It takes a person with a lot of guts and money to do what many other sources will tell you is the easiest way to find a teaching job in Asia: “Fly to your country of choice and apply to various schools,” they say. “The people want to see your face.” But what happens when you factor in language barriers, the money you’ll likely spend searching for a job, and the possibility of not finding one?
The truth is, showing up uninvited could potentially damage your chances of getting hired. While school administration in Asia understands your desire to travel – directors often encourage it – they ask that you take your job seriously while you’re there. They look down on backpackers looking to make a quick buck while passing through town, and unless you’ve already lived in the country for a significant amount of time, it will be hard to convince them you’re anything else.
With slow traveling on the rise – where people are opting to stay, maybe even live in a foreign country for an extended period of time to really learn about the culture in which they’re immersed – working abroad can provide a lucrative opportunity to do just that. In Asia, a continent full of vibrant and varied nations from which to choose, you can become a respected part of a community while earning more than $3,000/month, and it’s relatively effortless to find a job with these five simple steps before you even leave home:
1. Get Qualified
Most countries require only a four-year degree (in any field), a fluency inEnglish and a certificate for teaching English as a second language.
TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers ofOther Languages) are interchangeable, so either one will do. To obtain this certificate, simply sign up for an online 120-hour course, which you can do at your own pace and in much less time. Many of the providers also offer on-site courses for much more money, but they aren’t any more respected than an online certificate.
International TEFL Teacher Training (ITTT), which provides personal tutor help for $230, and American TESOL Institute, where you can specify between certificates for children or business professionals for $295, are two of the most recognized providers.
CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is like the holy grail of teaching certificates and is best reserved for those who plan to make a career out of it. CELTA is a month-long program offered by the University of Cambridge to create a consistent, high standard among educators in the field. The cost is dependent on where you take the course, but it is significantly greater than the above options.
If you’re already qualified to teach in your home country, you can forego this step and simply send your resume instead.
2. Choose a country
This is often the hardest part of the process. It’s important to consider requirements that will make it easier for you to commit. Can you handle one year away, or is six months more likely? (Thailand offers one semester options) Do you want tropical weather? (Southeast Asia) Access to a beach? (Indonesia) A country with strong cultural beliefs? (Korea) To make the most money possible? (Japan)
Whatever your decision, narrowing your search to one or two countries will make the job search easier by eliminating various other distractions, like promotions for tempting locations that, when further researched, are volunteer-only opportunities.
3. Public or Private?
After you’ve decided on a country, you’ll then have to choose whether you prefer to work in a government school or a language institute. As with any choice, there are positives and negatives to both.
Government schools offer a Monday-Friday teaching schedule with very little obligations on nights and weekends, and the opportunity to celebrate all local, public holidays. Language institutes often pay higher, but require you to work nights and weekends because the majority of students are business professionals or students studying after school.
Also, the chances that a private school will be operated by a native English speaker and have plenty of other expatriates already on staff are higher than public schools, where you may be the only foreign teacher working under a director who speaks little to no English.
4. Find a job
Alas, the exciting part. Asia is brimming with a need for foreign English teachers,so a Google search will bring a plethora of results, but be careful. The majority of sites you’ll encounter will be operated by recruiters that charge a fee, and many of them are simply headhunters for larger agencies that won’t cost anything if you get in touch directly.
The most reputable site to apply directly for a job among the TEFL-teacher crowd is www.daveseslcafe.com. You can search specifically for positions in Korea and China or do a general search for other international locations. Even on this site; however, you should be wary of recruiters. They’re usually easy to spot, with names like TeacherMexConnect and International Education Group and boasting multiple positions in various countries.Recruiters aren’t necessarily bad – they’ll certainly find you a job – but in addition to the high price, you might not get to choose where you live.
The best in-country agencies are usually involved with the government, and therefore work with public schools. Korea has three main programs: English Program in Korea (EPIK), which places teachers all over the country, GEPIK, which is specific to Gyeonggi province, and Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE), which provide placements solely for the capital city. The government has completely stepped out of the recruiting process, so it’s essential to apply through a trusted recruiter site such as Reach to Teach or Teach Away, but you shouldn’t be asked to pay a dime. The government takes care of their fees for you.
Quite possibly the most revered (and highly paid) program is Japan English Teachers (JET),where you can apply to be an assistant teacher in a public school. However, the application process is rigorous and the lead-time can be more than one year. Hong Kong jobs can be found through the government’s Education Bureau, which uses the Native English Speaking Teacher (NET) Scheme, and the most reputable agency in Thailand is AYC InterculturalPrograms.
Some of the most widespread private language institutions are English First, Disney and Wall Street English. I would suggest getting directly in touch with them via their websites as all ofthem have detailed employment pages that explain exactly what they’re looking for and what’s required of you.
Once you’ve found a job, you’ll want to learn as much as possible about both the country and specific location where you’ll be living. It will make your visit much easier (and more meaningful) if you understand a bit about your chosen country’s history, traditions, how they greet each other, and maybe even learn a little of the local language. Though not a requirement, speaking a few words in the classroom will undoubtedly make the experience better for both you and your students.
If you don’t want to spend the money on Rosetta Stone, opt for a cheaper audio version or a phrase book with directions on how to pronounce the words. Even if your vocabulary consists solely of “hello” and “thank you,” you’ll make a huge impression on the locals who love it when a foreign teacher takes interest in learning their language.
You can do research by reading books about the country. Whether it’s an enticing memoir or “Lonely Planet,” you’ll learn about the important rituals and customs so you can be prepared when you find out, hours before, that the school has a holiday and you’ll be leading them in the parade, dressed in traditional costume, and you’ll understand why loud fireworks explode nearly every night.
You’ll find honest, personal accounts about the country in blogs about living and/or working there. A great source for finding blogs specific to teachers and organized by country is TEFLBloggers. Expat Women has a large directory of blogs written by female expats, also categorized by country, and Chicky Net, written by and for women living throughout Thailand, is helpful if you plan to teach there.
I think you’ll agree that the hardest part of teaching in Asia is the decision process you must endure beforehand. Where do you even begin? It’s a daunting question with a plethora of looming possibilities, but if you can break it down into manageable steps, focusing only on the current at any given time, it becomes a simple process.
When you land in your chosen country and step foot in your classroom – whether it be an air-conditioned room in Japan or a run-down wooden shed in Thailand – it will soon becomeone of the most rewarding challenges of your life.
Jessica J. Hill is an Oregon native currently working in China. She writes about traveling, teaching abroad, and coming home. Find more of her stories here.
Photo credits: Chiang Mai University, all others courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.