08 March 2023

Starting a career in Japan after BA History

Sine BurridgeSine Burridge left UEA in 2020 with a BA in History. After going on to attain an additional CELTA qualification, Sine joined the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme and is working in a junior high school. Sine talked to us recently and told us about studying at UEA and starting a career in Japan.


If it wasn’t for my degree and in particular the support of my wonderful professor, Dr Sherzod Muminov, I would not be in Japan and I would not have achieved this dream. My degree not only equipped me with technical skills, confidence and a positive attitude, but a love for my subject and a lasting thirst for knowledge.

What have you been up to since you graduated? 

Following my graduation in the infamous year of 2020, I soon enrolled on a CELTA course (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) with the Cambridge Regional College. This was in anticipation of travelling to Japan to become an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher), and I wanted to ensure I was adequately prepared. I thoroughly enjoyed the course, despite being delivered fully online for the first time in its history.

Shortly thereafter I was interviewed and shortlisted for the JET Programme (The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme). To provide a brief summary, it is a well-known and respected international exchange programme inviting young college graduates from around the world to participate in internationalisation initiatives and be involved in foreign language education at Japan’s local government offices, boards of education, elementary schools, junior high schools, and senior high schools. I was placed in a junior high school situated in a beautiful mountainous seaside city, not too far from Kyoto, and I’ve been here ever since.

What was your ambition for your career when you started at UEA? Did you have a specific career path in mind?

I actually didn’t have a strong desire to pursue higher education at 17, let alone a history degree. Aviation was my die-hard passion and I wanted to launch myself into the industry as soon as possible. However, I was convinced by both family and teachers to apply to university. I saw two potential benefits to obtaining a degree: streamlining the process of becoming an officer in the Royal Air Force, and saving up enough money to complete my Private Pilot’s License (I’d already some hours under my belt but there’s only so much a young person can achieve at a rate of £200 per hour.)

So, I think I had quite interesting and unexpected ambitions when I started studying at the UEA. I still have a love for flying, and perhaps it is something I will return to one day, but my degree and my experiences at the UEA have shaped my life and career into something I couldn’t have possibly even dreamed of, and I am so grateful. 

Tell me about your experiences studying at UEA.

My time at the UEA was, without trying to be cliché, wonderful. However, I don’t believe I had quite the same experience as most of my peers. Due to a very sad family event in the years prior to applying for university, I decided I did not want to move far away from my home and my family, who were at this time living in Norfolk. I was so incredibly lucky to have the UEA on my doorstep, and in 2017 I was accepted onto the BA History course after going through the clearing process (I was absolutely not engaged in my learning throughout my A-Levels, in large part due to myself and my family struggling to cope with grief throughout this period.)

That said, being accepted into the UEA was a turning point for me and I could never have anticipated my future becoming so bright given the circumstances of my life at the time. I decided on history as that was simply the subject I had enjoyed most at school. I really liked it, that was for certain, but at that time I didn’t particularly have a burning desire to study it. It was only after my interest was nurtured and encouraged by incredible lecturers and professors at the UEA that I discovered it was a subject I really, truly loved.

Did you participate in any clubs or societies while studying at UEA?

Yes, I did – from my first year until the beginning of my third and final year, I was a member of the Cambridge University Air Squadron (CUAS). Being one of 15 University Air Squadrons (UAS) situated around the country, essentially it is “a training unit under the command of No. 6 Flying Training School of the Royal Air Force with their main role to attract ambitious and intelligent students into a career as an RAF officers. Primarily its goal is achieved through offering flying training, force development and overseas expeditions to undergraduate students at British universities. These units exist to provide a taste of life in the Service and to give experience to their members in preparation for taking up a career as an officer in one of the RAF's many

Despite its name, CUAS recruits from the UEA as well as Cambridge University, ARU and the University of Essex. After studying it took up the majority of my time, as the role was more of a job than a university club or society – we were fully paid Royal Air Force reservists, but with special benefits we received only through being university students. The Squadron fostered both my love of aviation and history: CUAS was significant in that it was the first of all UAS units established after World War I (CUAS was formed in 1925), with notable alumni including Frank
Whittle (inventor of the jet engine) and Nicholas Patrick (accomplished NASA astronaut). I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of CUAS history and without my degree at the UEA it wouldn’t have been possible.

Did this influence your outlook, give you skills that made you more employable, or expand your network?

Absolutely. I grew significantly during my time with CUAS and I can largely attribute that to my experiences, both good and bad. Military life cultivates a huge number of skills and qualities which can be applied in completely unrelated civilian careers. For example, I developed incredible resilience in the face of challenges and struggles (both physical and mental), which is something I feel has made it easier to cope with the difficult aspects of living abroad.

Punctuality, effective communication, leadership, collaboration, integrity, conflict resolution – these are just a few of the skills I obtained throughout my time in the Service and that have since made me not only more employable but better at my job.

In your career what key tasks & skills are involved on a day-to-day basis, and what are/have been the most rewarding/challenging aspects?

While academically, having a good command of the English language is of course crucial to the role, I’ve found that this is perhaps only half of the skill necessary to excel in the ESL (English as a Second Language) career. A resilient and positive attitude coupled with a friendly, approachable nature will get you incredibly far. Being able to ‘read the air’ is especially crucial in a Japanese workplace and to live in harmony within Japanese society as a whole.

Not only this, but you must of course learn the language of the country you are living in to enrich your experience and survive on a day-to-day basis. Japanese is an incredibly difficult language to learn, but one of the most rewarding (and yet equally challenging) aspects of my JET Programme experience has been successfully conversing and communicating in Japanese. It is a very positive feedback loop – my students, colleagues, friends and neighbours see my attempts to learn Japanese, and in turn they are inspired to keep practicing English, and it leaves me feeling incredibly fulfilled. 

Has your degree influenced your career?

Yes, absolutely. If it wasn’t for my degree and in particular the support of my wonderful professor, Dr Sherzod Muminov, I would not be in Japan and I would not have achieved this dream. My degree not only equipped me with technical skills, confidence and a positive attitude, but a love for my subject and a lasting thirst for knowledge.

What personal or professional achievement are you most proud of?

One of the most significant achievements and one I feel incredibly proud of is my final year dissertation. While it is just an undergraduate dissertation, I managed to be awarded a First from a professor whom I respected greatly. It was a true labour of love and for a time my life was consumed by it. As a first-year student, I didn’t even consider doing a dissertation, let alone think I would receive top marks for one. I didn’t feel capable, and I certainly didn’t have the confidence. So for me, it is a particularly special achievement as it represents both my hard work and my personal growth throughout my three years at UEA.

What were your experiences of Norwich as a city? Is there anything in particular that you miss or have fond memories of?

I lived in Norwich for almost ten years and I can attest that it is a beautiful and charming city. Having lived in London before moving to Norfolk, I thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace that the countryside brought. The people are incredibly friendly, it feels safe, there is nature and open space everywhere, and Norwich has fantastic amenities. You will have such a wonderful time here.

Would you recommend studying at UEA? Why?

One hundred times, yes! The UEA changed my life. The support of the staff, professors, and students is unmatched. The campus and grounds are beautiful (and famous!). For the School of History in particular, the quality of the teaching is fantastic and there are excellent programmes of study for whatever particular area you are interested in. I’ll remember my time at UEA forever, and I just hope others can have the same experience that I did there. 

Is there any advice you would give to current students, wishing to follow a similar career path to you?

Absolutely. I would say, first of all, don’t be too overly concerned about the future. I was certain what path in life I was going to take, and then did a complete one-eighty. I didn’t apply myself throughout sixth form and my grades were subpar. Did it matter? No, I still got into university, excelled in my studies, and found myself accepted for a highly-competitive position overseas. I’m not saying be reckless, or don’t study – definitely study, please! But know that things can absolutely change in a way you didn’t expect, and for the better.

With specific advice for moving to Japan to teach English – there are many ways to do it. The JET Programme is without a doubt the best way and will benefit you the most. A TEFL or CELTA qualification will help you incredibly in your application, and in your role once you get there (did you know there are twelve tenses in the English language? Before doing my CELTA, I didn’t!)

Most of all, just try your best, and don’t feel you have to remain stuck in any one subject or career path.

What is next for you?

I’ll be staying at my school for another year or so. After that, I am considering applying for the MEXT scholarship. Similar to the JET Programme (and administrated by the same government body), it is “a program through which students are able to study at a Japanese university with a scholarship from the Japanese government.” I am yearning to go back to school and be amongst academics, something 18-year-old-me would never have expected at all. I am currently considering master’s programmes at the University of Tokyo as well as Kyoto University, although I am not sure yet how or where I will specialise.

Sine Burridge studied BA History at UEA.