Niche Careers: International Educator
It has been about seven months since I decided to leave the only life I’d ever known in the US to move to South Korea to teach English. The reason for my move was part practical and part whimsical. On one hand, I wanted to get teaching experience in order to decide if it could be a viable, lasting career before committing to a Master’s degree in the subject. On the other, I had been dreaming about visiting South Korea for over five years. I was fascinated by the culture of the country, and also had a desire to travel.
The madness started when the seed was first planted in my head. I was surfing my university’s job board online and stumbled upon on ad with an intriguing headline about teaching abroad in Seoul; only a bachelor’s degree and a love of children were required. I didn’t have a degree yet, but I wanted to know more. The salary was decent, and to know I’d have health insurance, reimbursed airfare, a one month salary severance payment and a fully furnished, rent-free apartment was icing on an already seductive cake.
The wanderlust eventually took hold of me and I bit the bullet, so to speak. I am happy to say, thus far, I have no regrets. I’ve learned many things about myself, some good, plenty bad, and my students have taught me more than I had anticipated. I’ve learned about Asian office politics, lesson planning and how to manage difficult situations. I was able to travel to amazing destinations such as the Taal Volcano in the Philippines, where I was able to go diving and horseback riding.
For anyone interested in becoming an educator overseas, there are a few minimum requirements you need to get started. You need a bachelor’s degree in any subject, a resume or CV, and it is highly recommended you get an online, in person, or combination TEFL (Teaching English As a Foreign Language) certificate. I did a basic 120 hour certificate online, but be sure to do your research before picking an online program, not all programs are created equal. In addition, each teacher will be required to undergo a detailed medical check and background check. For those interested in working with children, Asia is a great place to start. South Korea offers many benefits and flights are often very reasonable from Seoul to Jeju Island, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and China, to name a few, so you can count on vacation time to be full of adventure. Most employers will expect you to complete a minimum one-year contract.
Some TEFL employers are particular about qualifications. Some of the best salaries an international teacher can expect to earn are in the Middle East. However, many schools there want an English degree, in some cases a Masters degree and a CELTA qualification, which is one of the highest TEFL qualifications a teacher can obtain. Others also request over a year or so of prior teaching experience and a completely clean criminal background check. Airfare and housing is often paid for by the employer, and vacation time is very generous. However, there will be different social rules, customs and norms to follow in different countries, and it is important to adjust to and adhere to them to the best of one’s ability.
The best advice I can give anyone thinking about becoming an international educator is to decide what you want. Determine a clear purpose for why you want to teach English abroad. After that, determine where you want to work abroad and why. Do research about the local language and customs and set aside enough safety money in case of last minute emergencies. Next, determine whether you want to work at a public school, private school, adult vocational center, private after-school academy or as a private tutor. Look for job opportunities from reputable websites and apply for them. Once you have found a good fit, ask for a written contract and request details in writing. I went so far as to request photographs of the apartment I’d be staying in before I made my trip abroad. It helped me feel much more comfortable to see where I was going and where I’d be living. Always have an emergency contact back home available and make sure they have your address and other contact information.
Ultimately, being a teacher abroad has been an amazing experience for me. It has been so much more than I anticipated, and has had many highs and lows. I’ve had moments where I’ve felt joyful, humbled, lonely, hopeful, excited, etc. Every day, I get to experience something new, which is exactly what I wanted. If that sounds like you, too, I’ll see you in Seoul soon.