How to Start Teaching ESL Abroad
We took the leap of faith and just decided to do it.
Luke and I both wanted to travel. He had been around The States and to a couple countries but wanted more. I had barely left the Midwest and was wanting to go almost anywhere. Being young adults and drowning in student loan debt, we still needed to make money. It was the perfect time for both of us to take this amazing opportunity to teach English overseas and travel at the same time! It sounded crazy and so daunting but in the grand scheme of things it was actually pretty simple. We just sat down and logically thought out how we could make this work. Luke had introduced me to a travel blogger that we now both follow, Drew Binsky. He started out by teaching ESL in Seoul, South Korea and has since traveled to 120+ countries since 2012. He's got a very detailed and helpful blog about anything you can imagine which is how we got started. But here's our experience and the things we've come to learn on teaching English abroad.
1. RESEARCH. Pick a country.
Download the comparison chart rom this website.
But before you pick a country, decide why you're doing this. Is it for the money? Is it to travel? Is it for a certain cultural experience? This will help you decide where you should teach. There are tons of resources online about what types of contracts you will get with different countries. We ultimately decided on South Korea because it has some of the best contracts out there for people without a teaching license teaching abroad for their first time. With most schools paying for your flight and your housing, the cost of living being pretty low, great health insurance, mountains, beaches, huge cities, and a first world country with so much uniqueness, it was our #1 choice. We may have also been excited about their laid back drinking culture, but that's a topic for another day. 😉
Once you choose a country, have an idea of what part of the country you would want to work and live. Do you want to be in a big city where things might be a bit more expensive but you can get to many places with ease? Would you rather work in a rural area where you get beautiful scenic landscapes but may have a bit of a trek to get to the city? Or would you prefer something in between? Maybe location is at the bottom of your priority list but you want a job with amazing vacation time and good pay? Have your priorities figured out.
Our first year, vacation time was a priority for us. We were doing this to travel first and make money while doing so. We were quite far out in the country in a place that most Koreans don’t even know about. But we had 6 weeks of paid vacation + the 15 national holidays. We had to take a bus to a bus to a subway to get into a big city but it was worth it that year for the vacation time we got.
For our second year, we prioritized living in a big city and having a subway nearby. In terms of hagwons, most big city jobs offer the worst contracts in Korea, so it took us much longer to find a fair contract. We have 2 weeks paid vacation + 15 paid national holidays this year but all of the luxuries of living in a big city.
2. GET CERTIFIED
We each have a 4-year degree from a university, but neither one of us had a teaching degree or real classroom experience. We took a 120-hour course at mytefl.com, used the discount code from Drew Binsky's website and were certified within a couple of weeks! Be sure to pay the little extra for the longer course to make sure most or all schools will accept it.
There are so many resources online to get this certification. After talking to other teachers we know who have been through this, the course can range from a 6 month course with books and a required written paper, to something you can take online in a weekend while you're watching a Harry Potter marathon. Again, do your research. Don't just go with the first one you see. Ours luckily, was very easy and only cost us about $200 for the full professional certification!
3. APPLY at least 6 months prior to when you want to start teaching.
We applied to a LOT of job postings on Dave's ESL Cafe and emailed numerous recruiting companies our application and resumes and eventually got a contract sent to us from Adventure Teaching right away once we started working with the recruiter. We had no luck applying for jobs to schools directly, but once we started working with recruiters, things sped up fast. We highly recommend contacting MANY recruiters. We did this our second year and found a job through a different recruiting company. After countless interviews and looking through so many bad contracts, we finally found one we were comfortable with. This process could take months, so don't give up hope, but it could also be a week if you are lucky enough to find a contract you like right away. AT was a magnificent recruiting company to work with and everyone we emailed or spoke to was so kind and helpful in telling us everything we needed to do. We ended up accepting a contract from a job through Korvia our second year and they were also good to work with.
Even if your recruiter can speak decent English, it can still be quite difficult explaining your priorities to them via email. Making sure they understand your priorities is very important so be sure to communicate clearly when emailing them.
Once you begin working with some agencies, they should tell you everything you need to do and in the order you need to do it. Specifically, helping you go through the Visa process as this can be quite tedious. Also, things such as making sure your passport is up to date, if there are any vaccinations you need to get, background checks, etc. are all things you may have to do as part of this process.
Before you accept a position, don't be afraid to ask as many questions as you can think of...you're moving abroad so you need to, and should, be very thorough.
Questions to potentially ask:
- How many other teachers will I be working with? How many native and how many foreign?
- How well does the staff get along? Are there any staff retreats or dinners? Are they optional or mandatory?
- Do I have to work weekends? If so, how often and for how long?
- Will there be a co-teacher in the same room with me or no? If so, how will that work?
- What grade/age will I teach?
- How many classes will I have per day/week?
- What is the maximum class size?
- Will I have a lunch/dinner break, if so when and for how long?
- Are there tests/homework?
- How much vacation time will I get? When will my vacation time be?
- How often will I get paid? Have there been any cases of teachers NOT getting paid on time or at all?
- Will I have help setting up a bank account?
Make sure to ask to talk to one of the current English teachers there. Maybe that will be a video chat, maybe it will be via email, but this is a good way to get your questions answered and see how they like teaching there.
Ask to see pictures of the apartment you will be staying in, if it will be furnished or if you have to furnish it yourself. How far is your apartment from the office? How far is it to a bus or subway station? How old is the building? How much will utilities and rent cost?
If everything seems good and dandy and you finally decide to accept the position...
🎈 C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S ! 🎈
Things from here on out move very quickly! Have a party right away and tell your friends and family when you'll be leaving.
Figure out what things you need to take with you (where you are going could depend on what things you may or may not be able to retrieve easily). For Luke and myself, things like Ranch Dressing, shoes big enough for our feet, and full sized body towels (microfiber for travel) are things we need and can't find easily or at all in Korea. Getting things shipped from the U.S. can be quite expensive so we brought it in our luggage on our way over, or had family members bring some for us if they came to visit. God bless 'em.
You've done your research, you've accepted a position, you've packed and said your goodbyes. Nerves are kicking in and you're not sure if you are crazy and have just made a terrible decision. Don't freak out. This is no doubt a huge decision, but it's an amazing one that not many people can say they have the guts for. You've made it this far so don't back out now. The worst that can happen is you get there, hate it, but can at least say you tried it and it's not for you. But I can guarantee you will not regret it.
Have a movie night, hangout with loved ones, relax and get a good night's sleep.
7. GET ACQUAINTED
Once you arrive, the first 24-48 hours are a blur. You're jet lagged, in a foreign country and are being told to go here or there and do this or that. Take everything with a grain of salt and do as your told. Once you're caught up on sleep, familiarize yourself with your area. Get out and see what's in the neighborhood. Meet people!!! You will be miserable if you don't engage in the culture and socialize with others. And lastly, enjoy this once in a lifetime opportunity and all the amazing experiences you will have because of it.