“Do you think I can teach ESL abroad?”
This is without a doubt the most common question we receive from our readers. When we set out to answer such an open question, we consistently wish we could refer back to an article or two on our site as an additional resource. But unfortunately we can’t, as we have yet to write about teaching ESL abroad—despite the fact that we have been teaching ESL, full time, for two years now.
Well, better late than never.
If you’ve ever thought about traveling, teaching, or Taiwan, than this post (finally) is for you!
Why You Should Teach ESL Abroad (& How To Do It) – Part 1
The Benefits of Teaching ESL Abroad
Dan and I knew we wanted to start off our marriage by traveling the world together. Our belief was that it would be much more difficult to set out on a nomadic adventure if we first settled down and accumulated ‘stuff’; alternatively, we chose to relocate to Asia immediately after our honeymoon—and we’re so glad we did!
To make traveling sustainable, we knew we would need an income overseas. After all, we had just graduated University! The first option that opened up for us—as it does most travelers—was teaching English. It worked out perfectly. One of the best parts about teaching English overseas is that it generally requires you to settle down in one location for a minimum of one year. For many travelers, a one-year commitment can sound daunting. However, there are a whole myriad of benefits to traveling slowly. For example, staying in one place for an entire year actually allows enough time to learn—and understand—the ins and outs of the host culture; it lets you make local friends; it provides the opportunity to learn (or in our case attempt to learn) the local language; it makes travel around the country or region possible; and it gives you the opportunity to participate in local festivals and traditions. Of course, the longer you stay in one place the better you will come to know it. We ultimately decided one year wasn’t enough time to truly experience all that we wanted out of Taiwan. Many of our closest relationships were cultivated during our second year here.
We’ve found that more and more people are discovering the benefits of teaching and traveling. A more prominent concern is how teaching or traveling for an extended period of time will look on a resume. This was certainly my number one concern before signing up for a second year of teaching in Taiwan. Was I wasting time becoming qualified in a field I didn’t plan on pursuing post-Taiwan? Would this mark me as ‘unhireable’?
Teaching ESL abroad can look good on a resume. Personally, I now have confidence to stand in front of adults twice my age—almost all of them with PhDs—and lecture about business principals in English speaking countries. That confidence can extend into any realm of public speaking. I now know what it’s like to converse in a mix of broken English and Chinese to explain what I need to Taiwanese co-teachers on a daily basis. Need someone with cross-cultural communication experience? I’m your gal. And don’t forget the fact that just going to another country shows cultural awareness, initiative, and self-reliance.
Like all things in life, what you receive from teaching ESL directly equates to the amount of effort you put into it. Don’t worry that teaching ESL abroad will look bad to future employers; rather, embrace teaching, and gain the skills you want from it.
You never know. Maybe you’ll even discover a hidden passion for teaching! It wouldn’t be the first time someone changed their projected career path.
Save Some Dough
If you only look at the figures attached to teaching ESL abroad, it might not look like you are making that much money. However, it adds up, especially if you choose to teach in a country with a low cost of living.
To put it transparently, we each make an average of USD$2,250 a month (before taxes).
We’ve made and saved enough money to live comfortably, pay off credit cards and minor student loans, jet over to the Philippines three times, vacation in Hong Kong and Macau, and travel through Indonesia for a month. On top of that, we’ve actually saved money, too.
Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely more lucrative jobs out there, even for recent college graduates. But if you want to experience a new culture and travel on the side, teaching ESL is one of the best ways to do it.Notes on money and Taiwan: The start-up costs to teaching ESL in Taiwan are HUGE. We’ll talk about it more in Part 2 of the series, but don’t expect to start saving money until you’ve been living in Taiwan for 3-6 months. There is also a foreigner’s tax of 18% in Taiwan. After 183 days of living in Taiwan, your rate will drop to 6% and you can file to get 12% back. Best to think of it as a savings plan and arrive in Taiwan before the 183 day count…
Teaching ESL Is Fun
Okay. It’s not fun everyday. But most days we really enjoy what we’re doing. There’s a surge of pride and joy when your students finally get a concept. The unconditional love showered upon me by my kindergarten students is enough to turn any bad day around. Plus, kids are just funny little beings! I’m constantly bursting out into laughter at the cute or witty things they do. While my kindergarten students will likely forget me, I will always remember them!
Teaching ESL abroad is sure as hell not for everybody. Most people end up loving it, but a lot of people don’t. Does entertaining snotty-nosed children sound fun? Do you enjoy making a fool of yourself in the front of a classroom? Do you have a basic understanding of the English language? Do you have the patience and energy to teach day in and day out?
Most importantly, remember that teaching ESL abroad—while fun—is not just a joke. You’re paid to actually do your job, and it’s not fair to the students or the school if they end up with a disinterested teacher. Be honest with yourself when evaluating if teaching English is right for you or not.
Don’t forget we have a free eBook with practical tips for teaching English in Taiwan. Download it here, and then connect with Reach to Teach to learn more about teaching ESL around Asia. Don’t worry—Reach to Teach is another free resource!
Have you thought about teaching ESL abroad? Have you already been an ESL teacher somewhere around the world? Share your questions and experiences in the comments below!
[color-box color=”gray”]This is the first of a two-part series on teaching ESL abroad. Stay tuned—in part 2 we’ll talk more about how you can get started teaching English![/color-box]
I taught English in South Korea for 3.5 years, and would say that’s the country to head to if you really want to save – and I was taxed just 3.3%. Yes that decimal is in the right place.
What you’ve written here is really good. However I’d add that you really have to consider the age group. I could not handle kindergarten kids. While cute, they’d drive me nuts. I enjoy teaching the older elementary school/younger middle school kids the best – you can have a conversation with them, laugh with them, still be a bit silly, and really get to know them. Some of my students are on my Facebook, and still send me messages 6 months after last seeing them. Then again, I have a lot of friends who shudder at the very mention of middle school students.
Teaching English has not only enabled me to pay off my debt (oh, credit cards), but I’ve been able to save up to travel for the past few months, and visited a lot of awesome places in South Kirea.
Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted…Changing Things Up With Wimdu in Budapest
Thanks for all the advice! I definitely agree with you on all the points you mentioned. It is quite obvious I prefer kindy kids, but I do know many people prefer older students or even adults. Definitely something to communicate with your schools!
In part two we will talk more about where to go, but we agree that Korea is a great place to save some money. We considered Jeju, but ultimately chose Taiwan because of its convenience and Chinese culture. Glad to hear that you had such a great time in Korea, and thanks for sharing your experience!!
I would hope that people who go into teaching abroad actually desire to teach. Teaching is one of the most noble professions. And Taiwanese appreciate their teachers too (yay! a country who gets it!). So, like you said, it would be a disservice to the students and may actually paint foreigners in a bad light to have a terrible teacher.
Not only that, but teachers who can’t get hired here in the States (mostly due to funding) should spread their wings a little. It will help them strengthen their teaching style for sure.
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That’s a great suggestion for teachers in the States! And I completely agree that teachers deserve the utmost respect. Quite honestly I’m a bit burned out after doing it for just two years! I now wish I could go back and personally thank more of the amazing teachers I had growing up. Unfortunately we have met too many people who sign up to teach ESL because it is the ‘easy’ thing to do while they party for a year abroad. They end up hating their job and in the end sometimes Taiwan, too!
We’ve taught in English in Thailand, and Japan, and I agree that it’s a fantastic way to work and travel. Our travel experiences around Thailand and Japan have been so much more meaningful than anywhere else we’ve traveled. Living in these countries gives us a perspective that we could never get if we had just blasted through touring for 2 or 3 weeks.
I didn’t even think I was a kid person before I started teaching, but now I completely appreciate how weird/funny/smart kids can be. Although, I found the policies in a lot of Asian schools were difficult to get used to. It tends to be more of a “follow the rules and don’t ask questions” environment rather than a “let your creativity shine” kind of one. But it’s still easy job to have fun with, so I’ve learned to roll with the ups and downs.
We also had a bit of ‘culture shock’ when it came to the school environment. In our opinion, it is extremely regulated in Taiwan, and students are expected to follow a specific formula at all times. Like you noted, there is little emphasis on creativity. The teachers can also seem quite berating! But, we know the teachers truly do care about their students, it is just a different culture we are working in. Did you find Thailand to be as lucrative as Japan?
You know I’ve been waiting for a post like this, so thanks for finally writing it! I have friends who have taught English in Asia and my brother even did it for a while (& hated it!), but it’s always interesting to read others perspectives. I think it’s definitely great if you want to explore a particular country or culture more in-depth, which is definitely why we’d be interested in returning to Taiwan and teaching there.
I’m really curious to hear how much you were able to save in the end over your two years working in Taiwan. I’ve heard that South Korea is definitely the place to go if you want to save up a bunch of cash, but Taiwan definitely appeals to us more (not least of all because of the food! :D ).
Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…What We Ate: Tainan
That’s too bad your brother didn’t enjoy it!! Yea, it’s not for everybody haha. Where did he teach? South Korea does seem to be the place to save more money, but similarly we decided Taiwan was a better fit for us. In two years, we saved about $25,000 between the two of us. We definitely could have saved more, but as I noted we did a lot of traveling and paid off about $6000 in debt. We are smart with our money, but we also live very comfortably here. That said, we work a lot more than some of our co-teachers. We’re both at about 30 teaching hours a week-that doesn’t include planning, grading, etc. The hardest part about Teaching in Taiwan is the start-up cost, as you have to pay for your flight, put two-three months rent down on an apartment, buy a scooter, etc. I think Korea will likely provide the flights and housing, plus the tax rate is lower. We have no regrets about coming to Taiwan though! We’re happy with the amount we’ve saved, and the island will always have a piece of our heart. :-) Hope the post was everything you’ve been waiting for! If you do decide to come to Taiwan, Part 2 might be more useful for you!
Deciding not to settle down and set straight off to travel when you got married sounds like a smart decision! Rather than have to do the whole de-cluttering thing, just cut out the process of accumulation all together!
“Does entertaining snotty-nosed children sound fun?” No, but in retrospect it can be! I find some of my most memorable (and funny!) teaching moments were with my most obnoxious students. But yes, seriously, considering whether this is for you really is important; I’ve met way to many people teaching English who openly hate their job and are just doing it for lack of anything better to do. Which is such a shame.
Sam recently posted…200 Days of Travel
I couldn’t agree with you more! It is a shame that some English teachers don’t really realize the commitment they are making before they sign up. But teaching is probably one of the most rewarding feelings on the planet! :-)
Hi love the blog and all of your editorials, really great writing! I mentioned it on our company Facebook http://www.facebook.com/FootprintsRecruiting and twitter @FootprintsJobs for all of our followers looking to teach abroad in Asia. This is a really great reference guide, thanks! – Jordan
Thank you so much for the compliment and for promoting our blog! The best part of blogging is when other people actually find it helpful-so glad that you enjoyed it! :)
Rock on. Also good that you mention it’s not for everyone. Soooo many people I know who have tried their hand at end up hating it, because they think it’s going to be some easy-peasy pushover “hobby”. It’s a job, like anything else, and while it can be fun as hell, it’s also a job in the sense that you have to be dedicated to make it work.
It’s also lucrative when you get into it full-time. I’ve got a couple of friends doing it with CELTA training and they are clearing 60 USD per hour with their classes + private students and making a KILLING down in Bogota.
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Oo maybe we need to look into going to Bogota! Sounds like a pretty sweet gig! And you are dead-on, so so many people sign up to teach abroad because they think it will be a party- then they wonder what went wrong!
wow! i got it now i dont know before what is esl,
mary@green lotus trekking recently posted…Trekking in Nepal
Anybody can teach English abroad. You must have the heart and commitment to it, though. Work experience and educational background are important too, for one to be able to teach English abroad.