These days many people travel the world by teaching English as a second language (ESL). Whether you’re fresh out of college or university, taking a career break or just desperate to escape the same old routine at home – there are many incredible opportunities for you out there.
If you already have a university degree and/or a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate, then your chances of receiving offers are naturally increased. However, it is possible to gain employment with on-the-job training and no experience –or qualifications – required.
Because we are fortunate enough to be raised as native English speakers, we (allegedly) already know the language inside-out. What’s more important is often the applicant’s attitude and personality. “Teaching experience and relevant qualifications are useful indicators of an individual’s potential in the classroom, but the most important thing for us is a teacher’s personality,” says a manager at one of the English-teaching schools in China. “A friendly, bubbly and outgoing personality is more important than anything else.”
Thankfully, I decided to head to China after a brief stint volunteering as a journalist and part-time teacher in India. Some friends had told me that, as a native English speaker, there are many jobs available – despite my lack of qualifications or solid experience.
I posted a message on Dave’s ESL Cafe stating clearly that I had extremely limited classroom experience (just a few days) and no relevant qualifications, but I am a native English speaker and I was available to start immediately.
Within a few days I’d had two Skype interviews and received two offers of work in China. I would be expected to cover the flight costs and they would then be reimbursed upon completion of the one year contract.
On the job
Teaching kids English is often about presenting and practising language in a fun and exciting way. Essentially, most classroom time is spent playing games that highlight various aspects of the language. The average teacher has a maximum teaching time of just 20 hours per week; however, this can often be topped up with training sessions and lesson-planning time.
For me, and most teachers I’ve met, it feels like a part-time job. The average office job is around 33 hours a week and is nowhere near as much fun. In the classroom, sizes can vary from one-to-one personal classes to groups of up to 30 students. Typically, though, classes are around ten to fifteen kids.
Show me the money
For China specifically, you could expect to earn anything from 8,000 – 15,000 RMB per month (approximately $1,000 – $2,500). Some companies offer free accommodation and end of year bonuses of up to 10,000 RMB ($1600) as well.
The cost of living in most cities, outside of Beijing and Shanghai, is incredibly low. Rent here is usually no more than $230 per month; a bus journey around the city is less than 25 cents. Incredibly delicious meals can cost as little as $4; and with beers and cigarettes less than a buck and two bucks respectively, it’s not easy to spend to your monthly pay-packet – if you live wisely. Some people manage to save anything from $3,000 to $10,000 each year.
Food & Culture
At the school where I teach, we have a large team of foreign teachers from the UK, US, South Africa, Australia and Canada. When we’re not saving our pennies, we take road trips to occasionally random places and some huge cities. Between us, we’ve seen some amazing wonders of the world – from Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Kuming and Hong Kong to idyllic destinations such as the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand.
The opportunity to experience vastly different cultures is always a rewarding one; travel, as the saying goes, is the only thing you can buy that will make you richer. In our city, we’re treated like movie stars. People often point, stare, smile and say hello as we walk down the streets, as foreigners are rare in this part of the country.
The Chinese people are very friendly and are always willing to help, providing you can communicate whatever is needed. You quickly become a master in miming absolutely everything here – which is especially funny when trying to order a large cucumber or a shot of tequila (usually not found in the same venues I should add). Safety also is nowhere near as much of an issue here, especially compared to being at home. I’ve actually felt safer living abroad than I do living in the UK, and the South Africans I’ve had the pleasure to meet here have all echoed that view.
China’s cuisine is world-renowned and rightly so. The surprising part is discovering that the food here is quite different from your average Chinese takeaway. The food we’re used to getting delivered to the door is Cantonese, a part of southern China that includes Hong Kong and Macau. Across the bulk of mainland China, the dishes vary from province to province. Both the quality and price here are amazing; your average takeout here costs less than half a buck, and tastes more delicious than what we’re served at home, so it’s hard to complain.
The experience of life abroad teaching English is certainly an eye-opener. It’s a fantastic and rewarding feeling to see the children grow and develop these new language skills. The expertise gained in this line of work also assists in boosting your CV for any number of other industries or skills: management, psychology, writing and publishing or simply presenting information. There are so many positives to working abroad but I won’t go on. Instead, I’ll leave you with a quote from St Augustine: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Some websites about teaching abroad:
Get your English teaching credentials now!
Vagabond Journey has recently partnered with Star TEFL to offer their 140 hour online TEFL certification course for just $199 — a big discount, as it sells for $425 on their site. This certification course offers 140 hours of user-friendly material, tutors to help you through the process, email, chat, and phone support, feedback on your performance, and you can complete the course at your own pace. Upon completion of the course, you will receive an internationally recognized TEFL/ ESL/ TESOL certification. You can take advantage of this 53% discount by ordering this course directly from Vagabond Journey. Contact us at vagabondsong [at] gmail.com to find out how.
We also recommend i-to-i TEFL courses.
After you have your teaching certification send me an email and I can help you find a good job in China!