Someone recently asked me “G, how can I get the hell out of the Western world and move myself to tropical Asia like you did? I want to, but I don’t know how I would make a living!”
I thought about it for a while. What advice could I give someone, anyone, who wanted to move abroad and start again? It would have to be a piece of advice applicable to almost anyone, not just someone with a specific set of skills or a defined trade.
The answer came to me quickly: I’d tell them to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).
How I used TEFL to move abroad.
When I first came to Asia, I loved the place. I literally knew this was where I was going to spend the rest of my life within about a week of being there. With some bad shit happening at home and having the time of my life gallivanting young and wild and free around Thailand, I began looking into ways to stay.
I met lots of people who volunteered in this program or that orphanage. I met backpackers who had found ways to independently make a living buying and selling goods everywhere they went. Some even played poker professionally online for a living. None of those things held much appeal to me, in terms of being actually realistic, nor did I want to live out of a backpack forever.
Slowly, I began to realize that a heck of a lot of people were teaching as a means to stay in Asia. You see, Asia is booming, and with literally billions of young, driven and focused people ready to get their piece of the pie and get out to see the big bad world, teaching English has become a huge opportunity for those who wish to move to Asia and find their feet.
I decided to do just that. I spent $1000 to do an accredited TEFL course and found a job teaching in Jakarta, Indonesia. I’ve been here ever since and I love it.
One of the good things about teaching TEFL in Asia is the fact that almost anyone from the West can do it. You just have to be a native English language speaker, be good with people and have an accredited TEFL certificate. To be honest, when I first came out here (2007) there were many teachers working without a university degree and lots working with fake ones, but there has been a big clamp down on this and in most places nowadays (China being the exception) you will need a university degree.
TEFL is good for several other reasons. Firstly, moving to a new country can be a massive shock, and when you have a job lined up at a school you’re automatically plugging into a community of people who will look up to and respect you. They will help you find your way around, learn the language and show you the ropes. This is a huge help, even I as a veteran traveller found the initial transition difficult. Amazing, but difficult.
Secondly, you’ll likely be held in very high regard by your students. Asian people still respect their teachers and will look up to you for the most part. A lot of guys I knew doing it had come from thankless jobs and found that they really enjoyed the status they got from being a teacher.
Lastly, if you get a year or two of experience behind you your options are virtually limitless. You can travel to almost any country in the world and there will be jobs teaching English of some variety. Personally I’m a settled man and will never leave Asia, but you could go anywhere – Eastern Europe, South America or the Middle East are all TEFL options.
The downside(s) to TEFL teaching.
Of course, as with all things in life, there are cons to teaching English as well.
Some people complain that the pay isn’t very good compared to other industries, but I never found myself struggling too badly. Sure, I’m able to make more per day now than I did per month back then, but that was seven years ago and most people come a long way in that time frame. If I can manage that, most probably so can you.
Honestly, TEFL will not pay you a fortune. In somewhere like Thailand or Indonesia you can expect to make $1000-$2000 USD per month and have your housing paid for in an apartment. Believe me, while that’s not enough to become rich, you will never starve. Local salaries by comparison are about $200-$300 USD on average in those places.
It is also possible to make $3000-4000 USD a month teaching in Korea and Japan, but you will likely need some experience before doing that. I’ve never taught anywhere other than Indonesia and Turkey, so I can’t speak for those places. I know others who have taught in Korea for two years and were able to buy houses for cash when they got home, so it must be decent.
Another downside some people find is that they are locked into a one year contract. Most schools are used to fly-by-night teachers who run off and leave them without a teacher to finish the course, so they have invented ways to ensure that doesn’t happen such as single entry visas meaning you can’t leave the country without leaving a bond behind or by not paying you until you come back from planned holidays abroad.
Another con I have heard is rogue schools operating and simply not paying people or people arriving to find the school can’t get the visa they promised, among other things. This is always a risk when moving abroad especially to relatively corrupt, lawless places like South East Asia, but if you do your research and don’t jump at the first thing that is offered to you, you’ll actually find most of these schools are on someones shit list and you can find out online to avoid them. This has never happened to me.
Lastly, some people complain that they came abroad to travel but they don’t get to do that as much as they wanted to. I can’t relate really, I came abroad to work and travel on my time off, and in my first year I’d been to Bali, the Gili Islands and Singapore. Indonesia has less holidays than many of the popular TEFL countries, and I still got to see a lot.
Is TEFL for you?
TEFL is an easy, stress free job where you likely won’t teach more than 25 hours per week. It’s also pretty rewarding and enjoyable overall when you see your students improve.
The real question is – is moving abroad for you? That’s where the hard stuff starts. You’re entering another culture very different from your own, you’re going to be far away from friends and family for a long time, and you are about to learn to live independently in a big way. Once you leap, there’s no way back until you complete the mission you are signing up for.
I have to be honest, teaching TEFL as a way to move abroad isn’t for everyone. I did it for 4 years and mostly enjoyed it, although there were some massive “Holy Shit” moments along the way as I went through the various stages of culture shock and adjusted to living in Indonesia. It was a little bit of a roller coaster, but I’m glad I did it and have reaped the rewards for sticking it out.
I’d say this – if you want to be rich, don’t teach TEFL. If you want to find a way out of the Western world and are looking for a simple, tried and tested, enjoyable way to transition before figuring out what you’re really going to do out here, and if you can cope with the uncertainty and unpredictability of living in Asia, then TEFL is a great way for you to make that transition.
I think I’ve made it pretty clear throughout this blog that Asia is where it’s at, gentlemen. The most beautiful girls in the world are here, the chance to become everything you wish for is here, and there is so much of everything – adventure, tropical islands, delicious food and opportunity – that almost everyone who comes out here falls in love with it and wants to stay.
TEFL is a good bridge to getting out here. If you like people, want to have an awesome experience while you figure out what next and want to come to Asia, it’s a great opportunity.
I hope this has been a helpful article to those considering it as an option.
Desire. Decide. Persist.