1 August 2016

Faye Angeli Vitan - Expat in Hamamatsu, Japan

Faye Angeli Vitan - Expat in Hamamatsu, Japan

Faye Angeli Vitan is a 28-year-old ALT English teacher who lives in Hamamatsu City, which is located in the Shizuoka prefecture, Japan. Born and raised in the Philippines, Miss Vitan relocated out of her home country as it was always her dream to live and work in different countries overseas. “I finally decided to pursue it after I turned 25. I realized half of my 20's are gone and I felt like I don't have much time to do all the things I want to do. I thought that "If I don't go abroad now, I might not do it ever." So I quit my job and came to Japan,” she said, adding that she was part of the first batch of teachers from the Philippines who was hired to be an English teacher in Japan. Presently, Miss Vitan has been living in Japan for 2 years and 6 months.

Miss Vitan’s most difficult experience as an expat living in Japan had to do with adjusting to Japan’s school system. She noted that her job as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) varies, and it can feel like a vague job in a way. “I don't know what's expected of me and I don't know if what I'm doing then was okay or not. The Japanese are not expressive and direct so I was left to guess whether I'm doing things the right way. Almost 3 years in the job and I'm still constantly guessing,” she said. Miss Vitan also noted that obtaining a working visa was difficult, as the Japanese government asked for a lot of documents and she needed to prove her ability to speak and teach in English. “It took me a year before being granted a working visa,” she recalled.  

Many expatriates new to a country’s culture may undergo some difficulty in altering their lifestyles to match their new living conditions. One way for expats to settle themselves in the local culture is by joining clubs and associations, which can provide an avenue for them to meet locals and other expats in their host country. Additionally, expats who are struggling with a difficult bureaucracy can look at professional immigration services which can provide them with expert assistance with their visa applications and other policies handled by immigration officers.

Find out more about Faye Angeli Vitan’s experiences in Japan in her full interview below.

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: I'm originally from the Philippines.

Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: It's always been my dream to live and work in different countries and see the world. I finally decided to pursue it after I turned 25. I realized half of my 20's are gone and I felt like I don't have much time to do all the things I want to do. I thought that "If I don't go abroad now, I might not do it ever." So I quit my job and came to Japan.

Q: Where are you living now?

A: I'm now living in Japan.

Q: How long have you been living in Japan?

A: I've been in Japan for 2 years and 6 months.

Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I believe that me being here is a divine plan. Before I quit my job, I've already set my sights on teaching in China. China's not very strict with nationalities when it comes to hiring English teachers. Then, Japan surprisingly opened its doors to Filipino English teachers the same time I decided to go abroad. I was one of the first batch of teachers from the Philippines who were hired to be an English teacher in Japan. Between China and Japan, I'd really rather be in Japan so here I am now!

Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in your host country?

A: More than the problems associated with language barrier, the most difficult experience for me was adjusting to the school system. My job as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) is not well-defined. I'm used to having my job descriptions clarified to me. The tasks of an ALT vary so it's a vague job in a way. I don't know what's expected of me and I don't know if what I'm doing then was okay or not. The Japanese are not expressive and direct so I was left to guess whether I'm doing things the right way. Almost 3 years in the job and I'm still constantly guessing.

Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in Japan? What was your experience with these?

A: The hardest part of coming to Japan was getting a working visa. The Japanese government asked a lot of documents. It was harder for me because I'm a Filipino and I have to prove that I can speak and teach in English. It took me a year before being granted a working visa. I think even Native English speakers also took a year before they were able to come to Japan. As for health insurance, it's mandatory to apply in Japan's health insurance system so an international one is unnecessary.

Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I'm living on my own and I'm enjoying it!

Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Japan? How did you manage to find a social circle in Japan?

A: Meeting people and making friends were quite easy. In part, I have to be thankful to my company's 1 week training. Most of my friends are expats I met through the company. Then I also met people through the church and international centers. My Japanese skill is very basic and that hinders me from making Japanese friends. I have a few Japanese friends and they speak English well.

Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: I live in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka-ken. For a small city, it's surprisingly international so there are a lot of cultural festivals. It's bordered by mountains in the north and the Pacific in the south. The best time to visit is on the first week of May during the Hamamatsu Festival. The city's just wild with festivities and you'll see a very Japanese event. People can also visit the various parks- Flower Park, Fruit Park, Bird Park. They can see museums- Science Museum and Museum of Musical Instruments. Going to the hotspring is also popular. In Lake Hamana, some people windsurf, jetski or fish.

Q: How does the cost of living in Japan compared to your home?

A: The cost of living in Japan is higher than in the Philippines. You can get a cup of coffee for under a dollar in the Philippines while the average cost of coffee in Japan is about 3 dollars. Starbucks seems cheaper here compared to local cafes. When eating out in the Philippines, you can have a meal for just a dollar. Mc Donalds cost about 1-2 dollars. In Japan, you have to allot 3-4 dollars to eat a cheap meal at Mc Donalds or at local places. I don't have an idea with wines and cigarettes.

Q: How do you find the local culture and people in your host country?

A: Japanese culture in general is conservative and traditional. The Japanese love their own customs and traditions and it's hard for them to accept new ideas. However, they're very tolerant of foreign culture. The people are quiet and polite and they're hard to read.

Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Japan? 

A: There are three things I enjoy about Japan- the safety, the seasons and the chance to meet foreigners. I can go home late at night and feel safe unlike in the Philippines. I don't have to constantly look out for my back. The changing seasons is also something I enjoy. In Japan, the lifestyle is heavily based on the seasons which I actually find exciting. We only have a tropical climate in the Philippines all year round. Lastly, I'm grateful for the chance to meet people from other parts of the world. It makes my perspective of the world broader.

Three things I don't like about Japan- the winter season, the indirectness of people and the inconvenience of going to the doctor. I love the seasons but I hate the winter in Hamamatsu. The coldness is bearable but the wind is deathly chilling. (Hamamatsu is the windiest city in the world.) I also find the indirectness of people frustrating. I have to always read the atmosphere or mood when I'm around the Japanese. I'm not quite sure when I'm saying or doing the right or wrong thing. I've never met an English-speaking doctor yet and I hate that fact. I always have to ask for assistance of a translator when I have to go to the doctor. (For some reason, I've gone to the doctor in Japan more than I did back home.)

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Of course, I miss home and family.

Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I engage into a lot of things so I don't feel homesick. When homesickness is unavoidable, I just cry. Crying sounds quite childish but it really helps. I feel better afterwards. I also pray a lot. I've prayed more in Japan than I ever did back home.

Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: I hope to work in another country. However, I'm still summoning the courage to step out of my comfort zone again.

Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: The hardest aspect of expat life for me is not knowing where my heart exactly belongs. I love living in Japan but I also miss life in the Philippines. When I'm in the Philippines, I also can't wait to be back in Japan. It's like having two homes and it's hard to choose. That's the hardest, I think.

Q: What tips can you give other expats living in Japan?

A: Japan's a safe and modern country so it's easy to live here. If there's BIG TIP I'll give, it is to BE UNDERSTANDING of their culture. The Japanese are traditional and conservative compared to other countries, I think. They have their own way of doing things which can be frustrating sometimes. Just keep an open mind and you'll get past the frustrations.

Q: Do you have favorite websites or blogs about your host country?

A: I often check Japan Guide when I want to travel around Japan. I also like Tofugu for their in-depth cultural analysis of Japan. Gaijin Pot is a helpful website when you want to find jobs. Surviving in Japan is a blog that has useful information for daily living in Japan. Hyperdia is a great website for the train system in Japan. Japanese Rule of 7 is one of the personal blogs I follow because the writer's style is really amusing.