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Is Teaching ESL Abroad for You?

This past weekend we were excited to launch our new, free guide – Getting You on the Plane: A Travel Manifesto – we hope it will inspire its readers to make travel a more regular part of their lives.

While there are many ways to travel the world, we both began our adventures by taking jobs as ESL teachers. This decision was the best one of our lives, but we realize it’s not for everyone.

Is it for you? Here are some questions to consider:

What qualifications do you have?

The most important qualification is simply being a native English speaker – or at least living somewhere where English is widely spoken.

If you have that covered, you’ll just need to find the country or school that prioritizes what you offer. Some countries care most about what kind of TEFL certificate you have. Others primarily want those qualified to teach in their home country. Some are looking for college degrees in English, or just a college degree full stop.

What qualifications could you reasonably get?

If you are lacking qualification, all hope is not lost. TEFL certificates can easily be earned online, and some schools will even pay for you to get certified before your job begins.

Do you like the idea of settling in another country for a year or more?

ESL teachers usually have plenty of travel opportunities, but their day-to-day isn’t quite as adventurous compared to the life of the traveler who is changing cities and countries every few days or weeks. They are making a home in another country, not just visiting one. After the initial honeymoon phase wears off, teachers settle into a routine that becomes quite normal.

This kind of slow travel is perfect for some people. You can really get to know the culture, form genuine friendships, and even learn the language.

Do you want a creative job with a lot of variety?

Teaching is different every day. You are always teaching something new, overcoming new obstacles with your students, and coming up with new approaches and activities. If you are a creative person, and the idea of a monotonous desk job fills you with dread, teaching is for you.

Do you have plenty of energy?

Teaching can also be exhausting in every way – physically, mentally, and emotionally. You’ll need to be able to summon seemingly limitless energy to keep your students engaged and positive.

Are you patient?

You’ll need patience both inside and outside of the classroom as an ESL teacher. Language learning is a slow process, and your students will get frustrated, confused, or discouraged from time to time. It’s easy to also feel the same as their teacher – but you can’t show it.

Outside the classroom, you’ll encounter a host of challenges beyond the typical traveler’s stress. Arranging work visas, dealing with landlords, setting up bank accounts and international transfers – all of these tasks will take a cool head and plenty of patience.

And here are some questions that aren’t as important as you think (and why):

Are you good at grammar? Didn’t do so great in English class back home? Don’t worry – if you’re teaching beginner or intermediate classes, you’ll be able to manage the grammar lessons just because you’re a native speaker and the most common errors will naturally sound wrong to you.
Do you like kids? Not all ESL classes are for children. Look into adult language centers if kids aren’t your thing – they are just as common in most major cities.
Do you speak the local language? You don’t need to. You will only be allowed to speak English with your students, and outside of the classroom you’ll get by with body language and charades until you start picking up some basic survival phrases naturally.

Have you ever considered teaching abroad before? What’s holding you back?

 

Travelers often get asked how we’re able to find the money, time, or courage to go abroad.

Want to know how We do it?

Click here for a FREE guide.

Why Everyone Should Be an Expat at Some Point in Their Lives

So far we have lived in two countries as expats: China and Thailand, and we wouldn’t trade this experience abroad for anything.

Actually living in a new country is completely different from just visiting one. We believe everyone would benefit from life as an expat, whether it’s a six month stint, several years, or for the rest of their lives.

We met as expats living in China. 

Why? Here’s what we believe you’ll gain from making another country your home:

An Open Mind

Okay, so there are a few things in life that can pop that bubble everyone lives in for awhile during their youth. Maybe you had some epiphany-type moments at university, or when you met someone living a very life than you’re used to, or when you read a certain book.

But there is really nothing that compares to how expat life can open your mind. You’ll notice things about your old habits, home, and culture that you’ve never even given a second thought before.

You realize that the word “normal” really means nothing, and we are all products of our culture to some degree.

In China we were shocked by how people behaved trying to get on the metro (literally shoving their way on, no lines, no rules). In Thailand we weren’t thrilled with the sights (or smells) of squid on a stick that seemed to be at every street food vendor.

But eventually the shock fades, you stop comparing everything to what you’re used to, and you adapt to your new normal. You’ll find yourself becoming a less judgmental person who understands that there is rarely just one “right” way to do things, and you don’t immediately get upset when someone does something you’d have previously perceived as rude or strange.

You’ll also be amazed by some differences that seem so obviously better when compared to back home – such as a drastically lower cost of living, less red tape and tiresome regulations, better living amenities (beautiful swimming pools, saunas, and gyms are the norm in Thailand), and a culture that actually welcomes foreigners and values global awareness.

Not the best sight and smell we’ve came across. 

Amazing New Friends

Remember when you went to university and finding new friends was easy and natural? The expat community in most cities is kind of like that.

People worry about being lonely in a foreign country, but we’ve actually had the opposite experience. Nearly everyone we meet has a shared love for travel and adventure – even if we have nothing else in common, there is always that to fall back on. And everyone is looking for new friends because we’re all in the same boat when we arrive: unsettled and ready to find our new social circle.

Comfort with Your Style and Looks

You can forget about blending in – no matter how you dress, you will look out of place as a foreigner.

So if you used to make fashion choices based on just going along with the crowd, you’ll quickly lose that thought process. You’ll embrace a style that is more comfortable or genuine for you – whether it’s something a little wild, a little plain, or a little outdated. You’ll be happier with your look, and no one else will care – there is such a mixture of cultures and styles in the expat community, there is not one expected way to dress anymore.

Nobody cares what you look like. 

A Break from Materialism

The more we move around, the fewer bags we need, and the emptier our remaining bags become. Material items become less important, or even burdensome. You’ll discover the freedom that comes with owning less stuff, and you’ll find you prefer spending money on new experiences rather than new things. Flights, food, events, and socializing – isn’t that what really makes us happy?

A Healthier Financial Life

If you are living in a country with a lower cost of living, saving your money is easy. We can easily tuck money away while also traveling every couple months and enjoying a comfortable day-to-day life.

Epic trips can happen often! 

Easier Goodbyes

This could be seen as a negative, but the expat life is full of goodbyes. If you aren’t about to leave, one of your best friends is. You won’t go a year without a goodbye. The first couple will be tough. But then you’ll feel yourself getting stronger.

Is this because your heart is hardening? We don’t think so. Instead, we think we are learning that friendships can stay healthy and active regardless of location. We currently have friends all around the world, and we love it.

There is always someone to miss, but there is also always someone to catch up with, someone who is eager to hear the details of our lives and wants to share their own adventures. And we always have fun new places to visit on our holidays!

Confidence

You get so many stares when you are obviously foreign. You’ll also embarrass yourself a million times doing things the wrong way in an unfamiliar culture. And if you’re trying to speak a new language or use body language to communicate? Even more opportunities to look ridiculous.

Eventually you stop caring. You accept that you’ll often be the center of attention, and that people are occasionally going to see you as stupid, crazy, or silly. Why does it matter? The peace and freedom that comes with this revelation is priceless.

We’re often seen as silly!

More Self Knowledge

When living abroad, you’re always trying new things. You discover you start liking things you’ve always claimed to hate. In Thailand, many expats will develop a taste for spicy food – or at least a tolerance for it. You’ll also find yourself turning away from things you used to love or depend on – like getting around by car.

Maturity

For us, the biggest reason to live abroad is that it really forces you to grow up and take responsibility for yourself. You realize that you are more capable and more resilient than you ever thought. You become a lot more independent. You think more for yourself, and you realize that you are in charge of your own life. You have control over every decision about how you’ll spend the rest of your life. That alone makes it all worthwhile.

Returning Home

You might think being away for years means that when you return home it’s going to be like a foreign experience itself. It’s not.

We’ve never gone home for longer than a few weeks, but even during a short visit you’ll slip back in to your old life very easily. In a matter of days it’ll feel like you’ve never left.

Yes, people get on with their lives whether you are there or not, but nothing else changes that much – not the things that matter. You’ll see the same faces, pass by the same local stores, and eat the same meals. It will be familiar and comforting, and you won’t feel as if you’ve missed out on anything by going abroad.

Enjoy your new abode! You’re not missing anything back home!  

Do you agree with these points? What do you think is the best thing you’ve gained by living as an expat? We’d love to hear.

 

Travelers often get asked how we’re able to find the money, time, or courage to go abroad.

Want to know how We do it?

Click here for a FREE guide.

Where Can £89 Get You in Southeast Asia?

At this point in our life, we spend most of our time in Asia. We are currently based in Bangkok, and during many of our holidays we tend to end up in another Asian country.

They say you don’t really notice how much a culture has affected you until you leave, so who knows what might be the cause of any reverse culture shock when we do move on, but for now we’re going to guess that one of the hardest adjustments we’ll have to make is having to pay “normal” prices for things again.

A Christmas Train Ride

Let’s start with a story. This happened last December, when we were back in England for Christmas. At this point we had both been living abroad for some time and we were probably taking the easy cost of living in Thailand for granted.

We’d already spent way too much money on only a few days in Iceland, even leaving us homeless for our final night in a drafty bus station. We couldn’t wait to get to England and make our way to the cozy home of Simon’s grandparents.

Our train tickets from London were already reserved and paid for, so it should have been a straightforward and painless journey with no extra expenses. Except after our sleepless night, a blizzard postponed our plane by about six hours.

So we missed that train, and had to pay for another. The second train cost £89 each. Keep in mind this is only a one-way ticket for a journey of about an hour and a half.

This arctic blizzard was the cause of the £89 payment. 

So Let’s Compare

When you convert £89 to baht, the currency used in Thailand, it equals 3,877. This is substantially more than we each spend in a typical week, even eating out every night and going out on the weekend.

We were horrified to watch that much money disappear on something so small – to the point where we still discuss it today. It has almost become a game – how much can you get in Thailand for the cost of a short train ride in England?

Let’s Play

Get ready to be shocked! We’ll start with flights, which you would assume to always be more expensive than a train. (All prices were found on Skyscanner.)

A return flight from Bangkok to Phuket is £67 – the train ride was only one way and it was still £22 more.

A return flight from Bangkok to Yangon, Myanmar is £37. So you could go there and back twice and still not pay as much as a train ticket in England.

A return flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia? £46

A return flight to Hanoi, Vietnam? £53

A return flight to Singapore? £55

A return flight to Hong Kong? £78 – for six hours of flight time, compared to that hour and a half on the train.

Now let’s look at domestic flights from within these countries.

In Vietnam you could fly from Hanoi to every other major airport in the country including Nha Trang, Phu Quoc, Dalat, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City for cheaper than that train. Ranging from £43 to the most expensive we found to Ho Chi Minh City for £80.

In Cambodia, a flight from Siem Reap to its other major city, Phnom Penh, is £31. For only £4 more than the train prices in the UK you could make this journey 3 times.

And we had to throw this one in – the cheapest flight from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Indonesia comes up to only £12. You could make that journey 7 times and still have £5 to spare when compared to our train.

Moving on to Other Trains

Let’s actually compare the train in England to train travel in Southeast Asia.

The best available seat on a train from Malaysia to Singapore, which takes roughly 7 hours, is only about £11 one-way/£22 return. To put that into perspective, for the cost of our England train, you could go from Malaysia to Singapore and back four times.
http://www.malaysia-traveller.com/Kuala-Lumpur-to-Singapore-Train.html

If you want to get from the top of Thailand (Chiang Mai) to the bottom (Hat Yai), you would take two trains, with a stop in Bangkok. The total for your trip would only be £63 and you would be traveling for over 24 hours.
http://www.thailandtrainticket.com

The most expensive bed seat on a train from the top of Vietnam (Hanoi) to the bottom (Ho Chi Minh City), a 26 hour ride, is around £69. You can basically tour the whole country for £20 cheaper than that train in the UK.
https://vietnam-railway.com



Other Modes of Transport

A VIP bus from Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia is only £21. https://www.travelertick.com/destination/bangkok-to-siem-reap

A bus from Hanoi, Vietnam to Luang Prabang, Laos, totaling 25 hours, costs about £38. https://www.travelertick.com

Singapore’s so small, only a simple metro and bus ticket would enable you to see most of the sights. A 3-day pass can be purchased for about £11. http://thesingaporetouristpass.com.sg/

We even totaled up a train and bus route from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam across most of Southeast Asia to Yangon, Myanmar, totaling over 36 hours – the final cost? About £58. For this journey, you would cross 4 countries: Vietnam, Camdodia, Thailand and then into Myanmar.
https://www.rome2rio.com/s/Ho-Chi-Minh-City/Yangon

Finally, we had a look at the cheapest overland route from Bangkok, Thailand to Beijing, China – a trip that would take 4 days and 8 hours. It would only come to £113. Just £17 more than that shitty one and a half hour train journey from London to Doncaster, United Kingdom.
https://www.rome2rio.com/s/Bangkok/Beijing

Travel around Southeast Asia for next to nothing. 

So for those at home who are always saying “how can you two afford to travel so much?” – here’s the answer! We aren’t rolling in money, we just don’t need much to travel in many parts of the world.

We absolutely recommend Southeast Asia to anyone who wants to travel the world with a limited budget. It’s gorgeous here, fun, and the prices are affordable.

Tell us – were you surprised by any of these prices? If you had the £89 we spent on our train ticket, how would you choose to use it?

 

Travelers often get asked how we’re able to find the money, time, or courage to go abroad.

Want to know how We do it?

Click here for a FREE guide.