Walking Through the Role
A rough and concise guide to working at AEON for a year. Email me with any questions – I only mention the major events, not the finer details.
This was originally prompted by a desire to get out into the world and experience something entirely different; to break away from what was familiar and comfortable; to suffer, and learn through suffering. Adventure. Culture. Language. Food... heh. Truth be told, I was not a big fan of fish before coming into the country. I could stand some fried crawfish and smoked salmon, but never really got the taste of anything baked (or raw). Now, I can gracefully use my chopsticks to devour a blowfish in a matter of minutes. Oishi (delicious).
I was searching for jobs in Japan when I came across companies like AEON and NOVA. What followed was a random search across the vastness of internet websites. Personal blogs of AEON teachers. The life of cubicle workers in Tokyo. Tourist attractions in Kyoto. Were there still trace levels of radiation in Hiroshima? (Laugh if you want, but before I came here, I could have sworn the modern cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were located a distance from their pre-WWII counterparts. The country was more resilient than I had realized, and my knowledge somewhat lacking).
To all prospective eikaiwa employees: I know Japan seems distant, different, and perhaps scary (from the unknown, not safety). I didn't know what to expect. Probably the best advice I can give you is: AEON is just a job. I know it's in Japan, and I know you'll have strange encounters before work, after work, and on the weekends. But AEON is just a job, not an adventure. Japan is the adventure, and I encourage you to take advantage of it.
- A search on the company's website, followed by an online application – my resume, and an essay AEON requests: "Why I Want to Live and Work in Japan".
- Email confirmation of the application and the promise of an interview in the near future.
- Invitation to a group information session in your city. If you're not located in a major metropolitan area, AEON may ask you to travel or just do a personal interview.
Thank you for your interest in AEON. You are invited to attend an information meeting.
The decision to live and work in another country requires very careful consideration. At this meeting we will introduce you to our company and explain our job opportunities in detail. There will also be a video presentation as well as time for questions.
Our application process involved three meetings: An information meeting, a group interview, and, for some applicants, a personal interview.
Please bring all of your questions and the following to the information meeting:
1. Completed application for employment
2. Five minute teaching demonstration. An applicant must submit a 15-minute lesson plan and present a 5-minute portion to the group. The lesson should be for just one level of student: beginner, intermediate, or advanced. Other applicants will act as students.
OBJECTIVE: In a creative and interactive manner teach a lesson focusing on English conversation.
SUGGESTIONS: Pattern practice exercises, American customs/culture, educational games and activities, etc. (We recommend that you consult your library or ESL sources for ideas and techniques)
3. A hard copy of your resume and essay.
A group information session. Show up in a neatly pressed business suit. Three representatives of AEON (or fewer) come and speak to a large group of hopefuls. They go over the history of AEON. Show a video of a day in the life of a typical AEON employee. Explain some cultural differences about Japan. Hand out copies of the employment terms. Open the floor up to questions.
In addition, you should be given a summary of the contract stipulations for each of the respective positions (AEON and AEON Amity): working hours, salary, housing, insurance, vacations, training, and your bonus.
That same day, you are broken into smaller groups of about ten (depending on the number of people in attendance), and sent to different classrooms to present your sample lesson. Other applicants will act as students, and there should be one AEON representative taking charge and making notes.
Hit or miss. Depending on your performance in the classroom and your application, you could be asked back in the next three days for an individual interview. After the classroom session, you will be handed a plain white envelope announcing that AEON:
- Is grateful for your participation, but cannot offer you a position at this time
- Will like to offer you a chance to attend a personal interview with an AEON recruiter at X:XX time on XX/XX day.
The demonstration interview. Essentially you spend a few minutes with the recruiter answering any questions he might have and posing any questions you might have, but then comes the difficult part: the practice lesson.
You are given a grammar topic. The recruiter leaves the room. You have twenty minutes or so to prepare posters, visual aids, and anything else you believe you'd need for a lesson. The recruiter comes back, acting like a fledgling English student. You have a set time to communicate the grammar topic to the "student". Depending on your performance, AEON will hire you.
A telephone call following your private interview. AEON informs you of the school location and approximate timeline until your departure. You have a few days to choose to defer, reject, or accept. If you defer, AEON doesn't turn you down; you can choose to accept a position in a different location or a different starting time.
If you accept, the recruiter will inform you of a few things coming in the mail:
A notice letter on AEON letterhead essentially confirming the date and location of your assignment in Japan. As always, the paperwork is massive:
1. Please sign and submit all 5 contracts (blue contracts enclosed)
2. 6 similar passport photos with a one-color background and your name written on the back (have 10 photos taken at the same time, please keep 4 for future use). All photos must be 2" by 2" and no laser or digital copies please.
3. Original Bachelors Diploma or Original Letter of Graduation (if applicable)
4. Copies of the picture page/signature page of your valid Passport (please make certain that it is very legible and the photo is clearly seen). The copy should include the Passport photo, number, and date of issue and expiration. Don't forget to make sure your passport is signed correctly the full name that is printed on your passport.
5. If you have been to Japan previously, please include a photocopy of all pages in your passport with all relevant VISA stamps on them.
6. U.S. $200 employment deposit (check or money order to the AEON Corporation)
7. Signed "Policy Manual Acknowledgement/Agreements Sheet" (enclosed)
8. Accurately completed "Personal History" form (enclosed)
9. Completed "Application for Certificate of Eligibility" (enclosed)
This will probably be sent to you at least three months prior to your start date in Japan; the visa paperwork takes time, and if you don't have a passport yet, it will take longer.
Life in Japan
Once you formally accept the position at AEON, they will send you regular online newspapers titled "Life in Japan" – everything a foreigner needs to know about living in Japan. They are more cultural ideas (onsen, omiyage, matsuri) rather than practical (internet, alien registration, using the trains), but still quite useful.
"The information you sent us will be forwarded to Japan for pre-approval of the work visa. Approximately five to ten days prior to your departure you will be receiving the Certificate of Eligibility from Japan. At that time you will proceed with the visa application procedure."
AEON reminds you to check with them before you book your flight, a flight which must arrive on a specific day - no earlier, no later. You may be the only person coming in that day, but if there are more, the company will try to arrange it so that you all arrive within a few hours of each other.
What to take
- ¥130,000 in cash. DO NOT TAKE TRAVELER'S CHECKS. I know that AEON recommends keeping most of your savings in traveler's checks in lieu of cash, but this is stupid; Japan is a cash-oriented society. It is a big hassle for you, a newbie to Japan, to find a bank that will accept international traveler's checks and exchange them for Japanese Yen. Only bring traveler’s checks if you're the sort who constantly loses things.
- Passport with your current visa stamp
- Copies of your passport and visa stamp
- One small bag and garment bag to use at training
- One or two large bags to forward to your branch school
- Three changes of business attire (but I personally think two is enough, as long as you have plenty of shirts)
- A nice omiyage (gift) for your school staff once you attire. If you can't possibly stuff one more thing into your bags, you could just buy a box of chocolates or some baked goods once you’re in Japan.
- Japanese language books. I'd recommend Minna no Nihongo (which you can buy here; it's very commonly used in international center language classes) and Basic Kanji Book (good for memorizing the brushstroke order). Of course, you should buy a cheap phrasebook just to survive on a day-to-day basis; one problem I've noticed with these phrasebooks is they cater only to the tourist, not those already living in Japan.
- Comfort food, to tide you over until you find the best places to eat.
- Invest in a high quality camera, if photography suits you. If you just take pictures for fun, don't even bother – your Japanese cell phone should have a decent camera built-in.
- I talked about shoes in the last entries – two pairs, easy to slip on/off
What not to take
- Too many casual clothes. Save some money and buy some fashionable Japanese clothes.
- Too many books on Japan; it may be easier for you to locate these books in your English bookstore, but they're not difficult to find here – save room in your bags for things you absolutely cannot buy in Japan.
Once you receive your certificate of eligibility in the mail, you must either go to the nearest Japanese embassy, or FedEx the necessary paperwork (they only accept FedEx). Your passport should be returned with a fresh stamp: your first Japanese visa.
You get off the plane after a long flight. A representative meets you. Your baggage is forwarded to your branch school. You are given a train ticket and escorted to housing or a hotel near the training facility.
Training should begin at 10 AM sharp the next day. Seven full days if you're teaching adults, tack on an additional two for kids, usually with a day off between the two sessions.
I had two really good trainers. Looking back, they were quite thorough, but nothing takes the place of experience; everything you go through during training seems so unfamiliar and difficult, but it becomes second nature after enough time.
Naturally, training will vary depending on your area and staff, but you should expect a curriculum similar to...
- Taxes in Japan
- Overview of AEON as a company
- AEON curriculum, textbooks
- Japanese lesson
- Model lesson
- Textbook review
- Building a lesson plan
- Classroom English
- Cultural differences, problems in the Japanese work environment
- AEON contract
- Contract renewal information
- Building a lesson plan
- Teacher presentation: half of a demonstration lesson
- More information about The AEON Corporation
- Interviewing prospective students
- Assessing English levels
- Teacher presentation: full lesson
- Group lessons
- Building a lesson plane
- Error correction techniques
- Teacher presentation: full lesson
- Experience at branch schools
- Proficiency tests: TOEIC, TOFEL
- Making lesson supplements: posters, cards, etc
- Private lessons
- Teacher presentation: full lesson
- First days at your branch school
- Dress code
- Salary statements
- Vacation days
- Traveling abroad
- Overview of curriculum and textbooks
- Warm up activities
- Model lessons
- Lesson preparation
- Teacher presentation: full lesson
- Overview of elementary school
- Demo lessons
- Junior high school overview
- Lesson preparation
- Teacher presentation: full lesson
You should also receive your class schedule, details about your apartment, and the names of the other teachers at your school.
On the day following your last day of training (or the same night, depending on how far you need to travel), you will be thrown headfirst onto the nearest train and sent to your branch school. Most likely your manager and a teacher will be there to greet you with a gift or at least a ride to your housing.
They will set you up in the company apartment or a hotel while the old teacher moves out. You might have enough time to tour the school and meet a few people before it closes, and then comes your first test.
The welcome dinner. Teachers and management only. You are poked and prodded with questions, told you use chopsticks so well, and from the teachers' reactions, it's absolutely mind-blowing that you can pronounce "konnichiwa".
I, for one, feel that if you can speak Japanese all the time, you should. You will garner a lot more respect, not to mention put the "foreigners can't learn Japanese" stereotype to death. It will definitely make the branch school a more comfortable place to work (although you will still be prodded with questions).
Depending on when you arrive, you could have 2-5 days with the departing teacher. Two to five days to take notes, review student information, observe lessons, learn what the manager expects from you, become familiar with office operations, and soak up everything the departing teacher has to offer.
And now a farewell dinner for the departing dinner. Two dinners in one week (assuming they weren't cheap enough to cram into one).
You're on your own. You may be the only foreign teacher at a school whose manager and staff don't speak English well. You may have a fluent manager, and two other foreign teachers on staff. It depends entirely on the location.
During your first week, you'll have to...
- Go to the local government office and apply for an Alien Registration Card – up until the moment you receive it, you should carry your passport with you at all times; if you don't, the police have grounds to arrest you. It's best just to avoid the situation.
- Set up a Japanese bank account
- Get a Japanese cell phone
- Arrange all the paperwork to have your bills paid by automatic withdrawal from your bank account
Every week at a set time, all teachers will meet with management to go over business operations. These meetings are a waste of time, and nothing productive will ever come out of them. I recently read a short manifesto by an American who worked several contract positions in Tokyo and Fukuoka. I think his interpretation of Japanese business meetings says it best: the purpose of a business meeting is not to accomplish anything, it is to come to a consensus on what has been accomplished.
That having been said, you go over money that needs to be brought in, new students, campaigns, maybe farewell and goodbye parties... but nothing is accomplished – all the information relevant to your position could be reduced to a two-minute conversation.
Nevertheless, you won't be able to avoid these meetings, so brush on your Japanese, throw on a fake smile, and be prepared to be excited and genki about events you had no control over and statistics that really don’t concern you (I never played along with this, which is probably another reason why my contract wasn't renewed. My manager never understood why I couldn’t be "jumping up and down" excited that another teacher's student had signed up for a three-month course, or gotten a high TOEIC score. Apparently saying "that's good" isn't enough.)
Don't take sick days unless you're prepared to feel a whole lot worse at the end of the day than when you started.
Let me elaborate. You wake up, nauseated. There's not a chance in the world you feel like standing up in front of eight students and listening to their speeches for an hour. Something must be done. You reach for your trusty cell phone and dial before the clock strikes 10:00 AM (according to policy)...
Hai, moshi moshi
I can't come into work today, I'm just too sick.
Oohhh, I'm so sorry. Please wait, I will take you to hospital.
The hospital?? No, I just need to rest.
Please wait. I will come.
No, I'm fine, I just need to stay inside, rest, and eat healthy foods.
I think you need to go to hospital
Based on what? Your expert medical opinion? Hardly. Half the time, this is not so much out of concern for your health, but rather an attempt to prove that you are physically incapable of dragging yourself to work and to provide medical documentation for missing work.
I hate hospitals. When I'm sick, all I need to do is rest at home. Spending hours in a waiting room and a few additional hours waiting for a doctor who can look me over and then tell me I need to rest doesn't help. And if the doctor tells you can return to work for the rest of the day, AEON sees no problem in forcing the issue. The company should be accommodating to your request to stay at home, but they will often demand that you go into a hospital, or at least be examined by a staff member to see if you’re really sick.
You still have the final word – if you really don't want to go to a hospital, don't. Tell them no. You should be the one forcing the issue. Inform them that going to a hospital will just make the problem worse (unless you’re one to accept medications you can't read).
You should have someone from headquarters come and observe your lessons at three and six months after your arrival. They will hand you an evaluation sheet detailing any problems or praise. You will be given an offer to renew your contract for a given amount of time, or told you need to leave in six months.
Completion of Contract
I guess the first "official" notice that your contract is nearing completion begins about one month prior to your final day at school: you should receive a written request asking whether you would prefer a plane ticket home or the cash equivalent. If you request the cash equivalent, you must assume AEON will use their numbers to calculate a "fair price" – in other words, expect the price to differ from than which you paid to come to Japan by a few tens of thousands of yen.
Following that, you should receive a checklist in the company mail from your trainer, listing your responsibilities, both at school and in the company apartment, before the new teacher arrives.
- Your apartment will be inspected for cleanliness, furniture quality, and to make sure everything is intact
- Your bank account will be closed, you Japanese cell phone handed in
- Your utilities will be transferred to the new teacher, the difference paid by you
- On your very last day, your manager will give you a copy of the official recommendation letter, your bonus (about ¥65,000 for a one-year contract), your final paycheck, your plane ticket home (or cash equivalent), and all the relevant tax information if you need to file back in your country
- Depending on your school, you will either be placed in a hotel while the new teacher occupies your apartment, or vice versa
The Truth About AEON: Part I
The Truth About AEON: Part II
The Truth About AEON: Part III
The Truth About AEON: Part IV
The Truth About AEON: Part V
The Truth About AEON: Part VI
The Truth About AEON: Part VII