Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gone Seoul Searching in Japan: Teaching for Westgate Corporation at the University Program

Orientation day for the Westgate University Program takes place in central Tokyo with all employees present.

Robyn and I on our first day of orientation.
   My experience working for the Westgate University Program was to put it bluntly and keep it short, nothing short of amazing. Westgate is a private corporation in Japan that contracts to Universities and schools and provides Native English Speaking ESL teachers to work at those schools. If you have been teaching in South American Countries or Europe, you will be shocked to learn that Westgate employees earn    quadruple what you are used to making within a very high standard of living. You can save upwards of $1500 per month while traveling and seeing some great places. (Yes I know Japan is expensive, but its not as bad as everyone says it is if you are eating in the school cafeteria every day for lunch which is delicious and buying Japanese groceries for breakfast and dinner, if you eat out every meal like a dummy then yes, you will blow your paychecks).There are two terms, Spring and Fall and each term is a short term 3-4 month contract. The company will sponsor your work visa, reimburse you for a $1200 plane ticket, provide you with housing (deducted from you monthly paycheck), a rail pass to get to and from work everyday, and give you a work cell phone to be used for Westgate purposes only.
    During my Spring term I arrived the end of April and finished mid July. Such a short term contract is great for those that are not looking to commit to living in Japan long term, or can use this as a summer job between  semesters at home. If you haven't seen the tour of my apartment in Japan, click the link for a live tour.

There are so many great things I could say about Westgate. Here are some of them:

Some of my students with their daily planners.

1. The company is extremely organized. You will receive all of the contracts by express air mail. The visa process is a piece of cake. And you will receive detailed directions about your arrival, a detailed online training, a detailed plane ticket process, etc. EVERYTHING IS VERY DETAILED. You are moving to Japan. They are the home of organization, so get used to it.

2. The pay is great. All of the details are of course right on their website. Beware that your first 2 weeks of teaching and training are prorated as you have a few days to adjust to the country. Though your contract says $275,000 yen per month, you will not get that until after your first full month of teaching. The first 2 weeks are prorated for training and actual days spent teaching.

3. They provide you with a small welcome package. A pot, fork, spoon, etc is all in the box. Its a nice treat to get for moving into a new apartment and living there short term. The company really does make you feel like you are important and likes you to at least have basic living necessities upon arrival.

4. Your Japanese students will be among your favorite in your life time. They are the most hardworking students I have ever known, yes even more than my Korean students. They are always upbeat, positive, outgoing, and smiling. The first class expect them to be very shy and quiet, but they will open up quickly if you bring it out in them and show them who you really are. Since there is no homework in the program, nor grades, the classes are easy going and fun. There is little stress except for the end of the semester presentations that each student is required to give. If you would like to see what the students are like take a look at some of the videos from my students final show and tell presentations to gauge an idea of their level and personalities. I taught the basic-high level, or B class at my university.

5. You will most likely have a high tech toilet and fill up that tiny bathtub! Its amazing!

Delicious lunches everyday in the cafeteria!
There are some things that weary ESL professionals should be aware of before committing: 

1. You can find a cheaper apartment, a much cheaper apartment, than the ones Westgate recommends that you live in. Rumors are that the Leo Palace chains that all Westgate employees live in are owned by the company or that Westgate gets a kickback for housing so many employees. Yes, they are making money off of you through the housing 81,000 JPY a month is quite a bit to pay, but your apartment will be nice and you can rest assured it will be in a good neighborhood. But, it is super easy to go along with it because everything is arranged. You will also be living with other Westgate employees in the same building. In my building there were 9 of us which was nice because I never felt lonely and made great friends with many of them. While other Westgate employees told me there were only 1 or 2 other employees in their apartment complex.

2. You may feel that your PC or the company in general doesn't trust you. He or she will come once or more times per week and just hang around for hours to see how you are doing. This doesn't seem so bad, but my PC actually just sat in the lobby outside our classrooms and was either just hanging out or peeking in to see what we were doing. She was usually doing this for about 3-4 hours at a time. This made the other two teachers and myself feel like we were being watched for no reason. However, cultural norms in Japan are different. The point of the PC is to check up on you and to keep everyone connected as work partners are seen as a community rather than as individuals. Get used to your PC just hanging around, and don't let it bother you too much. They are mostly just there to be friendly. You will only actually be observed one time to make sure you are doing ok with the programs teaching methods and daily lesson plans.

3. If you are used to using technology in your classroom say goodbye. There are no computers, projectors, and in some cases no computers in your classrooms. The computers are very old and are only to be used for recording attendance. This was very difficult for me as I learned about a ton of ways to integrate technology into my classes, but the Westgate program does not utilize any technology as part of their lessons. If you bring in your own laptop you may be able to show video clips or pictures, but you will most likely not have wireless internet to connect too. Don't ask the staff about this, it will cause problems. If you don't have it, don't bother. Westgate is strict about their agreements with the Universities and they don't even want their employees bringing in zip drives or flash drives to print out materials.

4. You have a very, extremely, tiny, sized copy budget and in most cases no access to a printer hooked up to a computer. Yes, that means you must use mostly all of the Westgate materials provided to you. If you want to use your own materials, you must print them out from a manga cafe somewhere which means you need to pay by time to use the computer and to print things. Printing in Japan is a weird thing. They don't like it and don't do it. At least that's how it was at my University. They want to be very green and support the environment, I get that, but its a little inconvenient sometimes as a teacher. The program encourages your students to copy down the white board into their own notebooks so that they have notes from each class. This can be a huge waste of time, so I just allowed my students to take pictures with their smart phones. They seemed to like that strategy better than copying down things. I also used clear plastic folders and pens so that the students could write on activities and then erase them when they were finished and I could use them for the next class. That way, I would only have to make 6 copies of the handout for the entire day. The copy budget was $20 for the entire 3 months and it was 10 Cents a copy. You must use your own money for copies and then get reimbursed at the end of the program.

5. You will be assigned a book to use for your class and will have a daily lesson planner with each days lesson to teach. There are so many ways that you can adapt the lessons that you will have total creativity in your lessons. All of the classes are 50 minutes in length and most teachers will teach the same class all day. Yes, that means you might teach the same lessons 6 times in a day. You will also have English Challenge lessons in which you may do whatever you want with the students at that time. You have free reign in those lessons to focus on anything you or the students think they need to work on. Those classes are optional, so if students don't show up, you have an extra break.

6. You will most likely be commuting 1 hour on the train to work every day. Follow some of my tips about the daily commute on my article about surviving the daily commute in Japan. They will help you greatly. Also be ready to feel exhausted 5 days a week. The schedule is long and often times employees leave at 7am and return home by 8 or 9 completely wiped out. By the end of the program most teachers are talking about how tired they are to each other and how much work the program really is. So don't expect a walk in the park if this is your first time working at Westgate!
My daily schedule at Westgate. 

I hope you enjoyed my review of Westgate. If you have any questions don't hesitate to leave a comment below!

If you have any questions or comments about "Gone Seoul Searching in Japan: Teaching for Westgate Corporation at the University Program" please leave them in the comment box below or email them to goneseoulsearching@gmail.com 
  Creative Commons License  Gone Seoul Searching by Marie Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at goneseoulsearching@gmail.com.

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Creative Commons License
Gone Seoul Searching by Marie Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at goneseoulsearching@gmail.com.
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