There’s no pressure on me to stay at school past 4:30 each day. I’m usually done classes an hour and a half before this. Sometimes I stay until 6:00, but just at my junior high to help out the basketball team. Once I’m off, I have all this time to myself. I can focus on doing things I want to do; working on various writing projects such as this blog. There’s a work-life balance that I may not get when I move to the city. If I’m doing work I enjoy, I wouldn’t mind having a little imbalance between work and life. At that point, my work would be my life in a way. Things would balance out. But if I become this corporate slave with no time to dedicate to my passion, it might be better off I stay in Ibaraki for now.

Time is the biggest pro about my job. Some ALTs though (not all), see all this extra time as hours of boredom. Time to go through an entire book series or binge-watch series after series on Netflix. But I couldn’t be more grateful for it. I didn’t even have this kind of time in college to develop my craft.

Another benefit of my current position is cost of living. Rent is slightly cheaper, food, and pretty much everything but alcohol. This is good, but a lower cost of living is pretty much a given for any rural area.

I also enjoy teaching at my schools. The students like me; even the quiet ones and the yankis are opening up. The teachers have been friendlier and take more initiatives to start conversations. A principal at one of my schools even goes out of the way every morning to greet me and thank me ahead of time for just showing up. I know he’s just being super polite, but it feels good when a superior takes the time to express his gratefulness, dammit!

The third pro is that there are no conflicts between me and the company I work for. They like me and my work ethic. No one at the head office is ever breathing down my neck, shadowing my lessons, or bothering me in general. They call me to see how I’m holding up, but never a negative conversation. One doesn’t understand the benefits of good management until they’ve been in a bad working environment.

Lastly, the skills I’ve been learning while teaching are invaluable. My public speaking skills have increased drastically. I’m communicating all day, while teaching a language. I’d do the students a disservice if I mumbled the way I used to. My confidence has also increased so much. Some days you can’t get every student to participate, or most are just exhausted from testing. It used to affect me and I’d feel offended. But I’ve learned how to move beyond it and not lose the rest of the class. It’s my show. I can’t let a few audience members ruin it for everyone else. In addition, through the amount of students, teachers, and sometimes parents I interact with on a daily basis, I’ve become a better communicator. I’ve come to understand so many personality types, and I’m becoming better at conversation because of this. There are still students who say nothing to me, but once I find that common ground, I believe they’ll start speaking. No doubt I’ll be using these skills for the rest of my Life.

So time, cost of living, work environment, and skills learned are the good things about my current situation. My time is something I have come to value very highly in life. You can’t save it, and you’re always spending it with each passing moment. If you take my time away, or you limit the ways in which I can spend it…I have nothing.

So I have decided to do this. I will for the time being apply to jobs that I find appealing in Tokyo. These could be teaching positions which offer the same work-life balance, or jobs which involve actual use of my passion. In the meantime though, I’ll continue working in Ibaraki with my sights set on a pretty cool job for Spring 2015. There is a position in my company for “traveling substitutes.” This isn’t the official job title, but it most accurately describes what I’d be doing. Basically, whenever an ALT resigns during a time that isn’t around spring, summer, or winter vacation, there is a brief period of time between the ALT’s departure and the arrival of a new teacher. I would be that guy who comes in to teach during that transition period. I would also fill in for teachers on long vacations or those who have called out sick. Considering the size of my company, it would be quite possible for me to see various parts of Japan that I have yet to visit. I’d be working full time while chipping away at one of the travel goals on my Impossible List. All while living in Tokyo on the days I wouldn’t be teaching. (And making more money, too)

So that’s my job hunt so far, if you can call it that. Since I’m able to dedicate time to my passion daily, and I’m strapped for cash, my desperate motivation to move to Tokyo asap has subsided. I thought about my motivations for moving to the big city with bright lights. I noticed a lot of similarities between some of my motivations to return to Japan. Because of all the awesome experiences I had studying abroad here two years ago, I started to see Japan as some magical place where anything can happen. I forgot that Japan didn’t manufacture these experiences for me. I forgot that I was the one, through my craving to seize the day, who created those magical experiences. A year later and now I think of Tokyo as that magical place where all is possible. I forgot how seize the day, and make use of all the fruit on the tree in my own backyard. It’s about time I learn how to do this carpe diem thing again. Lest the cycle repeat itself when I actually do arrive in Tokyo. Stay Tuned.

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