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Working at NOVA: My Experience

The opportunity for me to teach English in Japan seemed like a great experience. I have always wanted to go to Japan. I initially came into contact with Nova through my University and I held onto the information for years always thinking I should send them my resume. After spending a few months working 60 plus hours for an internet startup I applied for a job with Nova. After jumping through some hoops of interviewing and paperwork I was hired and had a confirmation date to go to Japan.

I quit my job in January and traveled in Central America for two months. I sold everything I owned in The United States. I came to Japan with a computer, surfboard and some clothes. Now I consider myself a pretty well traveled guy, I have backpacked through the US, drove a car from San Diego(hometown) to Costa Rica and moved to Hawaii with virtually no money and not knowing a soul. But nothing could compare me to the culture shock of Japan. Everything seemed so surreal when I first arrived, maybe it was because I hadn't slept in two days or maybe it was me, but I was so glad to be greeted by Nova staff at the airport.

After being greeted at the airport the other teachers and I were taken by various trains to our apartments. I was slated to live near Yokohama in a town called Hiratsuka. Hiratsuka can best be described as a suburb of Yokohama. Living there reminded me of living in any other American suburb except everyone was Japanese and I couldn't read the menu at my local restaurant. My apartment was nice especially considering I had just returned from Central America where I was living in a van or a tent so I was really happy to be provided a decent sized, furnished clean room. The apartment was also set up with a community TV, cookware and cleaning supplies (vacuum, brooms, mops etc.) so I was pretty happy not too have to buy that stuff.

I came to Japan with about $1000 US. I found for me that this was ample to get me by on my first month until I got my paycheck. I also took the advance that Nova gave me but did not spend it. Now I say $1000 was ample to get me by but for the first month I lived pretty lean. I cooked most of my meals at home. With the exception of buying a few items like a cell phone and gym membership I didn't splurge much that first month. Although I was able to save the Nova advance I know many teachers that weren't. If you like to go clubbing and drinking a lot then Japan will break your wallet quick. Going out to bars and clubs cost some serious coin, there are many Nova teachers who have been here for well over a year and are still living check to check because every month they party their check away.

The job at Nova for me was pretty boring. You go through eight lessons a day five days a week. While there is a certain degree of flexibility in your lessons, it was hard for me to keep the smiley face on for 40 lessons a week. If you have enjoyed working in a restaurant or a factory then you might have a higher tolerance for the work then I did. The best part of Nova for me are the people: The students and your co-workers. Some of the students you meet are great and very interesting. I have gone on surf trips, hiking and to the movies with a few of my students.

I also enjoyed most the people I work with. My AT (Head Teacher) was a good guy and I really enjoyed hanging out with some of the other teachers after work. While I lucked out and most of the teachers I worked with were cool I still did have a good handful of Novite drones. The drones were there to snitch on you and generally make your day unenjoyable if you tried to do anything that was slightly out of line with Nova policy. For example a drone might snitch on you if you were trying to actually enjoy a lesson and use creativity instead of using the structured Nova lesson plan. Another thing you could get in trouble for is spending time with students. I always was very discreet when I would spend time with students outside of class. Although the no socialization policy is selectively followed I always figured better safe than sorry. The drones were also notorious for a lot of back stabbing against other teachers to benefit themselves (This showed corporate loyalty). However, there is nothing special about the drones you can find them in every corporation across the world. They are easily spotted, I just avoided them and did fine. Overall I didn't spend too much time with the people I worked with, I just tried to put my head down and work, be cordial with everyone (even the Novite drones) and go home and enjoy a social life I had built outside of Nova. Japan is a great country it's full of fun stuff to do in your spare time. In my opinion your co-workers can play a big role in your whole Nova experience. While I was pretty lucky with my AT and co-workers, I have heard some nightmare stories from other teachers who got into a nightmare school where they will ride you for not having a perfect crease in your pants or some other trivial bullshit.

One of my biggest gripes with the teaching methods at Nova is the textbook. Published in the early 1980s and designed for Mexican nationals immigrating to the US this is the book we are required to teach from. While Nova does allow a certain degree of flexibility in what you teach if you don't use the book there is an increased chance of a student complaining. This is where my boredom problem came in, I didn't want a student to complain so I would usually use the book at least a little bit in each lessons, with the exception of Man to Man lessons where I would give the student the choice of what they wanted to do. Now I will be the first admit that I am not a great teacher, but the above complaint is fairly common with all Nova teachers.

Another gripe I have with Nova is the fact that they take advantage of new teachers but over charging them on housing. For example in my apartment between three roommates we paid a total of 216,000 Yen. The apartment above us with the exact same floor plan paid 156,000. Now I realize they provide us with a furnished room but I would think a company of Nova's size (which I am sure receives great deals on rent because of the raw volume of units they rent.) could at least charge us only the going rate to show their appreciation to us as employees. Heck, if they even gave us a deal it might actually promote company loyalty and they might have less employee turnover. Getting overcharged on housing is another widely felt resentment by most teachers.

So I worked for Nova for five months. I was going to try to make it six so I could get my paid holiday but it was just impossible for me to go on. I was tired of wearing slacks and a tie, I was tired of the factory work they call English teaching and most of all I was tired of not being able to openly forge friendships with students that I would see every day without lying about it. So I began to look for a new job and landed another part-time teaching job and got a bunch of private students. Now I am making the same amount of money in three days a week that I was making at five with Nova. Having the additional time off allows me to do other things in Japan such as enroll in Japanese language school, study aikido and form friendships with some of the people who I teach.

In hindsight the Nova experience wasn't bad, it allowed me to pay down off some debt, provided me with a working visa, helped me find good accommodations. However, Nova still is a corporate machine and I have always had problems working for large corporations. I found that there is much more rewarding teaching work to be found in Japan. For anyone who is reading this wondering if they should come to Japan and work for Nova I would recommend they take the job. Everyone is different your experience could be totally different than mine. Who knows you might be the next 10 year Nova veteran.

Ryan Smith



Nova does suck, but it was able to "get me in the door" so to speak. After finding another job at a chill Eikaiwa, I actually began to form meaningful relationships with others, pursue hobbies, and live as I pleased. I would advise anyone interested in Nova to simply use it as a temporary stepping and cushion before finding another apartment and job.

Another Nova smoke screen foxy con job recruitment line – see below

Reality – Nova only want you there for a very short period because

(a) They get to pay you a tuppence “probationary” salary (the length of probation entirely disproportionate to the length of training for their “no teaching qualifications and/or experience” recruits)
(b) They get to rip you off blind on accommodation charges (sometimes 2 to 3 times the commercial rate)
(c) They get to sell your Japan mesmerized mind shoddy insurance policies, and other assorted rotten eggs from the bottomless pit of Nova’s rubbish basket
(d) They want you out the door before you really wake up to what they are on about

Intercultural Exchange? Language teaching? Communication? Hmmm. Think

Nova's job was and is, by extensive advertising, all about:

PHASE ONE - getting people to part with money cash up front, and, if
the customers did or do not have money, to then loan shark that money
(and charge enormous fees in that process).

PHASE TWO – illegally pilfering the money when they quit early,
either entirely, or via refund manipulation.

PHASE THREE, filling the vacant time slot with another advertising
hooked consumer.

Yes, a very simple revolving door game – a perpetual motion engine.

Nothing to do with "language education" or "intercultural exchange"
at all really – that was just the "product" chosen to flog, and
pretty easy to sell, given Japan's dependency on international trade.


"Lessons" sold in bulk, cheap if you use them all, but impossible to
use them all.


Extortionist penalty rates applying for those wanting refunds (most
Japanese simply being too embarrassed to even ask, and just
disappearing into the woodwork, with half their lessons unutilized).

Many Japanese also unaware of their rights (hmmm, just like the


The student pays up, after a time does not show up, and their monies
are either entirely pocketed, or given a savage crew cut when refunds
are demanded. The vacant time slot left – soon filled by another
student hooked by Nova advertising and salesmanship. That's right –
profits maximized by students quitting. That was the Nova game.


And that's why standards at Nova are largely non-existent. Most of
Nova's efforts are on the fishing exercise, not the product. That's
why people can't believe how "easy" the job at first appears (until
the monotony of the overly stacked timetable drives you bonkers) – it
is like being paid to "play act". Well of course it is – Nova does not
even really care of focus on the final stage of the equation – the
main act is grabbing the money in advance, and trying to keep it when
the student does not like John Smith's lessons, and quickly
stuffing another new student in the hole left behind. The final stage
act - the lesson - well, sadly largely irrelevant.


The product - it has always been simply about "appearances" – that is
why they have never spent any real money on proper training, proper
texts, or employing highly qualified language experts. The money game
is in the hunt, the capture, and the squeeze, not the product.

A long as things appear structured – a text, a timely well dressed
instructor – tough shit if the student quits is the real attitude
behind the fake concern shown on the surface – the students never get
their money back in entirety, and there was always another student
waiting to come and fall into the bear trap. A good business (if you
ignore the shocking lack of ethics) – monies to Nova maximized –
profits augmented by students not finishing their contracts. Nice.
Very nice.


As far as employees go - turn up with a hangover, clock on, follow
the minimum input steps a retard could follow, get through the volume
of lessons, clock off, end of story. Why? Because 99% of Nova's work
was completed before you even laid eyes on you student/s for their
first lesson. The instructor and the "lesson" – from an economic view
point, as long as they "appeared" to be ok, and the lesson covered a
bare minimum of steps, well, the very least of Nova's concerns.

Don't like the job – then quit – plenty of others to take your place
(sucked in by the same style Nova advertising, but targeted at
recruits, rather than consumers), and cheaper for Nova to employ
(probationary salaries), and easier to extort funds from, since
newbies need "accommodation assistance" (enormous rental overcharges).

Thus – very basic casual and insecure work conditions. Put up, or
shut up. Work conditions that, in fact, match the quality of product.


No real investment in instructors or product. Why?

Nova's core business is about selling spin to get money upfront, and
then trimming the refunds owed when the student quits early, and
filling their spot with yet another brainwashed twat drawn to the
consultation booth by the Nova advertising blitzes, just like a big
stupid fish swallowing a shiny lure. Simple stuff. Ah, the power of
advertising - amazing stuff.


Consumers are finally waking up to the fun and games of the chain
language school industry – they are not as receptive to fancy
advertising as previously (hence the recent targeting of mothers with
kids in tow, and old people - ie: the vulnerable).

The market has reached saturation point – for the number of schools
opened, there is no longer an endless line up of would be students
(hence the recent branch closures). The model does not work too well
when the sales are such hard work.


Nova's Refund Scam has been identified as ILLEGAL – not just by a
judge in a country town, but by the Supreme Court of Japan.

Impact on Nova's bottom line – enormous. Impact on them being able to
peddle bullshit, crap quality "intercultural experiences" – enormous.

The impact of the current situation on instructors – you will be
working your butts off, because quiet schools will be shut down – the
schedules will be chocker block. You will not get away with the fun
and games of the past – because there is no money in it for Nova now
when the student quits, and replacements students are not as easy to
find anymore. Nova will no longer be the place where you just turn
up, smile, get through the day the best way you can (drunk or sober) –
they either offer a proper service, or they sink.


Nova is now finally being held accountable, and that means, so too
will you.

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