Alumni Spotlight: Christine Bagarino


Christine (from California, USA) is a graduate of CSU Long Beach and taught English in Japan from 2012 – 2013. She loves cooking, eating and taking pictures of delicious food, traveling where the locals go, and making children smile. Her hobbies also include playing the guitar and Japanese yosakoi dance.

Why did you decide to teach abroad with Gaba in Japan?

When I was a university student, I studied abroad in Japan for a year and just really loved it. I knew that I wanted to go back to Japan again, though I wasn’t sure at the time if for work, grad school, or just vacation. After graduation, I tried working in the US for about a year before I decided to look into English teaching programs. I’d worked as an English tutor for ESL students at my university, so I knew that helping people improve their English is something that I really enjoy.

Gaba appealed to me for several reasons. Because I already had experience studying abroad in Japan, I had a good idea of where I wanted to live, and Gaba did a great job placing me in an awesome school (we call them Learning Studios) pretty much exactly in the area I wanted to be. I liked the independence that Gaba offered, unlike other Eikaiwa (English conversation) schools, they didn’t tell me what flight to take or what house I was supposed to live in. So, I had a lot of freedom. I was able to plan my own schedule, as well, which afforded me time to travel, meet up with friends, and pursue my own hobbies and interests.

What made this teach abroad experience unique and special?

The thing that made my teaching abroad experience unique and special for me were definitely the students. One thing I especially like about Gaba is the one-to-one lesson style. In a classroom environment, as a teacher, your attention is split between several (or many) students, but in a one-to-one environment you can give personalized attention to every student. It gave me the opportunity to have some really excellent conversations with individuals from all different walks of life—from a Formula Three racecar driver to a TV drama director to company CEOs and directors. The students ranged in age from elementary school kids to retirees. So I could start out my day chatting with a fun retiree, teach the most brilliant and adorable children in the afternoon, and then talk Japanese economic policy in the evening when all the businesspeople came in for lessons. Every day was stimulating and meaningful, and I felt like I was learning as many new things about the world as my students were learning about English.

How has this experience impacted your future? (Personally, professionally, academically, etc.)

I feel that my experience teaching English in Japan really put me on the path toward my future career goals. I love global, international environments and living overseas has given me the opportunity to meet other like-minded people, as well as individuals from all over the world. One thing I really like about Gaba as a company is that they promote from within based on merit (rather than length of time working for the company), so there’s a lot of opportunity to expand and grow professionally if that’s what you’re interested in. In my case, I’ve always had a strong passion for reading and writing, so after about a year of teaching I joined the writing staff in the head office as a writer/editor of the Gaba learning materials. I’m gaining a lot of professional experience while still doing something I love: helping people improve their English.

What is one piece of advice you would offer something considering teaching abroad in Japan?

One piece of advice I’d like to offer to those considering teaching abroad in Japan is this: be flexible! Life in Japan will be so different from everything you knew back home, but don’t be afraid to try new things. Say yes, and eat something you never would’ve eaten in the past. Say yes, and go to an onsen (hot springs) even though the thought of getting naked in front of others makes you uncomfortable. Be open to new experiences, and you’ll learn a lot about the outside world and about yourself. Like, who knew fried octopus balls could be so delicious?

On the flip side of being flexible is the fact that sometimes you won’t always agree with how things are done. A lot of it has to do with cultural differences. Try your best to keep an open mind and see things from a different perspective. Rather than rail against the system, try to listen and understand why people do things differently than you may be used to in your own country. As they say, when in Rome…