Written by Eric "Brooker" Bruckbauer in May 2004
Topics in this article:
- The Reality of Nova
- The Nova Routine
- The Interview and Qualifications
- Training and Teaching Methods
- Money and Saving
- Schedule and Vacation
- Nova Policies
- Coworkers and Location Requests
- Being a Gaijin in Japan
- Other Opportunities in Japan
- About the Author
The Reality of Nova
If you're interested in Japan and/or teaching and don't know where to get started, Nova offers you an easily accessible doorway to Japan by giving you a visa, a place to live, and a steady income. If you later decide to take teaching to the next level, your time at Nova could springboard you to something better. Many Nova teachers go on to public schools, other private companies, etc.
To understand Nova, you must first accept it for what it is - a huge corporation whose main concern is profit. With reasonable expectations, you can get what you want, the opportunity to experience Japan, and Nova can get what it wants, the money your ability to speak native English provides.
The Nova Routine
Teaching at Nova is not difficult, but it's often very hectic. The average day consists of eight lessons of 40 or 45 minutes each with anywhere from 1 to 4 students per class. There are ten minutes between each class mainly used for writing file comments for the students in your previous class and preparing for the next class. These ten minutes go very quickly. Having to be "on" all the time leads to fatigue over the course of the day as there is very little down time.
The Interview and Qualifications
Nova will hire just about anyone who has a college degree (in any subject) and is a native English speaker. For the interview, you will go to your nearest Nova office, or, in some cases, they are able to schedule an interview closer to where you live. The interview is conducted in a group format, during which you'll be shown a video about the company, then asked a few questions individually. Normally it takes a month or two to find out if you've been accepted then usually about three or four months from the time of the interview to the time of your departure (which is the minimum amount of time you can expect from any company).
When you arrive in Japan you are met by a Nova representative who will take you to your new apartment. The Nova apartments are no frills, but adequate. In most cases you'll have your own room and two flat mates (which is nice because it allows you to have some "partners-in-crime"in a strange land until you become more comfortable).
The rent for a Nova apartment is reasonable considering its percentage of your income, but is much more expensive than other Japanese apartments. Once you're settled you have the option of moving out of your Nova apartment and finding your own place. In Japan, finding your own place can be difficult, but "gaijin houses" are available in urban areas.
Training and Teaching Methods
New teachers are given about four days to adjust to Japan before the three days of training begins. The training is adequate, but intense. You'll feel a little nervous and unprepared when your training is over, but whatever else you need you'll learn through trial by fire.
Although Nova doesn't offer the students much in the way of personalized attention, the methods are quite effective. In time you'll see amazing progress in the students.
The text is very outdated and the lessons can quickly become repetitive and boring for the teacher.
Students schedule their classes whenever they have free time and there are no regular schedules, which means that every class will be a different mix of students you know well and students you've never met before, separated by ability levels.
Money and Saving
The money Nova pays is about the same as every other English school in Japan - roughly Y250,000 per month (about $2,200 US) and is more than enough to live comfortably while in Japan. The pay is a little higher in big cities, but the costs are higher too, so the pay is comparable wherever you may go.
It's possible to save while working for Nova, but if you want to experience all that Japan has to offer, it's best not to worry about every little yen you spend.
Schedule and Vacation
The Nova workweek is the normal 40 hours with two consecutive days off. Days off are never both Saturdays and Sundays as those are busy days when many students come in.
There are two shifts, one at 10:00am, and the other at 1:20pm. More teachers are assigned to the 1:20pm shift, which ends at 9:00pm, because evenings are more popular with students. The earlier shift allows teachers to get more mileage out of their free time. By the end of the late shift, there isn't much time left in the day to enjoy the evening, since some train lines stop running as early as 11:00pm.
Nova does not give time off for national holidays. After six months at Nova, teachers are given two weeks of vacation time to be used whenever they like. Combine this time with unpaid days and shift swaps and some long vacations are possible. Nova is good about granting the vacation time requested as long as it's requested long in advance - this is true of any request made to Nova.
Nova does not allow speaking Japanese in class as they want the students to be totally immersed in English.
Teachers are not allowed to socialize with students in any way outside of class. And, although sometimes it would be nice to socialize with students, it does avoid a lot of problems such as teachers using their classes to pick up on students. By doing language exchanges or hanging out with the Japanese Nova staff, there are opportunities to socialize with Japanese people.
Coworkers and Location Requests
Not only is it fun to get to know the students, but it's also part of the experience to get to know your coworkers, the other Nova teachers. You'll meet a lot of characters from all over the world (mostly from Australia, England, and Canada) and Nova teachers often socialize together at karaoke parlors and izakayas (Japanese style restaurants).
When you're hired by Nova, you'll be asked where you'd prefer to work, usually in very broad terms, such as, if you would you prefer urban, country, or rural locations and sometimes they can work with you on specific requests. It's best to choose something in the middle, staying away from the big cities, and trying to work in a smaller school. Small schools are much more casual than the larger ones because big school bosses are usually the type of people who want to climb the corporate ladder and will do everything by the book. Also, in big cities there are a lot more older teachers who are teaching in Japan, not for an adventure, but because they need the work for some reason. Teachers in big cities are much more busy with personal activities and less likely to band together with other teachers and socialize. This all depends on whether socializing while in Japan is important to you.
Being a Gaijin in Japan
The experience of living in a foreign country always comes in three stages :
Stage #1: Euphoria - Everything is so new and exciting. Even going to the supermarket is an adventure.
Stage #2: Depression - This is mostly caused by missing Stage #1 as it fades away. This stage is short, but very intense.
Stage #3: Acceptance - In time you become comfortable in your new surroundings.
It's very easy to get by in Japan without speaking much Japanese at all. Many Japanese people can speak at least basic English and many signs are written in both English and Japanese. It's also very easy to pick up the language while there, and even a very basic knowledge of words such as Who (dare), What (nani), When (itsu), Where (doko), Why (nande), and How (doyatte) can be very usefull. Some gaijin who've lived in Japan for more than ten years can barely speak a word of Japanese (which is not recommended).
As long as you approach things with an open mind, view unfamiliar circumstances as a challenge and an opportunity for personal growth, and don't expect everything to be just like home, you should do just fine. Don't order a steak that had to travel across an ocean when you can eat excellent seafood that was caught earlier that day.
Other Opportunities in Japan
Don't go to Japan thinking that teaching might lead to other opportunities, such as international business, foreign diplomacy, etc., because, although there are many opportunities to teach English in Japan, there are very few other opportunities for foreigners, even ones who speak Japanese well.
So, is Nova the best English school to work for in Japan? Probably not. There are many other large companies to consider (such as Berlitz, Aeon, Geos, ECC, JET, who surely have their good and bad sides as well) but Nova is a good place to get started and they usually treat their employees fairly. The main benefit of Nova is the ease of entry.
Should you make a career out of working for Nova? No! Small private schools and public schools often offer their teachers a lot more, such as, more vacation time, more pay, more control over class content, and a less hectic work day. If you're only planning on staying in Japan for a year or two or you just want to get started in Japan then move on to a better company, Nova is a decent option. If you intend to stay in Japan and/or work as a teacher for many years, you should eventually move to a school that's going to give you a better deal.
About the Author
Eric Bruckbauer is from Seattle, Washington, in the Northwest of the United States, home of Ichiro, Bob Sapp, Microsoft, Nintendo of America, Starbucks, and Boeing. He graduated from Washington State University in 1999 with a degree in Broadcast Production.
He spent 15 months living in Japan and working for Nova from March 2002 through June 2003. During that time he traveled to many places around Japan and took a trip to Thailand. He lived in Fuji City at the base of Mt. Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture and worked for the Nova branch in Shimizu. After 10 months he transferred to a Nova branch in Yokohama and lived in Chigasaki. He moved out of his Nova apartment in Chigasaki and moved to a gaijin house in Minami Shinagawa, Tokyo.
Now Brooker (as his friends call him) is back in Seattle working for a cable news television station as a Master Control Operator and planning his next trip to Japan.
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