A ‘jump’ to Japan by leaving the comfort zone

Danial Norjidi

Working as a teacher is a challenging profession. And it gets tough when you have to teach students abroad. But that did not dampen Muhammad Naif bin Dato Yusoff’s spirits. Working at Shizuoka Seiko Gakuin, a private boys’ school in the Shizuoka prefecture in Japan since April 2019, he teaches English Conversation to middle school students from Year 7-9.

“I had lived in Japan before landing my current job. It was my friend who suggested that I apply to be a teacher when I visited him in Shizuoka.” Muhammad Naif, 31, had a Degree in Asian Studies at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Japan.

He went on to attain a Master’s Degree in International Affairs in Washington DC and subsequently joined the i-Ready programme and worked at the Centre for Islamic Banking, Finance and Management (CIBFM) in Brunei Darussalam.

As Muhammad Naif was coming to the end of the i-Ready programme, his friend suggested Muhammad Naif as a potential candidate to replace him as a teacher at the school.

“I got married and then a few weeks later I went to Japan.

Muhammad Naif bin Dato Yusoff teaches students at the Shizuoka Seiko Gakuin. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD NAIF BIN DATO YUSOFF

“The decision was out of my comfort zone but it did not stop me from pursuing it. I went to the school, talked to the principal and went through the process. For the first few months I was trained by my predecessor.”

On the subject he teaches, Muhammad Naif said, “There are two English classes in Japan – English 1 and English 2.”

English 1 focusses on grammar, while English 2, which he teaches, focusses on conversing in English. “I and two other English teachers make activities, games and conversation role-plays to teach the students about speaking, conversation and communication.

“Working in Japan has been quite an experience,” he said.

“Shizuoka is a quiet town. My wife and I enjoy living here. As I am living in Japan, I am accustomed to some of the nuances of Japanese culture. However, I still need to learn about the work culture. I am fortunate to have a workplace that was willing to help me during my transition.”

While he managed to adjust in his student years, coming back to work in the country has brought about other new factors to adapt to. “Since I am a working resident, I had to make adjustments such as tax, immigration and insurance.”

Asked what it has been like living abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic, Muhammad Naif said, “Luckily Shizuoka was not badly affected by the pandemic. While there was a lockdown, Shizuoka got back to its feet quickly. The school has taken the pandemic seriously and implemented social distancing measures as well as automated temperature checks upon entering the building. The school has also utilised its ICT technology for easy online teaching. Now, the school is running normally with strict safety measures in place.”

On his plans for the future, Naif said, “Next year I am hoping to plan an excursion to Brunei with the school. We hope to have a cultural exchange with Bruneian schools. We are currently working with Nisai Group and Nisai Brunei in online ‘A’ Level courses. Since Japan does not offer ‘A’ Levels at senior high school, we wanted to be the first to offer it online to students who want to attend university abroad. We are still laying the groundwork for this project and hope it will be ready by next year.”

On whether he plans to stay in Shizuoka, he said, “If they want to employ me for the foreseeable future, then yes I would, and I would also like to get a teacher-related training, perhaps a Master’s as well.”

Muhammad Naif’s advice for Bruneians who aspire to work overseas is to be persistent, work outside their comfort zone, and make connections.

“When you see an opening or when you have the ‘should I jump?’ idea in your mind, you have to take the jump. In my case I was lucky that the jump worked out, but I would never have known that if I didn’t jump,” he added.