So you’re a recent college grad and you’re looking at the job market and you’re thinking, “Well this totally sucks.”
A recent report shows that Millennials make up about 40 percent of the unemployment rate in the US. Back in 2012, over half of recent college grads were unemployed. Not that you need statistics to tell you you’re facing higher student loan debts and steeper workforce competition, your empty bank account is proof enough that a BA doesn’t hold the same professional guarantees as it did for generations past.
Perhaps you’re starting to consider options besides becoming a barista or finding an entry-level position that is not in your field in order to claw your way back to financial stability. You’ve no doubt heard peers mention teaching English abroad, maybe even know a friend that has done it, and rumor has it there’s a great demand for overseas ESL instructors.
Atypically, the rumors are actually correct. An estimated 250,000 people teach English abroad in over 40,000 schools and yet still the demand is far from filled. Particularly in Asia, schools are hiring year round, and in many cases, a BA is preferred but not required.
The average salary for the job varies by country, but in South Korea, English instructors can expect to make anywhere from $1,500-3,000 per month–sometimes much more. Outside of monetary value, the gig affords teachers the chance to immerse themselves completely in a foreign culture, which is an experience worthwhile for its transformative nature alone. The opportunity allows them to see the world, make a difference, and get paid.
Beats sitting in a cubicle, but to decide if teaching English abroad is really the right call for you, here’s what you need to know.
Go through a recruiter.
There are companies that exist specifically to help get you find the right country and school fit. They’ll also help you with the necessary paperwork (visas, passports, contracts) and sometimes even place you with a host family or help you find other residence.
BTR’s Tanya Silverman, who taught English in Daegu, South Korea, for a year says the visa application process was “extensive but not terrible,” noting that it included a drug and AIDS test prior to being completely cleared.
There are hundreds of recruiter agencies, such as Footprints, founded by two Canadian English teachers while they were living in South Korea.
You don’t need to be TEFL certified.
There are more job opportunities open to you if you have a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, but it’s not a requirement to teach abroad. Going through a recruiter agency will place you with schools that don’t require it. Alternatively, you can always volunteer your time as an English teacher (though that, of course, means you won’t be paid for it) or participate in a work/exchange program, where you donate your time in exchange for room and board.
Realize it will be an adjustment.
“The hardest part was the language barrier,” Amanda Purnell, who taught English in South Korea for three years, tells BTR. “It can make you feel very isolated. I was surprised the first time I went for lunch in the cafeteria and had that same feeling of not knowing where to sit, like when I was a kid.”
Purnell explains that eventually that language barrier gets broken down, and even when it was hard to understand her colleagues they still made an obvious effort to include her. If you’re going overseas, expect to face some initial feelings of isolation.
“Just keep trying, keep putting yourself out there,” she advises.
There are different work standards abroad.
Depending on where you go, you may be surprised at varied expectations from your employers.
“A lot of the work culture there is pretty intense compared to American standards,” Silverman says of South Korea. “Your superiors might request that you work overtime, during mornings or on weekends, and be perplexed if you say you’d rather not.”
These work standards in no way mean that you won’t have time to maintain a social life, or that you won’t be able to travel recreationally. As TEFL’s website points out, you are after all a teacher, and teachers enjoy the same long breaks as their students. Even those who work in private academies should still be able to get vacation time. Both Silverman and Purnell managed to travel extensively during their time as instructors.
It might not always be what you expected, but very few people say they regret it.
Silverman and Purnell both tell BTR the experience was immensely worthwhile for the purposes of personal growth. In fact, Purnell originally signed on for only one year but ended up loving it so much she stayed for a total of three.
“I know hundreds of people who taught abroad and not ever has anyone told me they regret it,” she says.
Still, there are exceptions. Mac Fox, a Millennial currently teaching English in Japan, is one of them. Fox tells BTR that he went through the JET Program to apply to teach English in Japan and didn’t actually think he would get it. When it was offered to him he had to decide between teaching English or being a backpacking leader at a wilderness camp for kids.
“I’m a little sad that I chose Japan,” he admits. “But in the long run I had to, because I dug myself too big of a hole traveling the world for a few years to get out of with just one summer of work, and that was all the camp job guaranteed.”
Fox has been in Japan for two years and says he is ready to come back to the States. Nevertheless, he emphasizes that the experience expanded his worldview and notes how he has now successfully saved enough money to pursue other career opportunities.
Which brings us to the last point to consider…
That’s a guaranteed salary for (typically) one year.
With the job market such that it is, that kind of security goes a long, long way.
Featured image courtesy of SEE TEFL.