The Power of Influence

February 21, 2011

I get a lot of emails from random people across the world. Some just want to connect, probably as a means of living vicariously through me. But the overwhelming majority have read my expose on AEON, one of the major private English-teaching companies in Japan. I was a little surprised at the way some of them interpreted my writing:

I’m grateful that I stumbled on your blog, I always felt that even the negative comments are worth listening to.

I’ve read a couple of your recent posts which had me wondering if I’m going to regret my decision to choose a life of travel and adventure over love, family and friends.

Hi there! I have been reading your blog, especially the scary AEON parts.

Now, I should point out something: it wasn’t my intent to put information out there that would potentially stop people from choosing to travel to Asia or teach English in Japan. In fact, I’d regret if even one person was negatively influenced by my blog entries; I just wanted to get my experiences down.

However, that’s no excuse. Despite every assertion I can make about not being an expert on Japan by any means, nor someone with years upon years of TEFL experience, people see what they want to see. I’m just a guy recording his thoughts for posterity and perhaps to help others go through the same, not turn them off ideas of travel and teaching abroad. After all, I would never have reached these revelations had I not gone to Japan in the first place.

If you think you’re a celebrity in Asia for having white skin and blonde hair, you’re right. But I seldom see expats discussing the influence their blogs have on the populace. More people pay attention to a blog on teaching English in South Korea than one on teaching in Topeka, Kansas; you’re standing out just as much as a 外国人 in small-town Japan, but this time, your words are understood are soaked up as doctrine.

That is not the way I want it to be. By all means, continue emailing me your questions and concerns; I’ll help as best I can. But don’t form opinions on Japan based on blog entries, even if you have seen similar stories across the Internet. Doing so will only create all those pre-conceived notions as to what your experience will be abroad, as opposed to what it can be if you come in with a clean slate. In some cases this is helpful:

– By knowing many hagwons in Korea are unreliable, you make more of an effort in your screening and interviews.

– Realizing AEON is more corporate and sales focused, you don’t have to go through months of confusion wondering why they don’t seem to put students first.

But there are some personal experiences YOU NEED TO JUDGE FOR YOURSELF:

– Yes, I am tired of being the foreigner in Asia. It doesn’t mean my tiredness or building resentment should affect you going in for the first time.

– Just because something happened to me, doesn’t mean it will happen to you.

A personal blog, even those set up properly with lots of traffic, is still a sketchy source of information. I personally blog most during moments of Zen, and moments of bitterness; writing is just a good outlet for frustration, and to organize thoughts. However, I can tell you for every “negative” story here, there are probably five positive ones that I write in my journal. Why don’t I write them here? Sometimes I do allude to them, but the events are so small I find it’s better to focus on something in which I can give details, and perhaps even a moral. Happy endings don’t come with morals.

I am not Tom Cruise telling you to forego psychiatric drugs; I am not President Obama saying Americans shouldn’t visit Las Vegas; I am a boy in Korea with a computer telling you what I think at my best and my worst. Sometimes there’s very little thought as to the consequences of my writing… is it naïve to think readers will take everything with a grain of salt and wait until they’ve experienced something on their own?

Just thought you’d like to know.

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