Teaching abroad, was hands down, the best experience I’ve ever had. Before making the big move to Seoul, South Korea, I had zero desire to go and moved merely out of boredom. To my complete surprise, it was the best and most rewarding decision I have made thus far.
I was hired at a private institution in Seoul, South Korea and learned more than I thought possible in that short amount of time. The students were incredible and unknowingly made me stronger and a hell of a lot smarter. Although worth it, the application process can be excruciating if you’re not adequately prepared. I have heard too many stories (one being my own) of foreigners who are promised one thing and given another.
My point of view is solely based off experience gained while teaching in South Korea. Keep in mind that my experiences are probably much different from that of a teacher in Vietnam, Guatemala or Dubai. I hope to provide you with general guidelines that will assist you regardless of where you’re interested in teaching.
Are You Qualified to Teach Abroad?
In most cases, to teach overseas you must hold a bachelor’s degree in any field and often schools also require a TESOL/TEFL/TESL certification. While both qualifications are not always necessary, most reputable schools do require you to have a degree. I’m not suggesting this is the case 100% of the time, considering I do know an individual that does not have a degree worked as a teacher in South Korea and taught at a trustworthy school. I do caution you to be careful when considering applying to a school that has flexible standards though.
As for the ESL certification, your school may not require it, but it is a great bargaining tool when negotiating your salary. The more qualified you are, the more power you hold when this subject comes up with your future employer. If obtaining an ESL certification is something you are interested in, Groupon often has deals on the TESOL certification. I purchased mine for $60 and finished my online courses at my own pace. When signing my contract, I was able to negotiate $200 more a month because of my certification.
Make a List: “I want…”
Make a list of non-negotiables. What are your must-haves? Do you want to live near the beach? Or perhaps in the city? Do you hate the snow? What about food? The only thing on my list was American food. I needed to be able to access my guilty pleasures with ease. South Korea has multiple Costco’s, and that was what did it for me. There was only a 10-minute bus ride between my stomach and Einstein bagels, and that sealed the deal for me.
The most important thing to do when looking for teaching positions is to do as much research as possible. I would start by finding Facebook groups for teachers in the area that are looking for new jobs. Often teachers are more than happy to answer questions and/or vent about their current city or position. Good questions to ask are: What is the average salary? Typically, how long are contracts? What are the regular teaching hours? Are there areas that are more sought after? Why or why not? Would you suggest private or public schools? Are there any schools to avoid?
If there is a school you’re eyeing, don’t be afraid to contact the school and ask to be put in touch in with a current foreign teacher. They will spill the real tea. When you are satisfied with your arsenal of information, make a list of pro’s and con’s and use that to help you make your final decision.
Should I Get a Recruiter?
Foreign teachers are 50/50 on this one. I’ve heard great stories about using recruiters, and I’ve also heard horror stories about using recruiters, so it’s honestly up to you. Personally, I used a recruiter, and he was sent to me from the depths of hell. Paul. What a bastard. He lied about literally everything. Don’t believe me? I have receipts. Perks of a recruiter: they have a lengthy list of openings so you can tell them exactly what you want and they’ll typically come back to you with that position. Unless your recruiter is Paul…
If you choose not to go with a recruiter, Facebook is an excellent place to start. Type “(county of choice) teaching jobs” into the search engine and you are guaranteed to find a handful of helpful groups that post about open positions and available housing. If you do not see what you like, give it time, something will pop up.
Signing the Contract
Read your contract carefully! If you’ve ignored everything up to this point, do not ignore this warning. It is imperative that you read and understand your contract from the inside out. Some schools can be tricky little devils and try to pull one over on the unsuspecting foreigner so be aware. Know your rights! If there is something you agreed on that is not in your contract, do not rely on a verbal agreement. Politely demand that they add it to your contract. Keep in mind that when you teach in another country, the rights of foreigners are often laughable. Protect yourself and your money.
Transferring Your Money Back Home
If you’re not prepared before your big move, this can be a big pain. Before uprooting your life and embarking on this truly amazing experience, go through your monthly bills and limit them. Cut ties where ever you can and reduce the amount of money that will be withdrawn from your home account. And for the love of God, do not forget to write down your account, routing and Swift number before leaving the country. The most challenging thing I encountered while in SK was moving my money from my foreign account to my home account. Wire transfers average $75 per transaction and banks often charge a fee for incoming overseas transfers. Ask your school if there is a way around this and, if you’re on Facebook, ask other teachers what they do.
Note: If you choose to teach in SK, which I highly recommend doing (7 Reasons You Should Teach In South Korea), KEB has an Easy-One Remittance Card that allows you to link your home bank with the Korean account and deposit money from the ATM. It is the easiest and most convenient thing in that country.
When all of that is said and done, book your ticket, kiss your dog goodbye, and hop on that bird! Living and working in a foreign country expands your mind and softens your heart. You quickly learn that despite language barriers, people are people regardless of their culture. I can’t say it enough, if you are considering embarking on this chaotic and life-changing journey, stop thinking and just go. You won’t regret it.