When she’s in Tokyo, Aki Hoshina is usually accompanied by her suitcase and computer, enabling her to work on the road or in a hotel room. Hoshina isn’t exactly a digital nomad but her profession of English coach does give her the freedom and mobility to work from anywhere.
“I guess I’m light on my feet,” laughs Hoshina. “Being a flight attendant taught me the value of traveling light and seeking adventure where I can find it.”
Hoshina used to be a flight attendant for All Nippon Airways.
“I grew up in a small town in Shizuoka Prefecture,” she explains. “From early on, I longed to see the world, but my hometown didn’t even have a local airport.”
As a student at Aichi Prefectural University, she spent 18 months in Canada on a working holiday and got her first experience of living and studying in a foreign country.
“I was one of 200 students who had come from all over the world,” says Hoshina. “I had the time of my life, but I found out my English wasn’t quite up to scratch!”
Away from Japan, Hoshina discovered that the English she learned in school was great for passing exams, but not so great when dealing with real life.
“Still, studying hard in school did pay off,” smiled Hoshina. Armed with a TOEIC score of 860, Hoshina got into ANA, one of the most coveted places of employment for Japanese graduates. But after the initial euphoria wore off, “I came to realize that in-flight English was pretty limited, and didn’t really provide an opportunity to hone my English. I decided to leave the company and study again, using English as a means this time, not the end,” she says.
Since then, Hoshina has lived in New York to get a yoga teacher’s license, and worked as an executive secretary at a foreign company and as a receptionist for Prada Japan. While at Prada, she got married and then divorced when her baby daughter was 18 months old.
“I wanted a career and I wanted independence. I had worked hard for my dreams and I didn’t want to give it up,” she says.
Hoshina now commutes between her hometown in Shizuoka and Tokyo, dividing her time between doing corporate PR work, coaching English to clients, running her website and raising her daughter.
“Overseas, it’s a matter of course for mothers to work. In Japan, mothers are expected to stay at home for their children. I just want to do my share in making this a more vibrant society, where moms can keep chasing their dreams and be somebody.”
Hoshina may seem like the do-it-all, have-it-all superwoman from an American TV series but she says that she’s no stranger to failure.
“The one thing I’m good at is not giving up. When something doesn’t work out for me, I don’t back down, I just give it another shot.”
This attitude has proven invaluable in acquiring the kind of English skills that elude many Japanese who find English too difficult or restricting. “Many of us get turned off because the school system emphasizes grammar over conversation. But it should be the other way around.”
When she was doing her working-holiday stint in Canada, Hoshina says, she always aced her English exams because of her knowledge of grammatical structure.
“But when I tried to discuss things or talk deeply about certain issues, I couldn’t get people to understand. It was very frustrating.”
Now Hoshina coaches English online, and emphasizes having fun over being precise.
“Most people are afraid to fail, or make mistakes. But I tell them that failing is just part of the process of growing. Sooner or later, they’ll be able to evolve from saying ‘no’ to things they don’t understand, to saying ‘I can understand some things,’ and build from there.”
Hoshina has plans to go to Canada again next year, this time with her daughter.
“I want to teach her to think, express her opinions and have discussions in English. I really think the joy of being able to do that in a foreign language is worth striving for.” (Kaori Shoji)
Words I tell myself
星名亜紀 (ほしな あき)