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Friday, November 02, 2007
When a Nova collapses into a black hole
Back in 2001, five months removed from college and desperate to find a job, I interviewed with a Japanese company called Nova. At the time Portland had the highest rate of unemployment in the nation and I'd just been turned down for a job dusting off DVDs at my neighborhood's Blockbuster Video. A recession is no time to go looking for work with a liberal arts degree. Exhausted and humiliated after months of fruitless interviews, running off to teach English on the other side of the planet seemed like a brilliant idea.
After two weeks of studying up on the company and Japan at large, I blew the interview after spending a day getting picked apart by three of Nova's scouts in a downtown conference room. I still remember the miserable ride back home on a Tri-Met bus clogged with commuters in business suits. It's a day that still haunts me. Six months later, I moved to Yellowstone for an ill-fated job at the park's Canyon Lodge. Six years later, I'm still wasting away in Dead-End-Job-Ville, still searchin' for my lost shaker of self-respect.
But what if I had landed the job? Like most, I would have likely lasted six months to two years in Japan before burning out and returning to the states. On the other hand, many expats make a career out of such gigs and there's always the possibility I'd still be overseas right now...reduced to pickpocketing on the Tokyo transit system.
If you haven't already heard the news, Nova went belly-up this week. Once Japan's # 1 source for English tutors with 924 branches nationwide, it's hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. The head of the company has vanished and thousands of former teachers are stuck in a country where they barely or outright don't speak the language. According to a Wednesday cover story in the Oregonian, many haven't been paid in weeks and others are on the verge of eviction from their company-sponsored apartments. The article also reports that one entrepreneurial former teacher has set up a website offering advice on how to steal wallets from commuters. The past few years have been horrible for a company that has buckled under the weight of lawsuits, mismanagement, government regulations, over-expansion and the bizarre murder of one Canadian teacher.
Further reading on the mess can found on Wikipedia. It's for the best that I never made it over there but I still can't shake an ongoing case of "What Might Have Been."