In the spirit of accepting quite a few 2018 Global English Camp interns this past month, I wrote a blog post about some of the things I wish I knew before I was an English Camp intern. Accepted interns will receive a Welcome Package that lists a ton of helpful information before arriving to Japan, but below are some topics that aren’t specifically mentioned in the Welcome Package and are based off my personal experiences. Keep in mind my experiences in Japan may not be anything like yours.
Things I Wish I Knew Before I was an English Camp Intern
This program is intensive. You are in class from 9:30AM-5PM, Monday through Friday. Depending on the type of experience you want, you might be going out with other interns every night, too. I take the last train most nights, and some nights I miss the last train and take the first one in the morning. Rarely do I ever take a train straight home after class. I think this proves how fun this program can be, but that being said, it is okay to take a day off. You won't miss out too much if you stay home today because there will be a tomorrow. I know our program is the best, and I know you want to be awake for all of it, but don’t please puke in the classroom bathroom from exhaustion.
Make friends during Orientation and Training week.
Orientation Week: 2018
Orientation and training week sounds boring, but it’s actually my favorite week. You arrive at the main Tokyo Shinjuku venue, talk to other cool interns all day, and learn more about the textbook and Japan. This is when you have the chance to learn more about your fellow interns, too. Some of them will be your best friends for life. You might travel to Okinawa with a few of them during 4th week, or you might miss the last train with one of them one night and be stranded together in the middle of Tokyo. You never know.
Have a blast during the weekend retreat.
Hakone Retreat 2018
Okay, scrap the Orientation and Training week rant. I think the weekend retreat is where true friendships also begin. I guess what I’m trying to say is: always try to make friends with others!
Clothes - pack light.
Don’t pack a coat. Not even a raincoat. No sweatshirts, either. Stop it. Take those skinny jeans out of your bag right now.
Seriously, pack light.
I don't think you heard me the first time. PACK LIGHT. Some train stations don't have elevators or escalators which means you have to lug your luggage up three flights of stairs. (Wow, lug, luggage? Is it called luggage because you lug luggage?)
Here's a horror story for you: I did not pack light the first time I traveled to Japan. No, I disregarded the Welcome Package packing warning and packed average, thinking this would be okay. I could roll my luggage. Why would I need to be able to carry it in my arms? Well, I had a 1.5 hour commute from the first weekend retreat to my share house. And I was all alone. And I had three train transfers. And I had to repeatedly carry my luggage up flights and flights of stairs. There was a point where I actually had to ask a security guard to carry the luggage up the stairs for me. So embarrassing. But good Japanese language practice. At another point, a couple walking up the stairs behind me (and my huge luggage) couldn't get past. So I spun around, red and flustered and tired, bowed deeply, and practically shouted, "I'M SO SORRY!" at them in Japanese. They both cracked up, and the man proceeded to grab my luggage and carried it the rest of the way. I apologized and thanked them as the woman sang, "Please be careful from now on!" to me. So embarrassing: Part Two. Then they walked away, and I was alone again with another 30 minutes of traveling ahead of me.
Q: What was the moral of the story?
A: S E R I O U S L Y, P A C K L I G H T.
Download Line PRIOR to coming to Japan.
LINE is the messaging app that nearly everyone in Japan uses. That’s right, no iMessage or WhatsApp. If you want to text people after you meet them in Japan, they’ll probably ask for your LINE instead of your phone number. Good news: LINE is free. Bad news: If you’re in Japan and download LINE without any cell service, the app probably won’t download properly. LINE will ask you to verify your account with a 4-pin verification code sent to you via text message - not wifi.
Remove 4-pin verification code security from your apps and tech.
On a similar note, if you don't have cell service (this is different from wifi!) in Japan, 4-pin verification codes WILL NOT WORK. This messed up my iMessage and email accounts while I was in Japan last year. Apple saw that my accounts were being used in a different country and locked my account, claiming that I needed to verify my identify with a 4-pin code sent to my phone. But I don’t have text messaging in Japan, Apple! After hours of customer service calls and venturing to the Omotesando Apple store in person, no one could really help me. I had to wait to use my iMessage and email until I returned to America. So don’t be like me. Be smart and remove 4-pin code identification off your technology products and apps.
Keep a phone charger in your belongings.
It's 2AM. You're walking home. You're using Google Maps. Everything is great. Then your phone dies on 35%. "What? Why?!" you scream in the middle of the sidewalk. Probably because you dropped it in the street yesterday, and now your battery is screwed up. People are staring at you. You're embarrassed. You're tired. What do you do now?
If you get into a dead phone bind like this, you can find phone charging areas in most convenient stores, over by the bland white seating section. If you forgot your charger that day, you can buy one at the convenient store too. Note that chargers are usually more than 2000 yen.
SIM Card, Pocket Wifi, and International Data Plans, Oh My.
You’ve been searching the web for a week and desperately shaking your fists in the air: Which is the cheapest way to get data in Japan?! This information is somewhat covered in the Welcome Package, but we list multiple options. Here are my opinions:
Don’t go through your phone carrier. Most cell provider prices are overpriced and don’t give you much data. Some people have mentioned that TMobile has a great overseas rate. That’s true, but you only receive 2G. It can take three minutes to load one Google Maps search. If you can easily remember landmarks and surroundings and train names, unlike me, this option may work for you.
Our program does offer SIM cards, but interns who used data a lot have stated they ran out quickly. Since my phone isn’t paid off, I can’t unlock my iPhone and use a SIM card. If you’re expecting to purchase a SIM card from us while in Japan, I highly recommend researching the requirements your phone must possess in order to use a SIM card. You’d be surprised how much you need to do to your phone before arriving to Japan. Though I have heard rumors that Android users have no problems. What’s up with that? Not sure about Google Pixels though. If you’re not a heavy internet user, then the SIM card route is probably right for you.
What’s a Pocket Wifi?
It’s my #1 recommendation and is exactly how it sounds—a little black device in your pocket that connects your phone to the sky.
Global Advanced Communications is my recommended cheapest pocket wifi provider. Last year my rental period lasted 52 days (I arrived one week early to Japan), and it cost 19,050Y, or $190. I chose Regular Pocket Wifi with 75BPS and had unlimited data during my time in Japan. I traveled as local as Tokyo but also went up all the way to Asahikawa, Hokkaido, and down to Matsuyama, Ehime, and I always had reliable internet.
That being said, you don’t really need data on this program. Okay, hear me out: All convenient stores have wifi, which are on every street corner. Seriously. One time I saw two 7 Eleven’s next to each other. Also, you can download specific map locations to your phone in Google Maps so that you can navigate without having wifi, but I’m not sure if this works with routing trains; just walking. The only downside to not having internet literally in your pocket is that most classroom venues do not have wifi, which you shouldn’t need anyway. Close Insta and get back to teaching your kids!
Even though I know I "don't need wifi", I’ll still probably get a pocket wifi this upcoming summer. I’m a nervous traveler; especially when I’m alone and navigating train routes and what not (which rarely happened to me on this internship, but still). Keep in mind that most housing accommodations have wifi, but this isn’t a guarantee. If you want to play it safe, I encourage you to think about getting the pocket wifi.
Don’t fear the returning interns.
When I started doing this program in 2016, we didn’t have returning interns. We were on our own. Now we have interns who return to the program every year and serve as our Unofficial Happiness Chairs. When I was a returning intern in 2017, some new interns told me that they were scared of us and thought we were unapproachable. NO! That’s the opposite of how the returning interns should be seen. Returning interns are literally there to be your friend and take you on unofficial cool trips after school hours and have fun with you.