Teaching English Abroad in Japan: What Comes After?

Interview with Joshua Jones, entrepreneur and Managing Partner at StrategyWise


Did you ever wonder how business people overcome language barriers when working in other countries? Joshua Jones, entrepreneur and Managing Partner at StrategyWise, spent time working abroad on his own and understood the challenges of learning a new language. As a result, he decided to help other business people improve their English by opening Zoe Café English School in Japan. Jones harnessed his love of teaching, his business experience, and his understanding of international business etiquette to serve students, three multinational corporations, and the Japanese government in the very first year of running Zoe Café English School. He even trained executives in the English customs required for international trade, marketing, and more.

Joshua Jones Graduate of TESOL ESL program

Jones had a lot of preparation for teaching English abroad. He attended the University of Alabama, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management. He then went on to Emory’s Goizueta Business School, where he earned his MBA (Master of Business Management). Besides his formal education, Jones has spent the past 15 years honing his leadership and management skills in 35 countries. His proficiency in four languages, as well as his business background, readied him for the unique experience of teaching English to professionals from all types of industries and from all over the world.

One thing obvious about Jones is his entrepreneurial spirit. In addition to Zoe Café English School, he has launched several businesses and founded two nonprofit organizations. Currently, he leads StrategyWise, a data analytics consulting firm in Birmingham, Alabama. And regardless of what comes next for Jones, his background in language teaching and learning is an asset that he touches upon often in his career.

Enjoy our full interview with Joshua Jones below and find out how his English-teaching journey began and how it shaped him for the future.

GradSchools: Why did you decide to teach abroad?

I love teaching, and the mechanics of English were very interesting to me. Centuries of history have crafted the language into a fascinating melting pot of expressions, idioms, and absurd rules and variations. I was already living overseas and decided to start my own English school. We focused on training corporate executives in international business-focused English. 

GradSchools: What did you have to do to get into your teach abroad program?

Starting an English school was quite an adventure. Renting a facility in Japan was a real challenge, as were securing investors and building a sustainable business. Once we were up and running, however, it was actually fairly straightforward in recruiting new teachers from the US, and sponsoring visas.

GradSchools: What is your favorite memory of your teach abroad experience?

I had spent 10 years working in Latin America, so I was fluent in Spanish at the time. While living in Japan, I discovered there were tens of thousands of Brazilians living and working in my city. I began studying Portuguese and became fluent enough to offer our entire curriculum in Portuguese. The melting pot of American and Brazilian culture in Japan was truly a memorable experience.

GradSchools: What was the greatest challenge of your teach abroad experience?

Signing a deal with Kirin, one of Japan’s largest beer manufacturers was both challenging and a bit intimidating. Once I began teaching classes at their facilities, we settled into a routine that was quite enjoyable.

GradSchools: What advice would you give to someone interested in participating in a teach abroad program?

Teaching beginners and those nearly fluent are two entirely different processes. Try them both and find which one you find easier. Teaching beginners involves a lot of games, mimes, charades, etc. as they build even the most basic vocabulary. Advanced students are easier, as you’re often more focused on conversation, but this creates challenges in creating rewarding lesson plans that will make them feel like they’re learning. It's also a challenge being able to explain concepts like the difference between “concrete” and “cement” or why we “drive" on parkways and “park" on driveways.

Find a good curriculum established by a strong publisher and don’t punish yourself by creating your own lesson plans from scratch. There are hundreds of great curriculums for all types of classes, and not all of them will be right for you. It’s worth the extra money spent on the “add-ons” these courses offer, like DVDs, flash cards, and games. They’ll make your job as a teacher much much easier.

Culture shock is a very real experience. Once you arrive overseas, you’ll go through a “honeymoon” period where everything is new and exciting, but this will change to a “harsh reality” period where you start missing the conveniences of home. There are some great books out there on culture shock - read one or two of them. If you dig in and commit to your mission, you’ll overcome this challenging period as well, and begin to learn to love the differences in your host culture, and find a happy medium between the two. Don’t just “survive” your host country - learn to “thrive”. It won’t be forever, but you’ll always look back on your time overseas with fond memories.

GradSchools: What other stories or details about your teach abroad experience do you think people would be interested in?

I think one of the most useful tools an English teacher can have is the experience of having learned a second language. When I taught English in Japan, I had already learned to speak Spanish, and that experience was immensely helpful in giving me insight into my students’ challenges. It teaches the teacher to be more empathetic, but also provides tips and tricks that can be passed on.

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