Steps to Teaching Abroad

By: Emily

Editor’s note: Emily is a C&IS Peer Educator alumna. You can read her previous post, Adventures in Teaching Abroad, to get all the background info about why she and her partner decided to spend a year in South Korea teaching. Here is the rest of her advice about getting started with the teaching abroad process.

How do I teach abroad?

The entire process of becoming a qualified candidate, interviewing with a recruiter, lining up a job, and completing all the paperwork took about 6 months.

Steps to teaching abroad

Step #1: Find a reputable recruiting agency

  • Fees can be a red flag. Keep in mind that we didn’t pay a cent to submit an application, to interview, to apply for work, or to sign a contract. There are recruiters, like Don (ESL Joblink), that are paid by schools to find quality candidates to teach abroad. Our largest expense was mailing paperwork and the processing fees for required documents such as FBI background checks.
  • Ask others. Begin talking about your desire to teach abroad in casual conversations. Oftentimes people will bring up a relative or friend or reveal that they had an experience teaching overseas. This is a great opportunity to be assertive. In several instances, Danny contacted strangers on Facebook after having a conversation with a mutual acquaintance. For us this resulted in Skype sessions and informational interviews at coffee shops. Each time we asked if they went through a recruiter or organization. We found this to be the most helpful way of finding a reputable agency.

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Cambodia

Step #2: Complete paperwork

  • This includes getting an FBI background check, a passport, and work visas. Our recruiter Don guided us through this process. He kept track of deadlines and was available to answer questions. For questions he couldn’t answer, I was often able to find an answer online.

Step #3: Sign a Contract

  • Danny and I were very anxious to sign our contract because we had read horror stories of teachers stuck in terrible contracts. We asked for a few days to make a final decision and read our contract carefully, we had our families and friends read it and we sent several messages with questions to our prospective employers to clarify. My biggest piece of advice: take your time making this decision. Don’t become too excited or desperate, or you might become stuck in a difficult situation that could become increasing complex negotiating with language and cultural barriers.

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Floating market, Bangkok, Thailand

Step #4: Prepare to leave

  • You will need to order currency and start packing. Packing for a year away from home can be daunting. I started in phases and relied on packing lists I found on countless travel blogs. Keep in mind that you need less than you think you do. Almost everything you can buy in America you can buy in Korea. If you have even a little doubt, don’t pack it. You will accumulate things in Korea and it will become expensive to move your things back home. If you are planning on teaching in Korea, focus on a professional wardrobe. Koreans are dressed to impress, all day, every day.

Step #5: Go!

  • After making time to visit and say goodbye to your friends and family, it’s time to go! The big leap is exhausting and terrifying at first, but it will be one of the best years of your life.

Photo on 2015-12-08 at 15.48

Emily with a few of her students.

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1st Photo Source: Unsplash | Ambir Tolang
Other photo sources: Emily

Adventures in Teaching Abroad

By: Emily

Hello! I’m Emily, a previous Peer Educator at UMD Career & Internship Services. I’m writing as a guest blogger today to share information about teaching abroad. Currently I live in Ulsan, South Korea with my boyfriend and fellow UMD alum, Danny. We teach at a hogwon, which is a private school that operates during after school hours. So, how did we get here?

Our Story

After graduating UMD with art degrees (BFA Photography and BA Theatre) Danny and I have both jumped from job to job trying to find something we loved. I landed for a brief period of time at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul, where I met a co-worker who had taught English in South Korea and Brazil. Both of her experiences seemed extraordinary and I asked for the name of her recruiter. After some follow up research, Danny and I submitted an application to a recruiting agency based out of Minneapolis called ESL Joblink. The more we sought out past and present ESL teachers in our own workplace and communities we found more people who had gone through ESL Joblink. All of them had or were currently having a rewarding experience teaching abroad at reputable schools. Danny and I soon met and interviewed with our recruiter, Don, began an online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) class and started our visa paperwork. Our recruiter was able to connect us with the director of a private school in Ulsan, South Korea and after a phone interview we were hired, as a couple, to teach abroad.

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Danny and I in Kyoto, Japan

Why should I teach abroad?

Since coming to South Korea we have been able to explore parts of Japan, Thailand, and Cambodia. By the end of our year, we will have traveled to Vietnam, Taiwan, Morocco, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Depending on how you plan your trips, traveling can be extremely affordable in Southeastern Asia. In Cambodia, for example, a large dinner can cost anywhere between 2-5 dollars and your accommodations can be just as cheap. If you want to see the world, teaching abroad makes traveling easier and affordable.

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Bangkok, Thailand

Traveling is my favorite part of teaching abroad, but I cannot stress enough that you have to enjoy working with kids and have an interest in teaching. I teach long and difficult hours everyday and I find it equal parts rewarding and exhausting. Nothing in my life has been as challenging as being an ESL teacher. Many of my students are overworked and tired (some go to school from 8 am to 10 pm, even on Saturday and Sunday) and they deserve the best teachers to energize and engage them in learning. Unfortunately, foreign teachers in South Korea have a bad reputation for not actually caring about their jobs, but for being backpackers. I can’t imagine enjoying this experience at all if I were only going through the motions, waiting for my travel breaks. This job is ninety percent teaching kids, so if you don’t have experience in teaching, or working with kids or saying, “Sit down, stop that, listen carefully, no hitting, indoor voice, hands to yourself” like a broken record, try it in the United States first before you hop over the pond.

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In Japan

Why South Korea?

Minimal research done online will show you that South Korea is one of the best locations to teach abroad. After signing our contract, our airfare was paid for, our housing provided, and a few household items/ utilities were given to us for free. Since our accommodations are located close to work, we spend little on transportation, which means at the end of the week our biggest expense (besides our student loans) is groceries. In Korea, you will be paid well and, without airfare and rent payments, you can save up a sizeable amount that you can then use for traveling or for other things. Even with student loans, it is completely possible to save up to $1,000 dollars a month.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I talk more in-depth about how you secure a teaching abroad position.

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All photos are by Emily.