Part 3: Why I know what I know
I have enough stories about eikaiwa to last a thousand Arabian nights, but I’ll stick to the basics. I applied to be a CIR on the JET program the winter before my graduation. I basically failed the interview, but I was determined to get to Japan ASAP, so I decided to explore other options. I turned to the Ohayo-Sensei newsletter, and an advertisement for a private eikaiwa in Matsuyama popped out at me. I interviewed with them and they liked me, so I took the job, and three months later I was in Shikoku. Looking back, I basically took the job because of the location–I was pretty set on being in southern Japan. I don’t regret making my decision on that basis (the weather here is grand), though I probably should have considered a few other things (like everything mentioned above).
I started work at my first eikaiwa in 2007. At 150 students with two foreign teachers and three Japanese staff, it wasn’t the largest operation, but it did give me some valuable experience. Being practically on my own was a great incentive to make friends and meet people from a variety of circles, Japanese and foreign alike. Along with another eikaiwa teacher, I helped found the Matsuyama Social Group, now one of the largest non-governmental international organizations in the city, something I don’t think I would have been as deeply involved with as a JET teacher.
After a year and a half, I moved to another local eikaiwa in the same city. This is where I hit my stride as a teacher. Besides running four schools in the area, the owner of my new company also managed a translation branch and an online eikaiwa business. In addition to teaching, I became heavily involved in proofreading for the translation branch and was granted the title of Chief Editor. I took an active role in trying to improve the business and was eventually offered seishain status (permanent employment) and promised a semi-management position in a few years. With different goals in mind, however, I declined. I encountered a wealth of opportunities through my second company, one of which was a chance to join a community play group. I am still actively involved in bringing one of their particularly successful plays to an American audience.
After acquiring my JLPT N2 certification I took a job as a JET Coordinator of International Relations (finally!) in a town close to Matsuyama, and have worked here now for six months. It’s quite a leap in some ways from eikaiwa teacher to CIR, but I think the breadth of the responsibilities I held at my companies helped me to translate my experience into a non-teaching position.
It’s easy to see the ways that an ALT position can trump an eikaiwa job in terms of stability and support, but I believe that the right person at the right company can gain a great deal more out of the eikaiwa experience.
Sean Montgomery: Manga fan, politically opinionated, artistically inclined, and community organizer. He taught English in Matsuyama for 5 years, and is currently working as the CIR for Shikokuchuo City in Ehime prefecture.