This Open Road

A season walking southbound on the Appalachian Trail

Otsuma Women’s University

I’ve just completed one week of teaching at the Sayamadai Campus of Otsuma Women’s University and I’m quite pleased. Hannah and I are the only Westgate teachers on this campus. We occupy two classrooms and a small office in the corner of the second floor of a building that includes the cafeteria on the first floor. It seems a little remote, but we’ve gotten used to it and now it seems like our own little world.

Our office.

I have 43 students (all freshmen) on my roster, but only an average of 30 have attended class so far. I teach seven classes a day, with one or two of these being “English Challenge,” depending on the day. EC is a class for extra practice; we can work on anything the students need help with, play games or have free conversation. It’s a time where students can get more help outside of a regular lesson. Compared to my last term, EC is not very popular with these girls. Perhaps that will change as the term goes on. I also have a lunch period, a regular break and two prep sessions.

Pair work during a lesson.

This is a small campus, with only 850 female students attending. But it actually seems like there are even fewer students than that. It might be because we’re in our classrooms all day and don’t see the majority of the students, but even when we arrive at the university in the morning, there are not many students around.

Our bus that takes students and teachers to and from the train station.

Hannah and I leave our apartments at 7:35 and walk to the train station which takes us just over ten minutes. Our trip from Tokorozawa to Irumashi, is about 15 minutes. We then take a bus to the campus, which takes about 20 minutes. At the end of the day, we get back on the bus to Irumashi at 5:35 and catch a train to Tokorozawa soon after. Unless we do errands or eat out, we’re usually back to our apartments by 6:30. Last term I was never home before 7:45, and sometimes later.

The cafeteria. Our classrooms are on the second floor of this building.

Each day, sample dishes of the day’s lunch choices are displayed. We purchase a ticket from the machine which corresponds to the meal we want. We take the ticket to the lunch counter and the staff gives us our meal. This system is common in many restaurants.

I’m teaching a “Basic” level. As before, my students’ English-speaking abilities range from very low-level to fairly conversant. And as before, these students are kind, polite, funny and shy. I’m struggling to learn their names, which seems to be more of a challenge than last term. I provide name tags that I ask them to use every day. Eventually, I hope I get to the point where I won’t need them. But it’s important that I learn their names, and for me, this is the most effective way.

Classroom and administration building.

Our classrooms are on the second floor of this building. The cafeteria is on the ground floor.

Entrance and exit drive. The bus waits for us at the gate.

Our Program Coordinator escorted us to the school the first day, took us on a tour, introduced us to various university staff members and helped us get oriented. She’ll make periodic visits to the school to make sure everything is going smoothly. Later in the term, she’ll observe one of our classes and evaluate us. She’s very helpful and supportive. All of the Westgate teachers have a “PC” who is their go-to person for the term.

Our schedule if pretty nice too! Due to school events and holidays, we have several weekdays off over the course of the term. This week we’ll only work three days, as there is a school sporting event on Wednesday and Thursday. Then we have the next Monday off. And we’re off Friday of the next week. Then we actually have to work a few full (Monday-Friday) weeks in a row before we get another workday off. This is not the same schedule for all of the Westgate universities, although there are some that have a week off during the term.

The U.S. and England in a Japanese classroom.

Headed home, riding in our special “teacher seats” at the front of the bus.

In just one week, I’ve gotten used to this campus and think I’ll be very content. I know the term will move quickly.

Westgate has recently updated their website; it’s easier to read and locate specific information. As of this post, they’re looking for back-up instructors for the Fall term: Westgate Corporation.

Let me know if you have any questions – I’ll be happy to answer them in the comments section.

Campus Mascot. Or, as I call her, Mangy Campus Cat.


8 responses to “Otsuma Women’s University

  1. David October 9, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Hi Robyn

    I just had a question about the short-term schedule. If you decide you would like to stay teaching at westgate, what happens at the end of the term?. The website says you have to give yp your apt on the last day of the month. Do teachers norammly stay on for more than one term? If so how do they manage during the breaks as far as income and accomodations?

    • Robyn October 9, 2012 at 7:32 pm

      Hi David,
      Even if you sign a contract for another term, teachers still have to move out of their apts on the last day of the current term., assuming you go with the Westgate-sponsored apts. There is the option of finding one’s own housing, which could be less expensive (the rent for our apts is taken out of the monthly salary before teachers receive their pay), but could also be somewhat inconvenient in terms negotiating leases and the related details – I can’t speak to this as I haven’t done it myself.
      Although Westgate discourages it, you can stay up to an additional 30 days and still be reimbursed for your plane ticket via Westgate. Some teachers travel for awhile, go home and then return.
      Yes, a good number of teachers return for multiple terms. There are about seven weeks between the end of the spring and beginning of the fall term, and four months between the fall and the spring. Some teachers return home to live with friends or relatives; others travel if they’ve managed to save enough money. These are awkward gaps in which to find jobs, but perhaps some people can find short-term work to sustain them in between WG terms.

      I hope this helps with your research and decisions!

  2. JB October 3, 2012 at 1:48 am

    Thanks for taking the time to answer all my questions! You’ve been so helpful. Thank you!

  3. Christine Walderhaug October 3, 2012 at 12:54 am

    Japan looks so very clean – except for the mangy campus cat.

  4. JB October 2, 2012 at 5:36 am

    Hello! I am really enjoying hearing about Japan and Westgate. I am planning on applying to Westgate for next Spring. Thanks for offering to answer questions! I’m sure I have a billion questions but I will just ask a few for now :-. 1) Have you ever met anyone who has done the Young Learners program? I have taught adults and children before so don’t really mind, but I can’t find any information on the Young Learners program other than the Westgate site. 2)What was the orientation like? Did you manage to meet a lot of other teachers? I don’t want to be alone :-) 3)Did you get any days off in your Spring contract and was it ok with the weather and having to wear a suit? 4) Do you have internet in you apartment? 5) Do you find it ok getting around without speaking Japanese (Sorry if you do speak Japanese!). I have lived abroad before and always make an effort to learn some local language. But at present I know no Japanese and imagine it is hard to read! Ok, these questions all seem pretty random now! I’m sure I have more important ones but I have forgotten them now! Sorry for being greedy and asking 5 questions! No worries if you don;t reply to all. Thanks and I look forward to reading more about your current position.:-)

    • JB October 2, 2012 at 5:39 am

      PS- one more thing. Sorry! :-) Do you know of any other blogs or sites that have information about working for Westgate (besides your own great blog of course!). I always like to read as much as possible when applying/before going somewhere. Thank you so much.

      • Robyn October 2, 2012 at 9:11 pm

        Yes, I agree – it’s always good to read as much as you can about a situation. Another teacher and friend, Marie, has a blog at She taught in Korea before she came to Japan, thus the name. Read back through her posts for her take on her teaching assignment.
        Thanks again and good luck!

    • Robyn October 2, 2012 at 9:08 pm

      Hello JB – thanks for your questions!
      I’m glad you’re applying to Westgate – I’ve had a very good experience here and feel confident in recommending the program to others. I’ll answer your questions in the order you asked them:
      1) No, I don’t know of anyone who’s done the Young Learners Program, but will def post here again if I do.
      2)The orientation was one full day of lots of good information – not a waste of time at all. We met most of the other staff; had lots of time for small group discussion; we were informed of logistical and administrative info; broke into groups to create and talk about lesson plans; and yes, met lots of other teachers. It’s a great time to chat and make some connections that will carry throughout the term.
      3) We did not get any days off during the week at my university, except at the very end. But some teachers at other schools that were on different schedules did get the occasional day off. It just depends on where you’re assigned. There were some rainy days and it got pretty hot and muggy toward the end of the term, which ended the 3rd week in July. Sometimes it was uncomfortable in a suit, but my school had air conditioning in the rooms so it was fine.
      4) Yes, I had (and currently have) an Internet connection via cable (no wireless).
      5) It’s very doable to get around and enjoy Japan without knowing Japanese. Of course, whatever you do know will only serve you. I learned a few helpful phrases and continue to try to learn. But you can get by without knowing any Japanese. I’ve enjoyed using the Pimsleur Language program.

      I hope this helps!

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