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Future thoughts

I was out walking today (mainly to remind myself that the sun does exist, and that unlike a vampire, I will not wither and die from contact with its rays), and I saw a bunch of kids playing soccer in the field. This would not be particularly remarkable in and of itself, because winter here apparently tends to be much milder than anything I’ve ever experienced in New England, and today was in fact sunny and warm. What struck me, though, was that they were playing in shorts. Mild or not, this is the 29th of January, and the temperature was most definitely under 50 degrees F. Playing soccer in such attire strikes me as being more than a little hardcore.

It was about a year ago, now, that my parents approached me with a remarkable proposition: if I could find a job in Japan, they would pay for my airfare. I had already decided that it would be pretty cool to live and work in Japan for a while, but I had no sort of definite timeline; the idea was that it would happen after I got sick of my first job. Their proposal suddenly turned my previously nebulous ambition into a concrete plan, and it was way too awesome to turn down. I ended up with a job that I feel like I lucked into, not just because of the transportation windfall, but because it is almost a parody of what I might have described as a perfect job, in college: I never have to wake up before noon, I work about 20 hours per week, and I have no trouble at all making ends meet.

Despite all that, the job is not perfect. My main complaint is that I live in the middle of nowhere; I am in a town too small to have a train station, and in Japan that’s saying something. Put otherwise, this town has approximately the same population as the one I grew up in (30,000 people), so I naively expected the same sort of commercial infrastructure: a library, a mall, a variety of restaurants, a movie theatre or two, and a main street with a number of miscellaneous shops. Instead, there are exactly 14 stores in this town: 2 grocery stores, 3 hair salons, 2 clothing stores, 4 restaurants (one is devoted to ramen, and another to udon), and a few miscellaneous shops. To get to a library I have a half hour bike ride ahead of me. To get to a movie theatre, I have the same length ride, plus another half hour on a train.

In other words, when I have exhausted the Internet and computer games bore me, I can be stuck with literally nothing to do unless I’m willing to spend at least an hour on my bicycle. Worse, businesses around here tend to close around 2200. If I want to find some entertainment after work (I usually get out of work sometime around 2100), there is almost nothing I can do without going all the way to Tokyo. This just isn’t worth it, mainly because the trains stop running around midnight.

The time will come in a month or two that I have to decide whether or not to renew my contract and teach here for another year. There is definitely a temptation to do just that, and essentially coast. I recently received my first performance feedback (after only 7 months!); the comments from the parents’ day some months ago. Somewhat to my surprise, it was almost universally positive. On the other hand, teaching is not my chosen career; it is something I am doing because of extraneous benefits. More to the point, I am somewhat dubious already about the value of my degree as a job enabler in a field in which every “entry-level” job listing seems to want 3-5 years of development experience; with each passing month not gaining experience, my ability to find jobs in the field diminishes further.

My options, then, seem to be as follows:

  1. Just renew the contract and worry about the future later. The pro is that there is essentially no effort involved. I even get a raise that, over the course of the year, will add up to an additional two weeks’ salary. On the down side, I have to live here for another year.
  2. Not renew the contract here, but transfer within the company instead. The benefits are that I get to keep the raise, and I get to live somewhere else. On the other hand, I’m fairly certain that I lucked into quite literally the best job this company has to offer; if I went anywhere else within the company, at best, I’d have to work a lot more. Furthermore, with only a few exceptions, I kind of like the students that I have; in particular, the adult students comprise just about my only social contacts, and I am deeply grateful for their friendliness. I would feel bad leaving them to go teach another group who will likely be less fun.
  3. There exist IT jobs for people with minimal Japanese who happen to be living in Japan; what immediately caught my attention was the fact that out of four such jobs that I found in half an hours’ browsing, the minimum salary offered was 2.3 times my current, and the average was 3.5. I understand that the cost of living in Tokyo will offset those gains, but I do want to live in a big city at some point, and Tokyo is about as big as they get. The main trouble is that I’m worried about actually procuring such a job. When I was looking for this job, I examined a few hundred job listings and sent applications to about 40 before this one accepted me. The number of IT jobs around here for which I am qualified are dramatically fewer, and I don’t want to be stuck jobless in Japan if I do turn down the contract.
  4. I could end the Japan thing and look for programming jobs in the US; I have no doubt that I could turn up something. On the other hand, it feels too soon; I have a few ideas about when it would be right to leave Japan (my student loans are fully paid off, or I become fluent in Japanese, for example) and none of them seem likely to happen before this contract expires.
  5. I could try for grad school. I’d be limited there to English-speaking countries (my Japanese just isn’t up to par for actually learning things), but that’s not actually a huge limiting factor. It’s more appealing than leaving Japan and heading directly into another job, but less so than just staying in Japan.

Of these options, I like #3 the best. In the end, I’m sure I will have to decide for myself, and if I can bully myself into being the person I want to be, I will go for the third option. However, these decisions are not made in a vacuum; I’ve laid out my options because I want to hear what you people think about my options, and whatever recommendations you have.

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