After obtaining degrees in English Literature and English Secondary Education, Sean Lords packed up his bags and left to Seoul, South Korea where he lived for three years teaching English abroad. Sean has since returned to the States and is currently at work on his Master's degree.
A few weeks ago I was at a work dinner and had the opportunity to speak with a colleagues friend about our jobs and how we got to where we are today. We spent a good amount of time on college and what we majored in and some of the same professors that we both had at the University we both attended. This inevitably paved the way to bring up what we did after graduation. She admitted that she is still working in the same job that she had throughout college while I went in to some detail about my ESL teaching gig overseas. Several times throughout our conversation she made statements about how she always had wanted to do something like that but her fears of living in a foreign country, cut off from her life back home, always dissuaded her in the end.
After talking to a few more people since being back in the United States, I have seen that her fears were not entirely unique, in fact, most people that I caught up with or have met since have stated things along the same line. But what about if you can get past all that? What does a job overseas offer you once you make the decision to jump past all the scary unknowing? The answer is a lot. The skills, experiences and changes I underwent during my time teaching abroad is are some of the best moments of my life. Below are five of the most beneficial things my three years overseas taught me.
See the World
I think it goes without saying that getting this chance to see and experience a part of the world that would have previously been unattainable is one of the biggest draws of choosing to teach in an ESL environment overseas. Depending on your area of choice and your recruiter, you may be given the opportunity to teach in a rural environment. All I can say to this is, DO IT! Exclamation aside, teaching in a rural area will give you experiences and the opportunity to see and do things you never thought imaginable. While teaching in a large city definitely has its perks and ease of access to a similar lifestyle stateside, teaching in a rural area has the potential to change your life in ways you never thought possible. As an added benefit, you may be eligible for a pay incentive for teaching in a rural location.
It’s no secret that the cost of living while abroad is significantly cheaper than it is in the United States. While this can be skewed either way depending on where you end up teaching, for the most part, school and teaching institutions will pay for your monthly rent, and perhaps also your health insurance, utilities and even a cell phone. Because of this, it is not uncommon for expats to send as much as 70-80% of their salary home each month to take care of bills and financial obligations back home. In countries like South Korea and Japan, expats also pay into a national pension which becomes available to them at the completion of their contract. This amount ends up being about 9% of the first year’s wages and about 6.7% of each subsequent year. For one year, the average expat can save about $15,000 if they are smart about their money.
Your Own Growth
I know I can speak from personal experiences that the person I was when I graduated college and the person I was when I returned home some three years later look nothing alike. Moving overseas saw me separated from a life, friends and a family that made up a huge portion of who I was as a person. Initially, the shock of losing these things was great. Everything that I grown accustomed to was ripped out from under me (albeit by choice). But what is interesting about all of this, is what happens to you when these things are gone. Redefining your life once these things are removed is a pretty spectacular thing.
Bolster Your Future
Getting a great paying job that is in line with your passions and expertise is no easy feat. With hundreds of people sometimes vying for the same position, it’s easy to feel like you are just one of the many who hold a degree in Journalism and also wrote on their school newspaper. Extra-curricular activities that you poured your soul into because you believed they would play a vital role in landing a job outside of college are often the same things that everyone else did. So how do you get ahead and stand out? Teaching abroad can certainly help. In every interview I landed since I returned from teaching overseas my experiences living abroad came up. Employers liked that I was capable of putting myself outside of my comfort zone. They like the leadership skills I developed and the organizational methods I used to keep my class organized. I went in to each one of these interviews ready to explain and detail why my time overseas makes me the best possible candidate for this job. Only two weeks of applying and a few interviews later, it worked.
Change Someone’s Life
Bring on the cheese. It may sound tacky. Completely cliché and trite, but teaching overseas really does give you the chance to change and impact someone’s life for forever. Many of the students that I taught came from affluent families who were involved in trade, business or medicine on the global level. In order for their children to reach the same amount of success as the parents, learning English becomes of the utmost importance. The person you choose to be each time you enter the classroom can make or break these student’s passions to learn a new language and enjoy the same accomplishments as their parents.
As mentioned above, each ESL teaching destination offers different salaries, housing packages and demographics of students you will be teaching. It’s important to ask your recruiter or school every question imaginable in order to make sure you are going to wind up in the best possible situation.
Ready for the next step? There are a variety of starting points, take a look at the job forums on Dave’s ESL Café or if you’re looking into teaching in Europe head over to Oxford Seminars to look into getting the necessary TEFL credentials for your work visa. If you're interested in Teaching English Abroad in Asia, check out all the schools where you can work and get paid on the GeoVisions website.