So maybe, like so many of us, you've just finished a degree and don't know what to do with it. Or maybe you're a fresh-certified teacher having difficulty finding meaningful experience in your field—the Ontario College of Teachers, in 2009, reported that two-thirds of education graduates were underemployed. Or perhaps you don't want to tackle the big-picture career question yet, and you'd prefer to travel—but can't afford to pay for a year-long vacation.
So, what are your options? Well, there's no easy answer. But teaching English abroad might be one of them.
"Word is getting out that it's an option, whether you're seeking travel, adventure or money," says Dave Sperling, the Los Angeles-based founder of Dave's ESL Cafe. "And we live in a more global world, where even if you haven't travelled, you're exposed to so many different cultures [at home].
"You've got people who need to pay off student loans, or people who want to save money, and that's hard to do here, especially if you're renting an apartment and you're making a crappy salary. Then, you can go somewhere like Korea, and you can have your apartment paid for, your airfare paid for, and sometimes even your food taken care of."
Sound to good to be true? Think again. Those conditions have made teaching overseas a collegian rite of passage—a trend that's intensified in a shoddy economy. Toronto-based recruitment agency Teach Away, for instance, reported that its applications jumped 400 per cent between 2008 and 2009. An estimated 800,000,000 students are studying English worldwide—and the ESL industry is worth billions. And for students—at least for those with few responsibilities aside from student debt—the industry's an excellent fit, especially since many countries don't seek education credentials from its teachers. (College diplomas, however, are a requisite.)
Ryan Leroux, now an associate at an Ontario-based wealth management firm, took advantage of such opportunities. After graduating from Carleton University, he spent four years teaching in South Korea and Taiwan—and, in the process, paid off his $32,000 student loan. When he moved to Seoul, his first destination, he earned roughly CAD $2,000 monthly—and by his second year, he was earning CAD $3,000.
"I wanted to pay off my loans as soon as possible," he says. "For a couple of months, I threw down 60 per cent [of my pay to my debt]. But I was living OK, eating well, and going out. The disposable income you have if you don't pay your rent and live in a place like Korea—where good, healthy food is affordable—it's so much more compared to someone starting off at home."
But while Leroux managed to put a "serious dent" into his debt—he says he paid off a whopping $7,000 in his first year alone—his time overseas wasn't all work. "I spent about $1,000 a month [after the first year]," he adds. “And I visited 11 countries, met people from all across the world, explored the city and enjoyed the nightlife in a town of 25 million people.”
Travel, however, wasn't the sticking point for Leroux. He says he'd always had an "exit strategy," and wanted to work in finance—a goal he also furthered overseas. So, while in Taiwan, Leroux also completed Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) courses, which he helped convert into his current position with Richardson GMP. And, he says, the soft skills he earned working overseas—along with his hard-copy credentials—made him a more marketable candidate in Canada.
"I put my experience [overseas] on my resume, because it gives people and idea of what I'm capable of," he says. "You can throw me in any situation and I'll find a way to sort it out. Because that's what happens: You board and airplay with a couple of bags and so, 'Go! Do it!'
"And when I first sent out my resume back home, I go a couple of callbacks saying, 'We don't have anything for you now, but you did the CFA levels 1 and 2, and spent five years in Asia? I want to meet the guy behind this resume.'"
But while Leroux used his travels to bolster his career ambitions, Sperling also says there's plenty of candidates who do the opposite—who go overseas as a break from their career.
"I'm always blown away when lawyers and doctors being like, 'I'm tired of being an M.D. I want to be a teacher,'" laughs Sperling. "You're definitely seeing people from all different backgrounds, a lot are retirees, too. Maybe it's empty nest syndrome, and sometimes, we see husband-and-wife [duos] who are retired."
Indeed, the motivations for teaching overseas are just as diverse as the people do it—it draws teachers from the U.K., the U.S., South Africa, Australia and more. But when choosing a place to work in, it's also important to find the correct fit for your lifestyle. Here are five ESL hotspots—choose your own adventure.
1. South Korea
The pay: Is roughly $2,000 for entry-level teachers, with earnings reaching roughly $4,000.
Lodging: Generally paid for.
Perks: Airfare's paid for, and being a modern, wealthy nations, there's also plenty of Western-style perks (for those who want it). Take a trip to the North Korean border, if you dare.
2. Saudi Arabia
The pay: Is excellent, in ESL terms. Expect between $3-4000 dollars per month.
Lodging: Paid for—and some ads include gym memberships, satellite TV, air conditioning and more.
Perks: There's a lot. Some school provide shopping trips, SIM cards, and even vacation airfare. And oh yes, the heat. The wonderful, wonderful heat.
The pay: Roughly $2,000 per month.
Lodging: Some schools provide it, but for the most part, you're own your own, slugger.
Perks: National health insurance is provided. Plus, Taiwan offers competitive pay while offering a less Western-style cultural experience (unlike parts of South Korea and Japan).
The pay: Roughly $1,000 per month.
Lodging: Not paid for, though accommodation assistance and scooters for rent can be provided.
Perks: Health insurance is provided, and it's an amazing, diverse cultural experience. Plus, have you seen The Beach?
The pay: Roughly $1,200 per month.
Lodging: Is generally paid for, though you may be living in shared accommodations.
Perks: Health care. Airfare reimbursement. Free Russian lessons. And vodka.