It was a strange day when I arrived in Tokyo – well Narita Airport, actually in Chiba, in 2012. My wife and I had had to drop our honeymoon plans because I had been told that training for Interac would begin in April, but in fact started on the 20th of March. We’d got married on the 14th of March, had 3 days on the Gold Coast before flying into Narita on the 19th.
It was straight to the Toyoko Inn at Narita for five days of intensive training. My wife and I had our own room for the first night, but I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone because it would apparently be conceived as preferential treatment – we’d only been married for less than a week. I had got the job for interact through an online application and an interview or two via Skype.
There was a lot to organise both ends, mine and theirs, and when I told my wife we’d be living in Iwate, I have to say she wasn’t too thrilled about the idea. We’d hoped to be living around Yokohama where she lived, but I also knew this was going to be very unlikely. I had regular phone calls from the Iwate office as they told me they’d found a place to live and other things for me.
With a document they sent me I went to the Japanese consulate in Melbourne and organised the working visa. One of the last things I did was buy the actual flights to Japan, they kept telling me to hold off until they knew exactly when I’d be starting training. This made it hard to get decent priced flights, which is less of a problem if you’re having your flights paid for by the company, but that’s not what Interac offer.
At the airport I was greeted by an Interac representative and along with a few others, we were bussed to the hotel. Interac had hired out many rooms there, and we began with filling out forms and then a saliva drug test that NIGHT. Training began at 9am the next morning, and everyone was expected to wear a suit and tie.
I used to rather like ties. They were an accessory that could even be a little stylish. I don’t think that way anymore. Suits, ties, what does that mean? Uniformity. Sameness. No-one should stand out. In fact I would honestly say that I felt and still feel Interac were bigger on ties than the rest of Japan was.
Interac are pretty strict company on appearance, tardiness and these sort of things. There are decent reasons why too – I was 36 when I arrived, I’d been in the work force for a long time and I understood the importance of reliability. Others were younger, with less experience, maybe some were just out of university. Also, many took the job to come to Japan, in fact I’m not sure how many were in Japan because they wanted to teach English.
The issue faced with ESL teacher dispatch companies like Interac, and to a fair extent JET as well, is that although most of the applicants are in Japan for the experience, teachers in Japanese society hold a very important place. They have a high expectation placed on them, and a teacher who does something like being involved in a car accident, or a drinking incident, or heaven forbid a DRUGS incident, tarnishes the programme, the company and foreigners in general. Especially out in a place like Iwate.
So, much of the week’s training was aimed at emphasising this. Personally, I think they went a bit over the top. From a psychological perspective, they used negative reinforcement all weelk, shaming people who were late by making them line up on stage in front of everyone else (around 250 people) and apologise profusely in Japanese.
We were given a speech by a Japanese policeman telling us that roughly speaking, well, drugs are bad hmmmkay? And drink driving is a neddy no-no! Well, the legal limit is so low that you’re gone on half a beer. The claim that less than ONE PER CENT of people in Japan have EVER tried ANY sort of illegal drug was, in honesty, laughable. But that is their claim – apparently statistics are derived from getting people to fill out surveys. Japan is not the sort of place you’d admit to breaking the law to produce realistic results.
Not that I saw any drug use in my two years there, I must admit. It is certainly much lower than Australia, America, and the West. The guy compared the statistics with Western countries coming in at over 40% before he proudly told us how low drug-use was in Japan, and how they weren’t like the decadent West in Japan.
After trying to scare everyone straight, the main focus was on the first lesson, the ‘Introductory Lesson’. Principally they had concepts they wanted us to pick up on, and we practiced running games and exercises and then at the end we had to present a shortened version of the class to around 30 of our peers.
During the week people would be asked up on stage to demonstrate different things and have a go in front of the whole group of 250. Well, it was quickly turned into the thing that everyone was dreading being asked to do. Sometimes they called for volunteers, but at other times names were chosen randomly. Then people were lambasted, abused and insulted by one instructor in particular. Actually, and those who are or were in Interac will know who I am talking about, it was pretty much just the one person.
People were made to feel tiny. Useless. Pathetic. It was farcical really. I haven’t mentioned this before, because well, I was still working for the company, but I still to this day believe that the approach taken was plain WRONG. Again, the idea was to scare people straight. To make people realise they were going into classrooms and they had to be ready for anything. But this guy reduced people to tears. I heard of one guy who quit during the training week the year after I started because of this treatment. Seriously, it was one step off attaching electrodes to people and zapping them every time they did something he thought was wrong.
By the end of the week, some felt more confident, some felt much less confident, and I’d say I fell into that category. The thing is, they are teaching teachers. What if the teachers picked up and tried to use these methods – which are not the methods they wanted and want teachers to use in schools? At the end of the day, it was a week of abuse and laying down the law, of wearing ties just because there was an image to protect (ok, they need to keep contracts), and most of the new teachers had arrived the same day as I. From much further away with big time differences. And this guy told everyone not to complain about being tired because he hadn’t slept the whole week because he was preparing (a little late you’d have to say) the programme for the next day.
Anyways. This was pretty much the worst of the experience. The other trainings were regional and much more pleasant, and indeed, constructive. We had tickets on the final night to go to our regional centres and were very glad to be out of that environment and on the Shinkansen. But, that would be for next week…