Friday, June 29, 2007

The Truth About AEON: Part I

I am no longer in the world of the eikaiwa. Now that I am free of such a contract, I can reveal to my readers and the world: I worked for AEON (if you didn't pick up on that already). Why didn't I mention this earlier? Well, for one, I received an official ken seki - disciplinary action and a demand for a written apology – following some of my legitimately informative blog entries regarding cultural differences in the workplace. I later changed these entries to eliminate traces of the Japanese company, and what you see is the finished product.

I can honestly say my experience in Japan and at AEON has been, for the most part, a positive experience. I came over here with a few misconceptions. My research being limited to a handful of personal blogs and backlog from the Nintendo era and bubble economy days of the 1980's, you could argue I wasn't the most knowledgeable individual.

Many people search online for information about the different ways to teach English in Japan – AEON, GEOS, ECC, NOVA, and JET. I do have some personal opinions about my experience working in the most corporate of the English-teaching companies for a year. But, I'm going to be as fair and unbiased as I possibly can (difficult at times) relating these matters to you. If you have any questions or differing opinions, or could link me to other stories that support or refute my position, feel free to add them to my comments section. I give you... the truth about AEON, in easy-to-read installments. They’ve been a long time coming. These are my experiences at one branch of an AEON school. Maybe this is the standard, maybe it isn't... still, I think this information is very beneficial for newcomers.

I freely admit that I am an arrogant individual. I am reckless, headstrong, and I often act before I think. I am the “American-minded” employee many Japanese companies fear (if you believe it's an issue of nationality). That having been established, certain facts remain, based solely on my experience at my branch school and having been recruited by AEON from the states.

Advantages of the Eikaiwa

I will go into detail about many faults, many problems, many issues, on both my part and the part of AEON. However, there are definitely advantages in signing on with an eikaiwa company like AEON for your first Japanese experience. I would like to frame my criticism for this organization in the true Japanese fashion: that is, stating the positives, then commenting on what needs to be improved.

1. Visa sponsorship. Even if you're from a country that qualifies you for a Working Holiday Visa, the eikaiwa will secure your place in Japan for one year, not to mention go through the most difficult parts of the application process for you.

2. Travel expenses. Although AEON does not pay for your airfare to Japan (I believe ECC is the only company that does that), they do provide return airfare or the cash equivalent if you wish to stay in the country.

3. Transition time. AEON provides you with a guide the moment you land in Osaka or Narita. From that moment onward, you don't have to worry about managing everything by yourself – there is someone to help you through the cultural differences and jet lag time. They help you forward your luggage to your branch school. They can assist you with exchanging money. They pay for your train fare to the training center.

The training (which lasts for seven days if you teach adults, or nine days if you teach children and adults) is helpful in itself as a transition: a chance to experience Japan while learning about your profession, and you don't have to seriously worry about the business side of the eikaiwa just yet.

4. Essentials. Setting up your Japanese bank account. Registering with your local government office. Buying a cell phone. Setting up utilities (though you might be on your own for internet).

5. Getting an apartment. I mention this separately because it is a huge monetary burden if you don't have a company backing you. Japanese apartments and rentals typically have at least two payments required before move-in: deposit and key money. The deposit might be about one month's rent. The key money is anywhere from one to three month's rent. At move-in. If you've just spent a thousand dollars on a plane ticket, this can be difficult enough to cover.

6. Salary. ¥2161/hour, unless you're working with AEON Amity (an independent company that caters entirely to children). This money is especially good given your working hours of 29.5 hours/week, and the flexibility of that schedule – being able to take breaks during the day, and not starting until 1:00 PM.

7. Insurance. Split decision here; the company is obligated to keep you in good health while you're working for them, but it's still reassuring to know you have some coverage. Under a 29.5 hour work week, you have medical insurance only in the event of emergencies - not for preexisting conditions like dental care or any medication you might have.

Recently, AEON joined the Social Insurance Agency in Japan, which led them to “force” employees to choose between the emergency insurance and a 29.5 hour work week, or the new full-coverage Social Insurance (Shakai Hoken) and a 36 hour work week; by now, this might be the standard for new employees.

8. Cultural training. Going over some key differences that will arise in a Japanese work environment (“orders”, kampai, zangyou (overtime), framing criticism for students, etc). Simple Japanese lessons including introductions and giving your phone number.

9. Socializing. I believe AEON is the only one of the “big four” (AEON, ECC, GEOS, and NOVA) that has a policy promoting socializing with students. Although this might seem like common sense, the other three do have disciplinary action in place if the branch chooses to enforce it.

“AEON encourages teachers to develop friendships with students in a group situation. However, AEON discourages all teachers from having inappropriate, intimate relationships with AEON students, and in particular, teachers should not, under any circumstances, socialize with students under the age of 20 on a one-to-one basis.”

I did notice some discrepancies in this policy; will report more on that later.

Advantages. Questions? Comments?

In accordance with my contract, I still cannot legally post any information which might potentially "damage the Employer’s reputation". I do not consider this post, or my future postings, to contain such information, just firsthand experiences I would like to share. With salesmanship of the eikaiwa under scrutiny (due to the recent legal action against NOVA), I would think AEON would be eager to hear some legitimate concerns foreign teachers have about their work environment. However, if there are closed-minded individuals within the company who object to this information being released, I am giving you this one and only opportunity to object; send me an email with the pertinent information.

Regardless of the eikaiwa reaction, however, I will be posting links to the necessary information if you are considering working at AEON, working at an eikaiwa chain school, coming to Japan, or would just like to hear my experiences.  None of these pages contain information about AEON's “business operations” – just personal experiences which I have the right to share.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Death of the Pink Rabbit

UPDATE June 17th: check out Trans-Pacific Radio's BizCast (listen, don't just read), and a recent article about NOVA.

"Breaking" news, as my internet access has been sketchy as of late - I apologize for the late of updates; I do have quite a few stories in the works, just not the means to properly research and post them.

NOVA, widely accepted as the worst of the Big Four (AEON, ECC, NOVA, GEOS) in the English teaching community, may be seeing the beginning of the end. This week the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry ordered NOVA to suspend part of its business for six months. This was intentionally left vague, but it will have a great effect on the eikaiwa's ability to sign long-term contracts.

How did this happen? The main reason - NOVA's policy on refunds for customers who wanted to cancel their contracts early (mainly due to inflexibility in the class schedule, but I really thought NOVA was good about that). When students wanted to cancel, the company "adjusted" the value of the classes they had already taken. The result? Less money for the customers, more money for the company. Essentially NOVA could change the price of classes already taken at their own discretion.

If we push this to the extreme, here's a good example (this did NOT happen): a student pays 50,000 yen for 5 classes. That's 10,000 yen a class. She takes two classes, then decides she hates NOVA and wants to leave. NOVA decides that the two classes she took were in fact worth 20,000, not 10,000 yen. She gets a 10,000 refund, and is sent on her way, left to ponder what happened to her other 20,000 yen.

Ken Worsley of Trans-Pacific Radio devotes most of his coverage on the NOVA story as a warning to current employees: get out. Get out now. He may be bordering on the extreme, but he's probably not far off; there will be a huge influx of teachers in the event the company can no longer employ them, and it would be best to start settling on other jobs. REMEMBER - YOUR VISA DOES NOT TIE YOU TO NOVA. YOU CAN WORK ANYWHERE YOUR STATUS ALLOWS.

Unfortunately for those of your in the eikaiwa world, NOVA will most likely hold the contract to your place of residence, so you'll have to find a cheap gaijin house or hostel in the interim. More on this later - I'm currently editing my entries about working in a Japanese eikaiwa.

Japan Probe story
NOVA stock

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