Teaching ESL in Asia
First published 15th November, 2009
Whether it's due to the Great Financial Debacle, reluctance to plunge into the monotony of a 9 to 5 job or simply a case of the travel bug, you find yourself speculating on a world and a journey far away. If you can't take six months off to see Asia but you can uproot yourself, you could consider teaching English as a second language in the region.
I'm a 26 year old American who found myself in need of a transformation. With a degree in corporate finance, decent grades and two relevant internships, I thought the copiousness of my experience would take me far in life. I did go far... nearly every day for two years I drove far to work, walked far from the parking garage to my cubicle, and dreamt about far away places that I didn't have the time to visit.
Do you know a little too much about what I am talking about? Even with the economy in shambles, an English-crazy culture has swept through Asia and the package of benefits, both financial and adventure-related, may be enough to lure you in.
For starters, fully grasping an Asian culture isn't ever attained by simply showing up with a backpack and bidding farewell a few days or weeks later. Living and teaching in Korea, not only have I had the opportunity to learn so much about this country, but I am in an excellent position to explore all that Asia has to offer as great travel opportunities are at most a cheap flight away.
Another excellent perk is that I have grown to find myself with an international pool of friends. Not only do I have a chance to make friends with the locals but with other teachers from around the English-speaking world: the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.
Financially, I am quite well off teaching English in Asia. In most if not all Asian countries, English teachers earn a higher salary than the local average. Would you believe that I make more money teaching English in Korea than I did in the financial industry in the USA? It's true once you take into account the free apartment, decent salary and much lower tax rate. Whether you are able to save money or not, in most cases you will enjoy a comfortable standard of living.
Working with children can be a real challenge that requires great patience. They are cute angels at times who can make me laugh and have the time of my life but other times I find them to be rambunctious, out of control and a headache. Take my advice and at least learn how to say "BE QUIET" in the local language. It is much more effective than saying it in English!
Being a graduate of business with no formal training in the education field, I have made more mistakes than I can count. A big mistake that I made in the beginning was trying to be friends with the students... the "cool teacher". This only resulted in frustration as the children didn't take my classes seriously and often misbehaved.
I once made a huge mistake by coming to work hung over. That's right, in an employer sanctioned event, my boss took all of us out to dinner and wouldn't stop pouring shots of Korean rice whiskey -- a peculiar example of Korean culture, in which such behaviour is condoned. Whether it's acceptable or not, nothing was worse than being surrounded by screaming kids during my initial rendezvous with a Korean hangover. Being a bit more seasoned and wise, I have learned ways to prevent this from happening again without insulting my host -- not drinking the entire shot.
As you consider making the big move to Asia, understand that it is an adventure and not always a smooth sailing one. Huge cultural differences exist that can result in anguish, confusion or misunderstandings. For instance, in many Asian countries bosses and business owners aren't used to hearing the word "no" from their employees -- in fact, any type of criticism or even improvement suggestions by subordinates are rare.
In Korean culture it is okay for others, including your boss, to pry into your personal life. In Japan you might be expected to stay at work late, not because you have a lot of work to finish, but out of respect to your boss and co-workers.
If you are considering making the move, be certain that you meet the basic requirements. You need to decide which country is best for you. Then you need to ensure that you are getting an acceptable offer from a good school. Start by asking yourself why you want to teach English in Asia and consider what goals you have and what you want to get out of it.
Usually, you must be a native citizen of an English-speaking country. In most cases, to get a working visa you will need a recognised three or four year university degree.
TEFL certification is required in some, but not all, countries. In countries where it is not required, you can sometimes receive a higher salary for having one. Two reputable certifications are CELTA and TEFL International. Online certifications usually aren't worth the paper they're printed on unless the course included some on-site, in-the-classroom training sessions.
Experience will get you better job offers and higher pay in most cases, but it definitely is not required to find a job in Asia.
A clean background check.
Countries and facts to consider
Expect standard pay of 2.1 to 2.3 million won (US$1,800 to $1,970) per month, plus a completion bonus equal to one month's salary. Apartment should be paid by your employer, along with a round-trip airfare and health insurance. Most contracts are based on a 30-hour work week.
As the most popular nation to teach in, countless other foreigners are around to befriend. It is very easy to find employment in Korea, so do be picky during your job search.
The US military presence stokes some animosity toward Westerners from some locals, especially in and around Seoul. Often only a little vacation time is offered. Few Koreans are fluent in English.
Expect pay of Y230,000-280,000 ($2500-$3,100) per month, depending upon whether you're in an urban or rural location. Housing is not usually paid by employers.
Arguably the best food in the world, cleanliness and a futuristic urban setting.
A ridiculously high cost of living, housing is usually not provided (and is expensive), and a lack of English spoken by the locals (a plus of course if you're looking to immerse yourself in Japanese).
Expect pay of NT$50,000-$60,000 ($1,550-$1,850) per month, Housing is usually not included. Bonuses may be offered throughout the year.
Offers a heavily influenced taste of Chinese culture but with better paying teaching jobs. It's also an opportunity to learn Chinese in a tropical climate.
Pay is usually based on an hourly rate which can affect your wallet if the school's business slows down. The tax rate can be up to 20% and you may be required to teach on Saturdays.
The usual pay range is RMB4,000-8,000 (US$580-$1,200), with salary variations greatly depending on whether you are in a rural or urban setting. A free apartment or housing allowance is sometimes included.
The opportunity to learn one of the world's most important languages. The cost of living is very low outside major cities.
While the pay is enough to live on comfortably, you probably won't save a lot of money. Not a lot of English is spoken outside major cities.
A typical salary is B30,000 ($900) per month.
As Thailand is the Mecca of backpacking, expect limitless possibilities for cheap travel. Many locals are able to speak and understand English.
ESL certification is usually required. Not much chance to save money.
Expect to earn US$12-$14 dollars an hour.
High pay for Southeast Asia, usually in US dollars, coupled with a very low cost of living, make this a good spot to save money. It's also a great location to be based to enjoy cheap Southeast Asian travel.
ESL certification is usually required. In most cases, housing is not provided by the school.
Most English teaching jobs are volunteer positions but some NGOs and private institutions offer paid positions, most if not all, for under $10 an hour. You might find it to be very culturally enriching to give something back.
The cost of living is very low and you'll have an opportunity to travel in the region cheaply.
See pay above!
Tips for choosing a good school
Ask for contact information of former and current teachers of the school. This is a very common practice and the school should be happy to provide it.
Google the school to see if you can find information related to the school's reputation.
If possible, visit the school in person before signing the contract.
Ensure there will be no split shifts (this would mean working for instance, 8am to 12pm and 6pm to 9pm).
Research the city/area where your potential job is located to get an idea of costs.
Learn the lingo or else simple tasks such as going to the bank or the markets will cause headache.
Take the job seriously if you expect to be treated with respect by your boss, co-workers and students.
Dave's ESL Cafe has hundreds of new job listings each week.
Tefl.com is an established web site with a wealth of information related to planning a teaching career overseas. New job listings are regularly posted.
Ajarn is dedicated to providing information about teaching in Thailand.
Transitions Abroad has informative articles about living and working abroad.
Story by Mark Foley
Read 5 comment(s)
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (19)
- All stories
- Angkor Hospital For Children
- Blue Dragon Children's Foundation
- COPE: Helping people move on
- Epic Arts
- Free the Bears Laos
- Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
- Helping Phuket's children in need
- Helping Siem Reap's rubbish dump families
- Helping Singapore's transient workers
- Helping the Karen of Burma
- Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam
- Khlong Toey Music Program
- Lifestart Foundation, Hoi An
- MyME Yangon
- Soi Dog Foundation
- Swim Vietnam
- Thai Freedom House, Chiang Mai
- The Samui Prison Project
- The SET Foundation
- Burma (9)
- Cambodia (23)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- A honeymoon in Cambodia
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Kampot or Kep?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking in Virachey National Park
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Which Cambodian island is right for you?
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (14)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- Pasola, Sumba
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (19)
- All stories
- A breeze through Luang Prabang
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Luang Prabang for kids
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- Temples in Luang Prabang
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- Weaving and textiles in Luang Prabang
- What to buy in Luang Prabang, Laos
- Malaysia (10)
- Singapore (10)
- All stories
- 10 great hostels in Singapore
- Singapore on a budget
- Singapore's best happy hours
- Singapore's Hip Haji
- Singapore: Escape the urban jungle
- The best hostels in Singapore: 2013
- The best places to stay in Singapore
- The Festivals of Singapore
- Top 10 Hawker Centres: Part 1
- Top 10 Hawker Centres: Part 2
- Thailand (86)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 31 Thai islands
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend in Phra Phradaeng
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- An extra day in Krabi
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Are Thailand’s cheap guesthouses disappearing?
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok craft villages
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Chiang Mai's temples
- Corruption in Thailand
- Day trips from Bangkok
- Eating on the edge
- Elephant's World Kanchanaburi
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Five days in Khao Lak, Thailand
- Floating markets around Bangkok
- Great Thai food blogs
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- Ko Chang's east coast
- Ko Lanta's best budget guesthouses
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao Noi or Ko Yao Yai?
- Ko Yao: the islands you're looking for
- Learning Muay Thai in Bangkok
- Loy Krathong in Thailand
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Should I cancel my trip to Thailand? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Songkran festival in Thailand
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Full Moon Party
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The best places to stay on Ko Kut, Thailand
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- The changing face of Ko Lipe
- The road to Sangkhlaburi
- The road to Sangkhom
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- Two days in Kamphaeng Phet
- What are the alternatives to Bangkok?
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay at Railay Bay, Thailand
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Where to stay on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (38)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Budget Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- DIY Ha Long Bay
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Great Hanoi cafes to chill out in
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Ha Long Bay or Sapa?
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Mid-range Ha Long Bay
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Sapa or Bac Ha?
- Saving Vietnam's bears
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which Ha Long Bay tour is right for you?
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (22)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi 2015
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The best hostels in Bangkok 2014
- The best places to stay on Ko Chang, Thailand
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (18)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in Asia
- Christmas and New Years in Southeast Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Great river trips in Southeast Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- Ten thoughts on ten years with Travelfish
- Where is the best place in Southeast Asia for ...
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (18)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Asok
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Mo Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Siam
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.