Nova goes belly-up

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Nova goes belly-up

Unread postby Peter Easton » 02 Nov 2007, 08:00

Japanese Lesson: How Do You Say,'Taken for a Ride'?

By YUKARI IWATANI KANE and YUKA HAYASHI
November 2, 2007; Page A1

TOKYO -- Fresh out of college, Sam Gordon bought a one-way ticket to Tokyo for a chance to explore Japan's exotic culture while teaching English at the nation's largest language school. All it took to get the job was one simple interview.

The adventure, which began five years ago, has abruptly come to an end. His employer, Nova Corp., hasn't paid him since September. The company closed its operations last week and filed for court protection, following a government crackdown on its business strategy. With $20 left in his bank account, the 28-year-old Mr. Gordon says he is living on his credit card.

"At least I have a big fridge and still have some food in it," says Mr. Gordon. He doesn't want to go home to Milford, Del., just yet, he says, because he'd have to borrow money for the plane ticket.


Sam Gordon, an English teacher in Japan, hasn't been paid by Nova since September, and would need to incur more debt to get back to his home in the U.S.
Mr. Gordon is one of more than 4,000 foreign-language teachers working for Nova to be slammed by the biggest scandal in Japan's foreign community in years. The company, renowned in Japan for the hip-shaking pink bunny in its commercials, had been on a hiring binge, setting up recruitment offices in the U.S. and the United Kingdom and prowling college campuses offering jobs.

Nozomu Sahashi, the company's quirky founder, was fired last week as president and has dropped from sight. Now, worrisome details are trickling out: The 56-year-old executive had quietly moved profits from publicly traded Nova to his private company, a court-appointed administrator alleged at a news conference. The administrators, who are scrambling to find a sponsor to help turn around Nova, showed reporters his lavish office, which has a Jacuzzi, a tea room and a secret bedroom.

Now, the Nova teachers are jobless and those who have lived from paycheck to paycheck are stuck in Japan. Some have been threatened with eviction from their apartments because Nova, which had provided housing and deducted the rent from teachers' salaries, stopped paying rent months ago. In the past week, 300 Nova teachers have swarmed the usually orderly employment agency office in western Tokyo, called Hello Work, seeking jobs.

One labor union is planning to arrange for teachers in distress to give lessons in exchange for a Japanese bento-box meal. Alarmed that so many of its citizens are affected, the Australian government has struck a deal with Qantas Airways Ltd. to provide discounted one-way air tickets to Sydney.

"I'm not really looking for a new job because the market is just flooded with teachers," says Matya Sheppard, a 23-year-old Canadian Nova teacher who is dipping into her savings to pay for food and other expenses.

"I have no one to talk to. I'm in limbo," says Kristen Moon, a 23-year-old teacher from Philadelphia who fears she will lose her Tokyo apartment. Ms. Moon, who came to Japan in May for a "new experience" after graduating from college in New Zealand, is getting along by giving private lessons to several Nova students.

English-conversation schools are a big business in Japan. Millions of Japanese dream of speaking English. But the six years of language classes given in middle and high schools focus on grammar, not conversation, so few children learn to speak English well. The $3.5-billion-a-year foreign-language-education industry teems with more than 1,100 companies catering to about two million students, according to the Japan Association for the Promotion of Foreign Language Education.

The Osaka-born Mr. Sahashi, who founded Nova in 1981, used a particularly inviting pitch. He promised his clients native English teachers at half the price or less charged by rival schools. He touted lessons as cheap as a movie ticket, so students could drop by as casually as if they were going to a bar. There was one catch: To get the cheapest price -- about $13.50 for a 40-minute class -- students had to pay in advance for 600 lessons.

Armed with a wildly popular marketing campaign featuring a cheeky pink bunny mascot, Nova rapidly opened 900 schools, took on 400,000 students ranging from toddlers to businesspeople and dominated the language-school industry. The bunny, which shook its hips and, in TV commercials, came to the rescue of people who wanted to improve their foreign-language skills, became a nationwide phenomenon. It soon even appeared as a character in videogames. The school's convenient locations and policy of letting students come in whenever they wanted to were also a hit. Sales reached $500 million in the year ended March 31.


Teacher Kristen Moon appears in the costume of Nova's mascot, which union members refer to as 'bunny which lays off workers,' at a news conference.
To gather enough teachers, Nova set up nine recruiting centers in cities from Chicago to Sydney, according to the company's recruiting Web site, now shut down, and posted ads on Internet job sites. Salaries offered were modest -- between $2,000 and $2,600 a month -- but the hiring process was simple, consisting mainly of a grammar test and short interview, teachers say. "We interview 100,000 foreigners every year," wrote Mr. Sahashi in a Japanese magazine article this year.

Once they landed in Japan, teachers say they got straight to work. "It was trial by fire," says Jerry Johnston, a 24-year-old Floridian who started teaching for Nova in July. Mr. Johnston, who was recruited at a career fair at Florida State University, said an experienced instructor watched him teach for a couple of days and corrected him when he spent too much time on any one part of the lesson plan. Then he was on his own.

Students, meanwhile, found it hard to book lessons because there weren't enough teachers. And when students quit before attending all their prepaid classes, the school recalculated the lessons at a higher rate, thus reducing their refunds.

Thousands of Nova students complained to consumer-protection agencies. In June, the government effectively banned the sale of Nova's key product: hugely discounted prepaid tickets. Nova quickly ran out of funds, and checks began to bounce in July. On Friday, the company filed for reorganization proceedings, the equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

That has left students like Mari Matsunami with a bunch of prepaid tickets. "I hope a sponsor will come up and continue the operation so I can use up all the tickets," says the 39-year-old accountant. Ms. Matsunami, who has taken English lessons at Nova for 10 years, says she believes her unused tickets are worth about $1,300.

Many Nova teachers, hoping to remain in Japan, are looking for other jobs. It hasn't been easy, since most don't speak Japanese. But a more-promising option may be emerging in a nearby country with its own major hankering for English skills.

EF English First, a European language school operating 100 schools in China, posted an open letter on the Internet to Nova teachers last week offering to hire as many as 1,000 people, complete with free air fare to China and a hotel room during a two-week orientation.

"We're opening a school a week -- and there's more demand than supply of teachers," says Molly Fitzpatrick, the schools' director of teaching recruitment and development.
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Re: Nova goes belly-up

Unread postby Chopvac » 02 Nov 2007, 16:00

Peter Easton wrote:Japanese Lesson: How Do You Say,'Taken for a Ride'?

By YUKARI IWATANI KANE and YUKA HAYASHI
November 2, 2007; Page A1

TOKYO -- Fresh out of college, Sam Gordon bought a one-way ticket to Tokyo for a chance to explore Japan's exotic culture while teaching English at the nation's largest language school. All it took to get the job was one simple interview.


This is one part of the teaching business that really pisses me off. Any valid criticism of such problems or attempts to make prospective teachers aware of them (be they legal, cultural, social, or others) is avoided, attacked, labelled as "racism", or worst, silenced (true but negative comments are not permitted on many recruiters' sites). Finding accurate information that is objective and true, not just glowingly positive, is near impossible. There is so much I should have been told before I first crossed the ocean that was hidden.

Edit:
Let me give a few examples of what I mean about negative but true: Koreans expect foreigners to eat what they do and often give meat to people who state they are vegetarians (I'm not, but I sympathize); Koreans who are christians often expect foreigners to join their churches - I've had wages taken in "penalty" by one employer for not going to church with her; and most Korean men smoke as do many Korean women, and they think bathrooms are smoking rooms, including yours if they visit your apartment. Pointing out those things isn't "racism", yet I have been called that for my honesty.

Peter Easton wrote:The adventure, which began five years ago, has abruptly come to an end. His employer, Nova Corp., hasn't paid him since September. The company closed its operations last week and filed for court protection, following a government crackdown on its business strategy. With $20 left in his bank account, the 28-year-old Mr. Gordon says he is living on his credit card.

"At least I have a big fridge and still have some food in it," says Mr. Gordon. He doesn't want to go home to Milford, Del., just yet, he says, because he'd have to borrow money for the plane ticket.


I hate to criticize the man, but if I read this correctly, he's been working for five years and has *no* savings? What is he doing with the money? I only have about $1000 on hand, but at least paying off student loans with the rest isn't a waste of money.


Peter Easton wrote:Now, the Nova teachers are jobless and those who have lived from paycheck to paycheck are stuck in Japan. Some have been threatened with eviction from their apartments because Nova, which had provided housing and deducted the rent from teachers' salaries, stopped paying rent months ago. In the past week, 300 Nova teachers have swarmed the usually orderly employment agency office in western Tokyo, called Hello Work, seeking jobs.


In my first job I was provided an apartment by an employer, but I found from later work that getting one and signing a lease yourself is the way to go. Only the government should be concerned with both where you live and work, not your landlord or employer. All teachers should find apartments on their own, not be dependent on the employer.


Peter Easton wrote:"We interview 100,000 foreigners every year," wrote Mr. Sahashi in a Japanese magazine article this year.

Once they landed in Japan, teachers say they got straight to work. "It was trial by fire," says Jerry Johnston, a 24-year-old Floridian who started teaching for Nova in July. Mr. Johnston, who was recruited at a career fair at Florida State University, said an experienced instructor watched him teach for a couple of days and corrected him when he spent too much time on any one part of the lesson plan. Then he was on his own.


Wonderful. A 30 year fly-by-night operation.


Peter Easton wrote:Many Nova teachers, hoping to remain in Japan, are looking for other jobs. It hasn't been easy, since most don't speak Japanese. But a more-promising option may be emerging in a nearby country with its own major hankering for English skills.

EF English First, a European language school operating 100 schools in China, posted an open letter on the Internet to Nova teachers last week offering to hire as many as 1,000 people, complete with free air fare to China and a hotel room during a two-week orientation.

"We're opening a school a week -- and there's more demand than supply of teachers," says Molly Fitzpatrick, the schools' director of teaching recruitment and development.


Mainland China? Talk about "out of the frying pan and into the fire". There may be some/many reputable schools there, but while searching for work there I encountered more dodgy recruiters and schools in China than in any other country I looked at. If those in Japan want a quick escape, try Korea. It's closer and the chance of corruption is less, plus the wages are better.

One has to wonder if the Japanese government is being understanding or is blaming the teachers. It would be atrocious if their attitude is, "We don't care that you were cheated and we didn't investigate or prevent it, that's your problem".
Last edited by Chopvac on 03 Nov 2007, 08:12, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread postby Alex Case » 03 Nov 2007, 01:57

Don't know what EF China is like, but EF Indonesia is notorious.

My sympathies are also limited for people who have worked for 5 years and have no savings. At the very least you think they might have been a bit more careful with their money in the last 2 or 3 months since they found out that the Japanese staff was getting paid late. With the money they got paid in Sept you could buy a thousand meals of pot noodles or rice balls in Japan, 2000 bags of pasta or loaves of bread, or 500 meals at the Yoshinoya beef on a bowl of rice chain. How can anyone possibly not have enough money to eat in Japan??
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Unread postby Peter Easton » 03 Nov 2007, 07:55

EF English First, a European language school operating 100 schools in China, posted an open letter on the Internet to Nova teachers last week offering to hire as many as 1,000 people, complete with free air fare to China and a hotel room during a two-week orientation.

"We're opening a school a week -- and there's more demand than supply of teachers," says Molly Fitzpatrick, the schools' director of teaching recruitment and development.


Nothing like a shameless opportunistic PR stunt by EF to round off the story. It's an ill wind that blows someone a good fortune.....
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Nova

Unread postby Jane » 03 Nov 2007, 15:09

Quote: (haven't worked out how you all do nice quotey things yet)

"Many Nova teachers, hoping to remain in Japan, are looking for other jobs. It hasn't been easy, since most don't speak Japanese. But a more-promising option may be emerging in a nearby country with its own major hankering for English skills.

EF English First, a European language school operating 100 schools in China, posted an open letter on the Internet to Nova teachers last week offering to hire as many as 1,000 people, complete with free air fare to China and a hotel room during a two-week orientation. "

I dunno how long these teachers have been in Japan - one has been there 5 years - and yet the majority don't speak Japanese. I don't think that's the attitude to have towards a host country. I stayed in POland for 18 months and mastered (or mistressed) the basics: directions, shopping, greetings. Every else where I've worked - for longer than 18 months - I've got to a much higher level.

If htese teachers haven't learnt Japanese, how will they get on in China? I've heard it's really bad there if you don't speak the language.

Jane
Last edited by Jane on 03 Nov 2007, 15:12, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Nova

Unread postby Jane » 03 Nov 2007, 15:10

Jane wrote:Quote:

"Many Nova teachers, hoping to remain in Japan, are looking for other jobs. It hasn't been easy, since most don't speak Japanese. But a more-promising option may be emerging in a nearby country with its own major hankering for English skills.

EF English First, a European language school operating 100 schools in China, posted an open letter on the Internet to Nova teachers last week offering to hire as many as 1,000 people, complete with free air fare to China and a hotel room during a two-week orientation. "

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Unread postby sonnet » 04 Nov 2007, 04:01

Ah, living in China's not too bad if you don't speak the language. Like anywhere else in the world, though, it's a damn sight better if you do.

But, having tried both, I'd say Chinese is easier to learn than Japanese, epsecially if you're living here.

EF China is... (ok, I'm biased, I work for them) nowhere near as bad as certain forums would have you believe. There are good places & bad places, just like any other company or industry.

And, yes, the NOVA-EF thing may be opportunistic & not look particularly great, but, well, recruitment in China is becoming a bit of a nightmare, so it'd be daft not to try.
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NOva

Unread postby Jane » 04 Nov 2007, 14:13

Maybe I wasn't clear eough.

What i wanted to say was: if a teacher (or anybody else) doesn't learn the language of a country after 5 years, it indicates a lack of interest in that country. If that's the case, why do they want to stay?

I can't make any comment about how easy or difficult it is to learn Chinese and Japanese but I do know that language teachers are experts in learning languages. They know the strategies that aid learning. Surely after 5 years they could have put this knowledge to use!

Jane
Last edited by Jane on 05 Nov 2007, 12:48, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread postby sonnet » 04 Nov 2007, 15:59

Well, I agree with you on a lot of that. If someone lives & works in a country for even a year, and doesn't pick up the native language in at least basic survival terms, then they'd better have a good excuse.

And yes, language teachers should be expert,motivated language learners. However, in Asia especially, they can often be people on a glorified gap year.

I personally don't employ such "teachers", and wouldn't take such "teachers" as NOVA cast-offs. However, one heck of a lot of schools are willing to, and hence the problems continue...
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Nova

Unread postby Jane » 04 Nov 2007, 19:18

Hi everybody,

I agree with sonnet. I've seen that in other places too: a lot of teachers are on their gap year.

It's a shame because they take lower salaries than qualified teachers which makes it difficult for qualified people to request a higher salary.

Jane
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Unread postby Alex Case » 06 Nov 2007, 00:03

Even without speaking the language, Tokyo is just a much easier and more pleasant place to live than London, and the pay for a TEFL teacher is better too. Hence the situation of needing an interest in the language and culture to make up for the inconveniences of daily life or just going home doesn't exist in Japan. Although I can't imagine not learning a language in 5 years myself, I can see how it sometimes happens in Japan.

Other factors include:
- The Japanese don't actually want you to speak much Japanese, they want to speak English to you and they want their country to remain a mystery to outsiders
- Learning to read is a real slog, and then most of the press turns out not to be worth reading once you get the ability
- The local Japanese language textbooks stink
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