Archive for the ‘Working abroad’ category

Living in Japan: Shari

March 21, 2007

1. Why did you move to Japan? (and where did you move from?)

I moved from California in the United States. The reasons I moved are
a bit complex. Primarily, my husband and I had a brief and very
positive history in Japan and wanted to return to recapture that
situation. We also felt that we might find a better economic
situation temporarily in Japan. Our original plan was to be here for
5 years and now it’s been 18 years.

The “brief and positive” history was my husband and I, who were pen
pals, met for the first time in Tokyo while I was on vacation. I
stayed for a month. It was a wonderful experience.

> 2. How does it differ to living in a Wester country?

For a caucasian person, it can be a bit like being a black person in
a largely white community. You get stared at. People whisper about
you or talk to each other about you (figuring you can’t understand
them even when you actually can). People can also be extremely
understanding and considerate of you because they recognize you don’t
fully fit into (or understand) the culture. In general, the main
difference is that you are always aware that you are different and
will always be different.

Other than that, there’s the obvious which is you can’t read a lot of
what is around since there are thousands of characters. Even if you
study a fair bit, you may never be able to read fluently because the
characters read differently depending on the characters they are
paired with. You often find that Japanese people make mistakes in
reading their own characters because it’s so complex. Even those who
learn to read Japanese often never learn to write. In most western
countries, a roman alphabet is used so you can read everything even
if you can’t understand it. This is a serious impediment to learning
the language compared to learning a western language.

> 3. What are the cultural differences that you’ve observed?

This is the question that would require a book. Here are just a few:

1. Communication works differently. It’s not just a language
difference. The Japanese communicate in a fashion designed to not
communicate clearly. They say “yes” when they mean  “no”. They say
nothing when they really want you to know something. They tell you
it’s okay not to do something (or do something) when they really
disapprove. The Japanese people understand the way communication
works (or doesn’t work) and are able to read into the indirect
communication and infer what is actually meant. Foreigners find this
hard to do because they don’t understand the cultural framework.

2. Your rights are limited and can be revoked at any time. You cannot
assert your right to anything strongly. The police may stop and
question you at any time or haul you into the station for questioning
at any time. I have been stopped and accused of stealing my bike
merely because I was riding it down the sidewalk.

3. There is a lot more gift giving and apologizing. Neither is
sincere or heartfelt. There is a lot more obligatory behavior based
on social rules and customs. Your acquaintances and friends who are
Japanese will not expect you to follow these rules but they will
observe them when they interact with  you.

4. Appearances mean more than substance. Food looks good but doesn’t
taste good. A beautifully wrapped gift is more important for its
wrapping than its contents. How you dress is more important than who
you are (except in family and interpersonal situations). You hang
around the office and don’t go home until everyone else does. It
doesn’t matter what you’re doing as long as you give the appearance
of working as hard as everyone else.

5. People don’t complain often or loudly. You’re expected to control
your emotions and those around you usually control theirs. In the
U.S., you will often see people behave in a hostile fashion toward
strangers who annoy them. You rarely see that in Japan. People will
be rude, of course, but they rarely respond to each other’s rudeness.

6. Service is often slow and meticulous. The Japanese are sticklers
for dotting all the “i’s” and crossing all the “t’s” and they don’t
mind making people wait in line while they methodically go through
every stage.

7. The Japanese place a greater value on the needs of the group (and
maintaining harmony) than on individual needs. For instance, the
Japanese often work while sick. Meetings take forever because they
won’t express their opinions assertively or clearly. As a foreigner,
you can run afoul of your coworkers if you’re too assertive or

8. The Japanese don’t like too many personal questions and are
uncomfortable offering up certain types of information we’d freely
discuss in the west.

There are also a lot of tiny things but they’re all covered in guide
books and easy to learn – taking your shoes off when you enter a
house, eating everything you are served (because any food left on the
plate indicates that you didn’t like the dish), never pouring your
own drink and pouring drinks for others, etc.

> 4. What do you do out there?

I teach English and do freelance work for a company that sells
correspondence courses.

> 5. What advice would you give to people who are thinking of
> traveling/moving to Japan?

Traveling and moving are two very different issues when it comes to
Japan. If you’re going to travel around Japan, you can pretty much
get by with just English because most of the places you’re going to
go or stay will have English speaking and signs.

If you’re moving here, any advice depends on how long you’re going to
stay. If you’re just here for the short term, see and do as much as
you can in your free time and don’t sweat the cultural differences
much since you’ll be forgiven any transgressions.

If you’re moving and plan to stay for a long time, try to abandon
ethnocentric judgments and accept that the Japanese are different but
different doesn’t mean “worse”. Expect to be frustrated at times and
to have your patience tested. Try to get yourself in the mindset that
saying what you think will probably harm you more than help you in
the long run and set yourself to the task of learning to read and
communicate between the lines. Expect to love it at first. Expect to
hate it later. Expect to like it even later.

> 6. Where in Japan do you live?

I live in Tokyo.

VSO: Leona Daly

March 17, 2007

Leona Daly

Press Officer


What does VSO do?

We’ve been in operation for 50 years and we’ve developed as we’ve gone along. We send workers to 34 countries, and we’ve sent 30,000 skilled volunteers overseas since we started.

There are six key areas we send volunteers into:





Secure livelihood


We work mainly in Africa and Asia. Our volunteer positions are very specific, we’d be looking for people with a real interest in the area and with skills they can take with them.

The key to it is to send people who have experience, relevant experience, and can train local people and leave a lasting impression on the area.

Placements range from 2 weeks to 2 years.

Run two dedicated youth programmes, but they have to have shown an interest in the subject area. We don’t just send anyone. Most of our volunteers in this area go to Africa.

Global exchange programme, a cultural exchange, we’d send nine volunteers from the UK to Asia and nine Asian volunteers would swap with them – and those from developed countries do volunteer work there, and Asian volunteers do volunteer work here. That’s been running for five years now.

Why volunteer?

We’ve seen a real change in the demographics of people who volunteers, we have a lot more ‘golden gappers’ as we call them. People who have retired, or are nearing retirement, and want to do something different or give something back with the skills they have learned throughout their careers. Some people just don’t want to put their feet up.

We want to give something back to the community, and through these experienced volunteers we can.

They have to show before they go that they have a passion for the developing world and the issues facing it.

What do volunteers get out of it?

Most volunteers get more out of it than they give, that’s just because for many of them it’s such a relief to be doing something completely different to what they were doing before.

They’ll be dealing with problems overseas that they would never have faced in the UK, and resolving these problems can be really rewarding.

It’s an amazing experience to go and live in the community, our volunteers are paid a local wage so that they don’t feel above/below the people they are working with, and many of them make friendships for life.

A lot of people while working on VSO placements either find themselves re-considering their careers, their lives, and what they want to do. It can give them a different perspective on things.

What do you think of the rise of meaningful travel, with companies that specifically target young people?

Really have to be careful where your money is going, need to research who you’re going with and what the place is like. You hear a lot of horror stories about people paying large sums of money and turning up in a foreign country, and the place has no idea who they are etc.

A big consideration has to be the impact you will make on the community you’re going to be living with. They will not be used to seeing Westerners, and if they are, then they may will try and sell you everything under the sun and not act naturally.

Tom Wood: working in the States and France

February 12, 2007

1. How old are you?

2. Where are you from?

Originally Helsby, Cheshire. (near Chester, Liverpool)

3. Are you a student? If so, what do you study and where do you study?

Yes. Computer Science at the University of Bristol
4. Where did you travel to and how long for?

In 2004 – I worked on a summer camp in upstate New York, USA for 10
weeks, followed by 2 weeks travelling in Boston, New York City &
Washington DC.
In 2005 – 10 weeks working on a campsite in Dordogne, France.

5. Who did you go with?

2004 was BUNAC’s “KAMP” programme. 2005 was a job with Canvas Holidays
as a campsite courier. In both cases I didn’t know anyone else till I
got there!
6. If you went with a volunteer organisation, who was it?

7. What did you do on your placement?

2004 – mainly working in the “camp canteen”, a snack bar open to kids in
the evening, serving pizza, hotdogs, milkshake, ice cream etc. Also
cleaning & maintenance. I lived on camp for the 10 weeks.

2005 – cleaning and preparing tents and mobile homes, showing in
customers, visiting customers and solving problems e.g. minor
maintenance. Lived on the campsite under canvas with other couriers.
8. What was the best bit about traveling?

2004 – friendships on camp, getting to know a bit of the culture in the
US (from staff from a variety of backgrounds as well as from the kids),
and free ice cream.

2005 – friendships with other couriers, relaxed attitude, team spirit,
sunshine, cheap wine.

9. What was the worst bit?

2004 – being a bit “in the middle of nowhere” for most of the time – 30
mins walk down the road there was WalMart, a couple of gas stations, a
supermarket, Home Depot, Dunkin Dounts and McDonalds etc but and a
village with one bar, but that was about it.

2005 – cleaning tents in 35 degree C temperatures…

10. Do you plan to travel in the future?

Yes – but probably not manual labour abroad. Although I do miss the sun
and relaxed attitude in France.
11. Do you have pictures or videos from your trip? (If yes, then can you
send them to me, or do you have them hosted anywhere online?)

Yes, some photos:



see also

PS – the voluntary work I do wasn’t abroad – I volunteer with St John
Ambulance when I’m at uni in Bristol.

although these are a little out of date).

1. Looking back at your time working on the camps, which experience was
best? States or Europe?

I’m not really sure. Working on the camp in the US perhaps wasn’t as
enjoyable as France, but the chance to travel around the US after camp
without having to pay for the plane tickets was a big bonus. I guess I
learned more about the “local” culture in the US, but got on better with
my colleagues in France. Probably France was more relaxed so more
enjoyable from that point of view.

2. What was the biggest difference between working in the States and in

The work was quite different – in the US everything was fairly
regimented (as you would expect on a kid’s camp) – in France provided
you got the work done you had more freedom the rest of the time – and
more “civilisation” nearby to enjoy on your day off.

3. Do you wish you’d spent more time travelling instead of working?

Not really. If I’d travelled more I’d have had to earn the money to pay
for it somehow – and working on the camp in the US or campsite in France
was much more fun than working at home saving up to go travelling would
have been.

4. How did you go about applying to work at the camps? Did you have to
fill out lots of forms? Is a visa hard to obtain?

I got a brochure from BUNAC and then filled in their application form.
They processed it and found me a job on a camp – then the fun started!
For all the BUNAC programmes you travel under a student exchange visa,
which requires several long application forms to be completed, and a day
trip to London for a brief interview (preceded by lots of queuing) at
the US Embassy. BUNAC help sort the process out though – and provided
you are a student and meet all the requirements I don’t think there’s
any reason why you wouldn’t get a visa – the process is just a bit tedious.

5. What was the benefit of working instead of undertaking a volunteering

You earn money while you’re out there, so you don’t have to save up for
ages to go travelling. They pay for your flights/travel from the UK too.

6. Were the jobs what you thought they would be?

I guess so, more or less. I think what you end up doing to some extent
(especially on the kids camp) depends on where you end up and who your
boss happens to be, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect.

7. Did you get homesick and if so, how did you deal with it?

Not particularly. There were a few days on camp in the US where I got
very bored and wanted to be somewhere else – but we managed to keep each
other going. Buying cheap phonecards and calling home two or three times
a week helped.

8. You said after the States trip you went for the Europe trip because
you wanted to do something with your summer, how did you cope with
coming back from the States? Did you suffer from depression or a change
in mood after your experiences abroad?

I wouldn’t say depression! But, you know the feeling when you get back
to holiday, start work, and partway through the next week think “I wish
I was back there again?”. It was a bit like that, except instead of a
2-week holiday I’d been away for 12 weeks, so the feelings were a bit
stronger. Coping with it was a case of looking forward to the future –
finding something to do the next summer.

9. What advice would you give to people planning to work at the camps
you worked at?

Go for it – whichever approach you choose it’s something different to do
in the summer. Yes it’s low pay and hard work – but the chance to see
new places, meet new people and learn new things (and better weather
than the typical British summer!) makes up for it. Much more memorable
and rewarding than a McJob at home…

10. What advice would you give to young travellers in particular?

Especially if you’re a student, make the most of the few remaining long
summer holidays you have. Take a deep breath and try something new (yes,
OK, compared to what many people do working in the US or France is
fairly tame… but I guess I’m quite a cautious person so it was a big
step for me!), and be prepared to change your attitude and lifestyle a
bit as a result.