As a traveler, I started relatively late. Most people go backpacking on a gap year between school and university or when they have finished university and before they start their career. I started in my late 20’s having skipped the gap year altogether and finding myself at a crossroads in life. I had a corporate career straight out of university and didn’t really have time to go very far on my holidays, so usually stayed around Europe. I was also quite lucky that my job at the time meant I was traveling quite extensively in Europe so the thought of getting on a long haul flight on one of my few weeks off didn’t appeal as much as it might other people.
When I was made redundant for the 2nd time at 28, I reflected on my life and decided to train to become a teacher and fully expected to spend the next 30 years in a state comprehensive school in the UK. I took a year to train and then during my long summer break before starting in my new job I decided to take a trip to Thailand for a few weeks, following the backpacker route. I didn’t know much about the country but I had worked with people before who had traveling to the area and told me so much about it, so I had an idea of where I wanted to go.
The first time I visited Asia I immediately fell in love with the region and wanted to go back, so the next summer I decided to stay for longer and toured Malaysia, Singapore and other parts of Thailand. When I returned to the UK I was also looking at moving schools, I applied at a couple of local schools with not much success and then came across an ad for an International School abroad. I had no idea that these type of schools existed or that they actually taught the same curricula and paid a very good wage almost on a par with the UK salaries. From that point on it was my focus to teach internationally and so I got a job in an International School in Asia. I have been living here now for 10 years.
Let me point out that International Schools are mainly private, but run according to usually the UK system so you need to be qualified and have experience of that system. Having said that, Australians and US Nationals are employed to teach and there are varieties on the curriculum. International Schools are professional and anyone entering them thinking they will have a holiday and easy life should not apply because that is not what it is all about.
These International Schools are of course in contrast to Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) that is popular with travelers in Asia. Sadly, too many backpackers get a little bit over enthusiastic about a country and want to settle down, they think TEFL will be an easy gig for them to stay in the country. This may be true if you are not really looking to progress your career or you only want to do it short term and it all depends on the country you are living in. Thailand for example has a huge amount of TEFL teachers in their local schools, I have never tried this and I know some people who have. They often complain about the regulation or lack of commitment from local staff, but they have to realise these follow the host countries standards and are not International Schools. Local schools often pay local salaries and so you will get wage far inferior than you would in the UK, US or Australia for example.
The TEFL teaching also attracts those people who don’t really care about education but are more interested in making a bit of money to help them stay in the region. Not there is also nothing wrong with that as long as you remain professional and remember you are in a foreign country and at the end of the day you have a job to do, you are no longer on holiday the whole time. As a result the quality of teaching and teachers varies. There are certainly some TEFL teachers I know who are very proud of what they do, and they do a great job with professionalism and integrity. Unfortunately, there are also a few teachers who do see it as nothing more than an easy gig to get by and give them drinking and traveling money with no regard for what they are doing or who they are doing it for.
If you are someone who is considering teaching abroad or who is currently doing so, please make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Bad teachers give all expats a bad name.
What is becoming more and more popular now is online teaching. There are a number of companies out there, mainly based in China that offer local students online lessons and they are always looking for native English speakers. Some of these companies offer a good wage at anything from 12 to 20 dollars an hour working in the evenings or weekends. Although it is not going to make you rich, salaries will certainly be on a par with working in a local school teaching TEFL in Asia. One of the best companies is DadaABC . Again, this is not easy and previous experience of teaching Is good to have, it can be intense and you need to be patient but worth it for a few extra dollars if you have the desire and commitment.