Wednesday, October 31, 2007

NOVA implosion

I used to teach English in Japan. I worked for 2 years for the Japanese Ministry of Education as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program, until I quit that to play the REALLY sweet freelance orchestra scene. JET was an extremely generous deal, and I would recommend it to anyone at all interested in spending some (relatively lucrative) time abroad. Some of the teachers end up with free housing and if you get posted in the boondocks, you will automatically save a lot of yen. We were in Tokyo, and I was like 24 going on 16 so I kind of spent it all. Sigh.

The front page of the Oregonian today has an expose-syle story about the collapse of a private English lesson company in Japan called NOVA. NOVA and the JET program had just one thing in common: neither required a drop of Japanese language skillz whatsoever, and both paid more than a person could get in the states for teaching, especially with zero experience.

NOVA's reputation when I was in Tokyo always had a certain social aspect, and if I remember right men could request women tutors and vice versa so as to work in a little cool-foreign-social-club atmosphere. We used to tease one of our friends about being a Twinkie (NOVA hostess). It didn't pay as much as the the JET program, but then again at the time you could just up and move to Japan, put on a respectable outfit one day and get a job at NOVA, where all the "teaching" was done from pre-fab workbooks. We used to party with some of the NOVA folks, and that particular batch were seriously wild-seed-sowing types- I think it was a contemporary version of backpacking around Europe in search of good weed. They were ALWAYS out in force in Roppongi, the club area of town, and I don't think they ever caught anything earlier than the morning trains home.

The JET program, in contrast, required us to have a bachelors in something (even music counted! Can you imagine?!) interview extensively at the embassies in the states and once hired we taught children in the public school system, always side by side with a Japanese teacher who had, you know, a degree and stuff. Initially we were exactly as qualified as NOVA teachers, but we were given a lot more training and motivation to foster "internationalism" (JET participants eventually grow really really tired of that vaguely meaningless word). Most of the JET folks were pretty serious about learning Japanese if for no other reason than the fact that we all spent 7 hours a day in a school surrounded by people who were not fluent, and we were only allowed to teach a few classes a day. So there were all these "extra" hours, which I used like everybody did- to try to improve my Japanese. (And I practiced a lot while being paid- it was an incredible concept.) Like I said, not a bad deal at all. I know at least one person who wrote the better part of a novel while working in rural Japanese elementaries.

ANYway, the articles coming out now about these poooor innocent NOVA teachers stuck in horrible dark foreigner-using inscrutable Japan make me smirk just a little. I feel bad for the folks waiting for their pay- one in the Oregonian article said they owe her something like $10,000. But that's a lot of lessons, people. At some point, would the herd not look up from the feed trough and think, hey, I'm missing the last 37 paychecks? And "dark"?!?!? Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and this is in a very crowded, very modern country with a huge number of people under 35. It's not like they are stuck in Bagdad for Fuji's sake.

The article mentions several times that the Oregonian 20-somethings they interviewed don't speak Japanese. They have each been in country for several years. Does no one else smell the familiar ooze of overpaid entitlement here? I understand they should be paid for the contract they signed- and hey, tangent, that's another thing! The teachers are saying they signed a contract stateside for enough hours to make them eligible for benefits, but upon arrival at NOVA there would be just enough of a reduction to make them have to pay the company for bennies. What is this, the mining era? If you're getting screwed over from day one, perhaps you have chosen poorly, grasshopper. How come they all stayed and taught if it was all such a bad deal?

My favorite quote? "There's (sic) whole blogs now on the best trains to pickpocket on (sic)." If these buttheads are seriously feeling justified turning to crime instead of, oh, I don't know, LOOKING FOR OTHER WORK, then I sort of hope NOVA chapter-11's them out of everything. They'll all end up living with ma & pa in Portland, working at Starbucks and spreading lies about how difficult and racist life is in Japan.

Ahem. Random high horse post: complete.
Sayonara, 'till tomorrow.

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