Page last updated at 15:16 GMT, Tuesday, 7 July 2009 16:16 UK

Expat e-mail: Japan

Many of the Britons who teach English abroad are immediately identifiable as "foreign" - but not Yvonne Chung, as she tells in our series on expatriate readers of BBC News Online.

I'm in my second year on the JET Programme, a scheme which sends graduates from around the world to work in Japanese schools. I teach English at six junior highs and 14 elementary schools.

As my parents are from Hong Kong, 99% of the people here automatically assume I'm Japanese because of how I look.

One question I always get is "You don't look English, where are you really from?" This shocks and irritates me at times, but Japan is far cry from multicultural countries such as the UK and the US.

Sometimes when I'm with my boyfriend who is English English - a Japanese term, not mine - I get looks from others who seem to think that I'm pretending not to be Japanese. They think I'm rude for not speaking "my own" language to them.

And just last weekend a fellow Brit suggested that I wasn't British. He said he could trace his family hundreds of years back in the UK, and how about me? He then said I didn't even look Chinese but perhaps Filipino or Korean. I guess not all people on this programme are as open-minded as the organisers assume them to be.

There are upsides to blending in. I can slip into an onsen [hot spring] without much hassle but if any of my other JET friends are with me, they always cause a stir. Believe me, a public bath where everyone goes naked is not a place you want to draw attention to yourself.

Mixed feelings

When I first arrived, the teachers were surprised as they'd been expecting a stereotypical AET [assistant English teacher].

Nishio is about 6,000 miles from her home in Binfield, Berkshire
What Yvonne misses most is EastEnders

But as soon as they realised that I didn't understand a word they said, they worked out that I was the new teacher.

The students quickly warmed to me because I didn't look scary or different, but they were also a little disappointed because I didn't look like a "real" foreigner from Europe.

So it's been down to me to educate them about my culture. The British Embassy has been a great help here, sending out information on sports, famous sights and even the racial makeup of the UK.

Before the World Cup, most of my students had no idea where England was, but now when I say where I'm from, they all start chanting "Beckham!" - it's almost as if he's become my best friend.

Cultural exchange

While Japanese students can be notoriously unforthcoming in class, those I bump into at the weekend are happy to chat to me in English.

This might only be "How are you? I'm fine, thank you", as I don't want to panic them. And I'm picking up Americanisms from them, as most textbooks they use are in US English.

Like all AETs, I find that the students warm to me more out of school - I'm no longer their teacher, I'm just a young foreigner they know.

Once when a student came up to me in a supermarket to say hello, I was embarrassed to be seen because I was in the alcohol section - not exactly upholding a sensible and respectable image. She pointed out her mother and she, hands still on trolley, gave me the deepest bow. I was pretty embarrassed about that, too, but teachers are accorded great respect here.

I've got just six months left on the JET programme and the panic of being a 24-year-old gal abroad with still no grown-up job is starting to show.

While this has been a great challenge, I love the life I live here; I do karate with elementary school kids, I go BMX biking on weekends and I've climbed Mt Fuji at night. And having kids scream my name in excitement when they see me in the mall is just a part of the job.

It's great being settled here when I'd once felt that that would be impossible.

Every Tuesday we bring you the story of a Briton who has upped sticks and moved abroad. Do you live far from home? Tell us your experiences, using the form below.

Twenty years ago I lived in Southern Spain for three years. The town we lived in was so non-tourist that we used to get letters just addressed to "Los Ingles, Zabal". We had to learn Spanish or starve, as no-one spoke any English beyond hello & goodbye. My Spanish became quite passable, but the area where we lived has a distinct local accent - a bit like Cornish or Geordie is here - and this led to a back-handed compliment from a barman in Madrid. He showed great surprise when I told him I was English. "You speak good Spanish for an Englishman," he said. I felt pretty chuffed until he added "but you talk like a peasant!"
Steve Beardmore, Tunbridge Wells

I am also a fellow JET in Osaka. One quite new experience for me is the secret nod of the fellow gaijin [non-Japanese]. Previously I've only seen this from the outside when travelling with my black friends, who have known about the "I'm not from round here either" nod for some time. As part of the ever growing foreign community in Japan I have seen the nod pass between all races, maybe a sign that there is still some hope...
Zoe, Osaka, Japan

I am a Japanese married to a Scot. I speak English with no accent, and most people assume I'm British. The same cannot be said for the Japanese; third or fourth generation Korean are still treated as Korean. I also remember a black American friend trying to get a job as a wedding minister in Tokyo. He was rejected for not being white as that was what couples expected in a "foreign" wedding. I hope these things will change.
Ken Hori, Cambridge, UK

I'm a New Zealand Maori. Australians think I'm Chinese. South Americans think I'm rude for not speaking the language, as they think I'm a local. In Italy, a tour guide refused to walk behind me as she thought I was a thief because I looked "Albanian" (ie: no furs or huge high heels). I've written to Lonely Planet to ask for a section on local reaction to "non-white" foreigners to sit alongside the advice to women, gay travellers etc.
Anna Himiona, London (ex-NZ)

I'm a Brit who not only looks Japanese, but also has a fully Japanese name and lineage. I actually got a TEFL qualification and came to Japan 10 years ago to (attempt to) get an English teaching position here. Some of my unqualified white friends got hired by the same schools that a few days previously had turned me down. In retrospect, judging by what others told me about the job, that was no bad thing but it made me feel pretty worthless.
Tadashi, Tokyo

I moved to the US during a nursing shortage, from Doncaster to LA - talk about culture shock. I then spent a year in Louisianna - whilst it's beautiful, moving there from LA was like time travel. After 11 years, I find myself too English to be American, and then when I'm home too American to be English.
Trish Byrne, Palm Bay, Florida

I have the same problems as Yvonne, but here in England. I've been an expat all my life - born in France and lived for five years in Hong Kong, but my parents are British so I have British nationality and no accent. When I came to live here nearly four years ago, everybody looked at me strangely when I didn't know where to buy things like towels and sheets. In France the hypermarkets sell everything like that.
Laura Bennitt, London

I'm American and travel often to the UK on business. I must look more English than the English, because whenever I'm in London people constantly stop me to ask for directions. Foreigners, locals, doesn't matter. Maybe it's because I'm smiling most of the time.
Lee Latham, Houston

UK parents, born in Oxford, moved to Italy at 3 for 15 years and I'm now in Japan. It's amazing how some people change their attitude when they know they're talking to a foreigner. Even though I speak Italian with no accent, as soon as I tell a stranger in Italy that I'm not Italian thay usually say: "Ah, thought so, your eyes/hair/accent are different." Their language then changes significantly, to a more formal tone.
Anonymous, Kyoto

I am a Pom and I never cease to be amazed at the ribbing the English get Down Under. I married an Australian and upped sticks in 2001. Working on a newspaper exposes me to the pride of the sports department who always ask me why the Poms are so bad at cricket. I can only shrug my shoulders and pray England wins something. Anything!
Graham Springett, Canberra

I lived in Tokyo for three years, where I learnt a lot about respect, politeness, teamwork and listening to people. It also showed me that we shouldn't have to accept things like a dismal public transport system when countries like Japan manage a perfect service in spite of earthquakes, typhoons and volcanos. I can understand the racial obstacles Yvonne's encountered. Of course she's living in provincial Japan, and to be honest, I've seen and experienced worse in places like Cornwall.
Mike, London

I've been in Amsterdam for 4 years and love it! I was asked by my English boss one Monday if I wanted to work abroad, I said yes. Tuesday he said how about Amsterdam, course I replied. Wednesday he said you're going tomorrow. We work damn hard which is why so many expats are brought to Holland, we have such a different work ethic. It's meant to be all relaxed and "gezellig" over here.
Mac Wizard, Amsterdam

I moved to Germany from England six months ago. It is a great country, and I feel very much at home here. Unfortunately, I wrongly did not learn German (or any other European language) whilst at school, and some basic activities such as shopping at local supermarkets can be difficult.
Nilesh, Germany

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