Several months ago, I wrote this post about my process of applying to, and then receiving an offer from Westgate. During those months, I was very impressed with their efficiency and professionalism and felt hopeful that this would continue once I was in Japan.
I’m glad to say that my experience with Westgate continued to be incredibly positive. From the beginning of the application process, to the day I left, I felt that the Westgate staff was very approachable, supportive and communicative. There were no surprises and all of the information stated on their website and in the contract proved to be accurate.
There are over 150 teachers working for Westgate, and most of these people are teaching in universities in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Certainly, with that many teachers, there are bound to be some who aren’t completely satisfied with their situation, but I was very content.
Support Each teacher (or team of teachers) had a Program Coordinator and a Recruiter who were always available by cell phone and email. Whenever I sent a message, someone always responded within 24 hours if not sooner.
I became sick after climbing Mt. Fuji, and although I tried to take care of myself, I was not improving. When I finally let my PC know, he made arrangements to take me to a medical facility the next morning. He met me at the train station near Dokkyo and we walked five minutes to a nearby clinic. He filled out all the paperwork and explained my problem to the nurses. I saw a doctor right away who prescribed four types of medication (antibiotics, a pain reliever and two types of cough suppressants). The pharmacy was in the next block and I got my meds right away. The whole event took 45 minutes, and I still had time to get organized for class.
Communication The Westgate staffers sent out weekly newsletters with reminders and updates. They kept us informed of any changes and always expressed appreciation for our work. Sometimes a student would want to change classes, either to a higher or lower level, and they would coordinate this request through the Westgate administrators. Then a staff person would send a text to both teachers letting them know of the change.
Lessons Although we had a set curriculum to follow, we were also given a lot of leeway in how we delivered our lessons. We were encouraged to be creative and we could share our thoughts and ideas for every lesson on a feedback form that we turned in at the end of the term.
Making Changes, or Not There were some things Westgate was more firm with, such as our flight departure times. We were required to depart Japan on July 20th (the last day of our contract), but if people wanted to stay longer (say, to travel) they were allowed to stay for 30 more days, although they still had to vacate their apartment on the final day of the contract. Also, our flights (which were booked in advance and reimbursed by Westgate during the semester) were scheduled to arrive and depart out of Tokyo, so even if people were traveling to other places outside of Japan (Southeast Asia was a popular destination), they still had to return to Tokyo for their final flight out of Japan. These arrangements had to be made ahead of time
and could not be changed [update: in talking with other teachers more recently, I’ve learned that sometimes there is some flexibility in certain situations. It seems to be on a case-by-case basis]. It’s reasonable that some people might want to change their plans once they were in Japan, but it’s also understandable how this could create logistical issues for Westgate.
Inspections Our apartments were inspected on the last day of our contract, and part of our final paycheck was withheld until the inspection. If there were any damages or additional items left in the apartment, or if the apartment was not adequately clean, a portion of our pay would be deducted. In my case, everything worked out and I received my full paycheck, but I did talk to a few teachers who were charged for certain indiscretions, such as leaving small appliances behind.
In summary, Westgate has clear rules and if one adheres to those rules, then the experience can be very positive. But if the established guidelines are not followed, then it gets complicated. Most of these regulations are stated on the website and all of them are in the contract which we’re required to read before signing. They were also reviewed at the orientation, and reminders were sent to us throughout the semester.
The only thing I wish could be changed is the schedule. Eight 40-minute classes a day feels like too much. The last class ended at 7:00 p.m. and by then I was burned out. I was fortunate that my train ride home was only 25 minutes. Many teachers had hour-long commutes, some longer. I think ending the day at 6:oo p.m. would be more doable.
The end of the term got busier. In addition to our regular schedule and the prep work required for the next day’s class, there was a follow-up training session we had to complete online in order to conduct the student evaluations. There was also a questionnaire and report we had to complete during the final week.
And yet, I’m going back. For me, the pros far outweigh the cons. I loved my students – even though the schedule was too long, at least I was spending that time with mature, motivated, kind and respectful people. I loved exploring Tokyo and traveling with some of the other teachers. I enjoyed my little apartment and living in Kasukabe. There were many returning teachers, and most had very positive experiences.
The intensity of Westgate’s program is short-lived. The abbreviated contract is what draws many teachers to this company. For people looking for a teaching experience that doesn’t require a full year commitment, that is well run and very organized, I would highly recommend Westgate.
* * *
Update – 10.24.2013
Recently, I’ve been asked about the possibility of bringing pets, specifically cats, to Japan in relation to teaching with Westgate. I checked with WG staff and was told that in Japan, there are few rented accommodations that allow having pets, and Westgate’s accommodation is not an exception. I hope this helps with your planning.