Seeking college advice
December 2, 2008 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Looking for some college advice !


I have a simple dilemma that I can't seem to solve. First, a little about myself: I just recently turned 23, and I'm currently working as a pharmacy technician and honestly love my career. I'm a simple person, in the financial aspect. I don't plan to have any children, I use mass transit instead of owning my own vehicle, and I'm not really into luxury items besides keeping my Mac up to date :D

Now, to my dilemma! I'm considering going to a college or university for the first time.. and I'd like to study Japanese. I'm not really sure if this is a wise choice, because my main reason for wanting to study Japanese is to simply have fun learning a new language and speaking to new people in that language.

I've slightly considered going to Japan in the future and teaching English, but I'm pretty sure they would prefer me to be an English major?

I just simply don't know what to do. Financially this isn't a good choice, because I'll be in debt with tuition :(

Any advice will be greatly appreciated!
posted by sanrio to Education (17 answers total)
So don't go full-time. Sign up for a class or two as a non-degree-seeking student, see how you like it, and go from there. Keep the job you love and explore this as a hobby. A hobby that might turn into a passion, and a new career, but also might turn out to be the neat thing you do on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
posted by amelioration at 3:19 PM on December 2, 2008

If all you want to do is learn Japanese, I don't think you need to enroll full-time at a college or university. If you live in a city of any size and have a high school diploma or GED, you can enroll at a community college or take Adult Education courses for a very low price. You shouldn't have to go into too much debt - in my home town it only cost about $30 per course per year.

If you attend a traditional liberal arts college, you'll have to take and pay for a lot of classes that won't directly help you in studying Japanese. It's part of the "liberal arts education" and yes, it can be very expensive.
posted by muddgirl at 3:20 PM on December 2, 2008

Points to consider:

1) don't go to college merely to study Japanese. I'm not sure it's the most efficient way to learn the language, and it's a big expense and commitment -- unless you have other reasons to go (and you may very well -- your needs are simple at 23 but they won't be in 5 or 10 years, and you may want to switch professions).

2) important question: what EVIDENCE do you have that convinces you that you want to study Japanese. I ask because if you truly wanted to study Japanese, you'd be doing so NOW, on your own, before you considered committing to college for that purpose. I'm not saying you don't want to study Japanese, perhaps you consume Japanese magazines, trying to make sense of the strange symbols; perhaps you listen to Japanese music every day. Many people, by way of analogy, say that they want to become write novels, and whenever I ask (I'm an author) how much they've written, the ususal reply is little if anything. So you have to wonder how strong their desire to become authors is if they aren't doing something NOW. It's good that Japanese delights you, but learning a language is not easy, especially if you aren't hearing the language spoken every day around you for reinforcement. There are easier starter languages to learn: Spanish, for example, which you can reinforce daily in the US in countless ways. Or learn portugese and meet fun Brazilians. Much easier than Japanese, which is a new language and a new alphabet without any roots you're used to (which would be the case in any Romance language.

3) on the web there are countless learn-a-language sites for free. Start there.

4) To get a better handle on what you want to do and why, read Barbara Sher's Wishcraft, chapter 4 in particular.

Good luck.
posted by adamrobinson at 3:25 PM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

From what I understand being an English major is not a requirement for most of those programs, here's one that a friend of mine went to a few years ago. It was two years long and she had a great time, the only requirement they have is that you hold a bachelors degree (any major).
posted by BrnP84 at 3:28 PM on December 2, 2008

Furthering your education is always the right decision. And being a little unfocused is only normal at your age, it shows you are ambitious and imaginative. That said, I agree with the advice that you should try a class or two and see what happens before you take any drastic and life-changing steps. Take introductory Japanese and something completely different.

Good luck!
posted by LarryC at 3:30 PM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have been taking private Japanese classes for the past year and I also considered teaching in Japan (and did a lot of research and talked to people that have done it).

Those schools prefer you be a native English speaker. Your major doesn't really matter. They do prefer that you are a college graduate. That's not to say that you are completely ruled out but I was under the impression that a lot of people around the world apply for these jobs so the companies have the freedom to choose.

How serious are you about teaching in Japan? Is it a career change into teaching? Or you just want to have an experience in a foreign country? If you are looking to learn a language for fun, I would steer away from college and go with a language school. If you really want/need a degree and you really want to learn Japanese, then I would explore college.
posted by spec80 at 3:40 PM on December 2, 2008

Sorry, I mean to say the schools require you to be a native English speaker.
posted by spec80 at 3:41 PM on December 2, 2008

You don't need to be an English major to teach English in Japan. I've had friends do it who found it a bit soul destroying, it's not really like regular teaching.

You would need a TEFOL certificate, however. JET is one of the main programs.

Why not take a holiday in Japan with a few Japanese lessons, and see what you think?
posted by wingless_angel at 3:47 PM on December 2, 2008

and I'd like to study Japanese. I'm not really sure if this is a wise choice, because my main reason for wanting to study Japanese is to simply have fun learning a new language and speaking to new people in that language.

That's a great reason to learn Japanese, but probably not a fantastic reason to go back to college. If you want a degree, you'll probably have to fulfill other general requirements that would be wasted time, probably, for your goals.

Enrolling in a course - at University or elsewhere - would be a better choice.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:47 PM on December 2, 2008

The phrasing sticks out: Now, to my dilemma! I'm considering going to a college or university for the first time.. and I'd like to study Japanese

There are two ways to parse this statement.
1. I want to sudy Japanese, so I think I should go to college for it .
2. I want to go to college, and I think Japanese would be a good major.

If you meant #1, see all the good advice in this thread already. If you meant #2, then presumably you have some other reasons for wanting to go to college besides simply learning Japanese, in which case maybe it's not such a bad idea. Why do you want to go to college?
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:55 PM on December 2, 2008

I take Japanese at a Liberal Arts college - I'd advise the same, just enrolling in a course somewhere, but I'll also offer the hopefully comforting opinion that Japanese is easier than Spanish (which I've taken my whole life). There are far fewer conjugations and tenses, and because students get overwhelmed by the new alphabet, the classes go very slowly. Plus, it is so so so SO awesome to look at these totally strange characters and be able to understand them. It's an amazing feeling. I will say that you should only take it if you're going to study a lot... I'm seriously behind because I am not crazy about breaking open my book every night, which is definitely necessary with any new language.
posted by SputnikSweetheart at 4:00 PM on December 2, 2008

(1) I'd say collage in the U.S. is an inefficient way to learn any language. You might look into the types of jobs available in Japan for people with some ESL teaching certificate.

(2) Collage degree are basically stratified in terms of difficulty and motivation, certainly these traits influence selection, but I think there is also a feedback effect from your classmates. So you should always major in the hardest major that you have some aptitude for and find interesting. On average, Foreign language majors earn about 5% more than English majors right out of school, suggesting that foreign language department may have better students, etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:05 PM on December 2, 2008

question: where are you located?
posted by knockoutking at 5:27 PM on December 2, 2008

If you really want to get a bachelor's degree (a worthy goal), there are ways to do it more inexpensively than just going to a private university. For example, many colleges/universities, especially public ones, allow you to transfer up to two years of credit from a two-year community college. So, with a little planning, you could complete your liberal arts "core" coursework close to home, working around your job, for a couple hundred dollars a semester, then transfer to a larger university (perhaps a state school) for the last couple years to take the major courses.
posted by muddgirl at 5:32 PM on December 2, 2008

I teach at a University and at a Community College.

Please give it some serious thought and determine how serious you are about an education.
It's a long haul that requires commitment. That doesn't mean that you can't work or can't have a life, but if school isn't a priority, you won't complete your degree. It's that simple. It means sacrificing other elements of your life in order to succeed.

If you cannot make school a priority, then I encourage you to take a few classes and not commit your financial resources until you are sure you can commit.

And I'd recommend the Community College route for your initial degree; it allows you to complete your general studies at a fraction of the cost of major universities and will allow you to concentrate on your major (you've chosen a difficult one) when you enter university.
posted by answergrape at 5:44 PM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a college prof, I don't have an answer, but rather, more questions (how typical!) that might help you clarify your goals. You say that your main reason for wanting to learn Japanese is to converse with others in the language, and to possibly teach English in Japan. Given those goals, why would you want to take additional college courses, some indirectly related to your goals and some not at all? Most (though not all) four-year colleges require some general education courses, and even those that don't will require that a Japanese major take courses on Japanese culture and literature in addition to language courses--possibly even courses in other East Asian languages or cultures, if the degree is in East Asian studies, not specifically Japanese.

Personally, I think that learning the language without learning its major literary and cultural references is only going to get you so far, just as someone might learn to speak English but wouldn't grasp Anglophone culture without knowing who Chaucer, Shakespeare, Shelley, Twain, and Faulkner were or what they wrote. But if the academic qualification doesn't matter so much to you, you can take courses in the language and then read its literature on your own.

I also think there are virtues to general education, but you need to weigh them against the costs--not just the cost of tuition but the opportunity cost of your time. If you really enjoy your career, you might start with Teach Yourself Japanese and see what you think when you finish it.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:58 PM on December 2, 2008

English teacher in Korea here,

Most Asian countries want to see a college degree in your hands and a 'native-English-speaker' look. It sounds racist, and it is (I suspect it's just Korea though). I was a Business major with a Music minor in college - just the basic core classes in English and Comp. For the most part, the English you'll be teaching is stuff you learned before even getting to high school. In most cases, helping them get the right tenses and make sentences is the more challenging part. Although it's usually illegal and against your contract, it can be relatively easy to find 'privates' - one-on-one lessons with people outside of your classes.

With that said, I didn't come here to learn Korean - but I've had a wonderful time around Seoul and Korea as a whole. If you decide to teach English, you'll have adequate time to pursue one or two extracurricular things (but not three!). For me it's been writing and traveling; for you it might learning about the culture and the language.

So, your options:
A: Holiday in Japan - making it a point to learn the language
B: Major in the language - if you take the teacher route it'll help a lot more than you realize
C: Learn Japanese from Japanese friends, books, websites, etc. etc. etc.

If you're JUST interested in Japanese, go with C. If you believe the teaching route is in your future, go with B. If you're considering college for other reasons beyond simply learning Japanese, do the college thing - recognizing you're a few years old than your peers and may have more in common with the non-traditional adult students than the 18-year-olds who graduated high school 4 months earlier.

I wish you luck :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 1:30 AM on December 3, 2008

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