I should’ve written this post when the interview results
first came out, so I’m sorry about how late it is. Anyways, if JET didn’t work
out for whatever reason and you still want to teach English in Japan, here are
some of the other options available. Disclaimer: I haven’t worked for any of
these companies, so my knowledge is obviously very limited. Do your research,
but don’t be put off about applying for private companies! There’s this weird elitism surrounding the JET Program, which I feel is mostly empty posturing. Don’t
get me wrong, I love JET—but it’s not the only good choice.
The two main types of work you can get are ALT work and
eikaiwa, so I’ll use those categories.
ALT (assistant language teacher)
This is literally the same job you’d get as a teacher on the
JET Program, except you are contracted by a dispatch company, instead of a local government organization. Back when I was looking into options there was
tons of stuff written about the pros vs. cons of working for a company, and
even about how it’s a less satisfying job because it’s missing the grassroots
internationalization aspect of JET or whatever, but now that I’m here, I feel
like this is misleading. Your experience depends on you, your perspective, and
what you’re willing to put into it, and also of course your situation in Japan.
I can’t think of any way in which specifically being on JET has opened up more
opportunities for cultural exchange. You can meet a lot of cool people on JET,
but my AJET chapter welcomes non-JET expats and pretty much anyone who wants to
join, and I think a lot of others do as well. Your job mostly depends on what
schools you’re placed in, and that’s so varied and unpredictable that there’s
no use comparing JET with private companies. You could end up in amazing or
terrible schools with either.
The only really tangible difference is in the pay and
vacation time. Admittedly money is a very important factor, so if you are
supporting dependents, paying back student loans, etc., then it definitely might
be worth waiting to reapply for JET, which pays a higher salary, covers your
insurance, and sometimes subsidizes rent. But if you aren’t in a situation
where you need the extra cushioning, think it through carefully. It’s easy to
be attracted to higher pay for doing the exact same job (I was!), but now I kind
of wish I had more vacation time to travel instead. The majority of JETs have
to go to work during school vacations (summer vacation, etc.) and are paid for
it, while most companies give their ALTs the time off (and don’t pay them). If
you can stretch the cash out, it would be incredible to have entire weeks off
to travel. You do, however, get more free vacation days with JET.
Here are some of the major companies:
- Interac: I submitted an online application for Interac in
April, got a phone call the next day to set up an interview, interviewed in
June, and was sent an offer of employment at the beginning of July. It took
less than half the time of my JET application process. If you apply now, it
might be too late to start working this year, but that just depends on how many
spots they’ve filled, so give it a shot! I found the entire process very
professional, and if you’re the type who freezes up in interviews (me), the
interview was much less stressful and interrogation-style than my JET interview
- ALTIA, Borderlink, Heart. I
have no experience with any of these companies, and can’t comment on them. The
general consensus seems to be that all major ALT companies are very similar,
and offer essentially the same deal.
Eikaiwa are private schools that operate outside of the
public education system. Depending on the company, they offer cram-school type
lessons to students looking for extra practice with English, lessons for adults
who want to learn English, and even lessons for babies and toddlers whose
parents want them to learn English. The most common complaint about eikaiwa is
that they work their teachers to the bone. You have to plan and teach all
your classes on your own, and teach many classes a day, possibly with no
breaks and little time to plan on the job. I haven’t worked for an eikaiwa, but
in Canada I worked briefly for a school with a very similar set-up (6 classes
every day, each had to be a unique lesson plan, and planning done on your own
time). It was crap pay for a demanding job, but I have to say: in terms of
teaching English alone (not cultural experiences, relationships with students
beyond the classroom, etc.), the two months I spent working there were
immensely more rewarding than the nine months I’ve been an ALT. Getting a
first-hand experience of the public education system here has been extremely
valuable to me and I wouldn’t change it, but ALT work can be unchallenging and
pointless. If you are serious about TEFL, and you want to help motivated
students make real progress in their language learning, then eikaiwa is probably the way to go.
Eikaiwa teachers have completely different schedules
(outside of school hours, so typically evening work), are often paid a bit more
than privately hired ALTs, and are unlikely to be placed in really rural
locations. Take all that into consideration. Also, big companies have more
flexibility regarding hiring/starting dates since they don’t hire based on the
school year calendar, so you’d have a better chance of starting this year.
- ECC: I was attracted to ECC because they seem to offer the
best deal among eikaiwa re: pay and vacation time, which you can check out on
their site. I ended up being upgraded for JET and cancelling my interview with
them, but they also had a pretty quick response rate. Reviews for the company
skew more to the positive side.
- AEON: One of the biggest (maybe the biggest?) eikaiwa companies.
Reviews for them are really mixed, and ultimately I was put off by the amount
of complaints about the businesslike pressure to always sell more books and
courses to your students, whether or not you think they actually need it. They
do offer a good salary (more working hours than ECC), so it would be a good
option for someone who wants to make a living in a major city.
- Some others: Berlitz, NOVA, Gaba. Gaba is one-on-one
classes. NOVA went bankrupt in 2007, but is now owned and operated by a
A third option is just to move to Japan and start looking
for jobs on the ground. If you check out websites like Gaijinpot, you’ll see
that there a lot of positions only open to people already in the country. The
obvious advantage of this is that you have control over where in Japan you live,
and the obvious disadvantage is the financial and psychological stress of
moving to a different country (where you possibly don’t speak the language)
without a job lined up.
Again, I have not worked for any of these companies and am just
summarizing what I found while researching JET alternatives, but I hope this is
helpful to someone. It’s best to get opinions from multiple sources, especially
people who have worked more than one job in Japan. Glassdoor has reviews for most if not all of these companies, so that’s a good place to start. And if anyone reading this
has more information to add, or wants to discuss their own experience, please
do chime in!
Extra reading: Unofficial JET Program Guide with more links, breakdown of ALT vs. eikaiwa, and breakdown of JET vs. Interac.
As a last note, you are going to come across horror stories
for everything, including JET. Take these seriously, but if they don’t make up
the majority of the reviews, don’t let them scare you. There are downsides to
everything, but if you come with an open mind you can make the most of many of
the difficulties you face here, and you can always leave a really negative situation.