Nomin from Career Fly (N): Hello! Thank you for your time today and this opportunity.
To begin, could you please introduce yourself to us?
Ms. Lauren Keys from OneUP(L): My name is Lauren. I’m from Canada and have been living in Japan for over 10 years now. Before coming to Japan, I worked as a teacher in various capacities such as teaching Spanish at university and teaching French to children in Canada. After that, I lived and traveled to many places. Then I worked in South Korea as an English teacher before coming to Japan. Currently I’m a head instructor at OneUP.
N : Did you specifically major in education at your university?
L: For my major, I did a combined honors degree in French language & literature and Spanish language & literature and my Masters was in linguistics with a focus on second language acquisition.
I was particularly interested in how we acquire and how we can learn a language and the power of language for communication.
N: Interesting! What made you learn so many different languages?
L: I’ve always had an interest in languages to be able to talk to more people.
I think that languages open so many doors, not only in the sense of job opportunities, but also just gaining an understanding of other people and their cultures, and being able to communicate with people from all around the world.
N: What made you venture into Asia?
L: I’ve always liked living somewhere to be able to really get a better sense of the people, the culture, and learn the language.
It was always interesting to me because Asian countries are so different than Canada. We do have a large Asian population but of course, Canadian culture is quite a bit different.
I also love traveling but I feel that traveling only gives you a brief view of the place but that it doesn’t give you a deep understanding. So coming here, to various different countries in Asia, and experiencing the rich history, the rich culture, it was just always something I was interested in!
N: How was your experience as an instructor in South Korea and currently in Japan so far?
L: I was in South Korea for a little over a year and then left for Japan because I had always had an interest in Japan and took the chance to come here and experience Japanese life.
Honestly, I love both countries! Both have their great points and weaknesses, as every country does. I was originally planning to come to Japan. So I worked on Peace Boat as an instructor and afterward I had hoped to stay in Japan for a while but the timing wasn’t so great so I decided to go to South Korea and I had a great experience there.
N: How was your job hunting?
L: I mainly did my job hunting online. There were lots of postings for English teachers since there are many opportunities for English instructors in Japan.
However, I think a lot of the positions were not necessarily a good match for me because they had very strict ways of teaching or were teaching from a particular textbook and with my experience in education and teaching I knew that many people have different styles of learning and presenting the information in different ways would be more beneficial to students.
So I really was attracted to the OneUP posting because it had that flexibility.
I was very lucky to be hired at OneUP, and I’ve been with them ever since.
N: Please share about your experience at OneUP!
L: My experience has been positive overall. I’ve been fortunate to be able to try my hand at a wide range of things working for this company.
I have taught seminars on various topics, published a book with Mr. Kaito and planned and conducted a cooking lesson for our ToneUP clients.
One thing I especially appreciate about OneUP is that the management is open to hearing new ideas from anyone within the company and is not afraid to try new things.
Initially, I was planning to stay in Japan for 3-4 years and now it has been 10 years and so it’s safe to say that I’m enjoying my stay in Japan and my role at OneUP.
N: What are your current responsibilities?
L: I’m currently a head instructor at OneUP and I’m also part of a few different areas of the company including the instructor side of the HR department. One of my responsibilities within that role is to interview potential instructors for our company. I also help train new instructors and oversee their progress as well as contributing to material development and teaching corporate seminars.
N: Since you have been working at your company for a long time, what do you think are the merits/demerits of working at a Japanese company?
L: I think that first and foremost the merit for me is just the politeness and common courtesy of the Japanese people.
I’m from Canada and we’re considered very polite too but in Japan there is a certain level of respect, politeness or common courtesy. Even if you’re in negotiations or discussing something challenging, people still do it keeping the other person’s perspective in mind and maintain that level of common courtesy.
As for the challenges, it would be that the priorities in Japan are quite a bit different. Canadians really prioritize family and friendships.
In Japan, I feel that people tend to prioritize work before family and friends. The priorities are a little different and the hierarchy in the Japanese business system is a bit stricter than in the western system.
A friend of mine who works for another company was invited to one of her good friends’ wedding and two days before her boss asked her if she could work on that day because a deadline was coming up and so she agreed. She missed her friend’s wedding and that to me was rather shocking. I had not expected that at all.
N: What would you do if you were in your friend’s shoes?
L: I would tell my boss that it was my friend’s wedding and I would request to take the day off. *laughs*, In that case, I’m sure my boss would understand so it wouldn’t be such a big problem.
N: So how do you find a balance in your life, do you find yourself assimilating into Japanese culture?
L: In the beginning, I would say it was a challenge. Not just in terms of a new work culture but with friends too.
In Canada it’s not uncommon to call somebody up the day of or two days in advance to hang out, however in Japan that’s rare. Learning to schedule to meet with friends was quite a bit of an adjustment for me.
From a social aspect, I didn’t have the same flexibility in my social life as I had enjoyed in other places, but I’m quite used to it and now it’s like second nature to me. *laughs*
N: What kind of advice would you give to people who are considering coming and getting a job in Japan?
L: My biggest piece of advice is to come open minded because the culture and business culture are different. There is a bit of an adjustment but it’s quite interesting. It’s fascinating to learn about, to experience and to be part of a different culture but it can also be challenging at times.
“ I think if you come to Japan just keep an open mind, try and learn as much as you can, then you’ll have a better idea of what is a good match for you, what suits you the best so you can enjoy your experience that much more.”
N: We often get asked these questions a lot from our international candidates, so please share your insight into these questions! The first question is, “Is Japanese language necessary?”
L: I would say, not just work-wise, but also just for living in Japan it does make it a lot easier if you speak Japanese. It would be very beneficial.
I think it’s an important tool that you can add to your tool belt to advance your career in Japan. I also think whether or not it’s necessary really depends on the industry and the position that you’re looking at.
N: How do you feel working as woman developing your career?
L: My experience has been quite positive. Luckily I’ve been able to advance in my career and to move up in the company which I’m very thankful for.
But I do know that the gender gap is a big issue in Japan. I have friends as well who when they decided to have children, it basically ended their career. Some stopped working to raise their children and some are still working, but they know they will never get another promotion or that they will remain in the position they’re in. So that’s a bit disheartening because mothers are good at multitasking and can contribute equally as much to a company as anyone else.
I do think that the situation is starting to change though.
N: For the women, who want to develop their career in Japan like you, please give them a message.
L: Always try and improve yourself, your abilities and skills, but always understand the value of those as well.
Don’t let anyone undermine that, when you face some challenges try and push through and keep going. Believe in yourself and you will hopefully achieve great things.
N: What’s your career fly in the future?
L: Someday in the future, I hope that I’ll have the chance to work in another country such as Kenya, Tanzania or possibly another African country.
I’ve been lucky to have lived in North America, Central America, Europe and now Asia, so Africa’s the next place I’d like to explore and live in.
For now, I’d like to continue to expand my knowledge and learn new skills by getting involved in other departments and undertaking new tasks. I don’t have a more specific answer right now. When I first came to Japan I had intended to be here three or four years or so. It’s been over 10 now so obviously I’m enjoying what I do here. I’m quite happy where I am in Japan.
N: Thank you very much for your time and sharing with us your valuable experience. Good luck with your future endeavors. We wish you all the best!
(Left of the photo)Ms.Lauren Keys from One up English (right of the photo)Nomin from Career Fly
Ms.Keys joined OneUP English School in 2009 and has been working there ever since. She currently works as a head instructor at OneUP.