Working Abroad: Not for Everyone
I get emails and Facebook messages from people all the time who find me through my books or other online ventures and wonder if they should teach English abroad. While the advice I give always varies, there are a few general principles that you can use as you ponder your own individual situation and whether or not you should be working abroad.
#1: Do you have a “Real” Career Back Home?
If the answer is yes, then I generally don’t recommend teaching abroad because it’s kind of a dead-end trap. See this article for the inside story of how even though Korean university job conditions are most fabulous, they’re actually like wearing a pair of golden handcuffs. However, if you studied something semi-useless like myself then teaching ESL in some foreign country is perhaps not a bad choice for you and might even be a way better option than what you’d be doing in your home country.
For those who have real careers, but are unhappy with it, my advice is to just power on for a few more years while hitting the frugal living really hard so that you can “retire” early. Seriously. 5 years of pain can get you decades of gain. Check out Early Retirement Extreme for some inspiration or one of my other sites, Freedom Through Passive Income for some financial wisdom, of sorts. It’s one of my minor life regrets that I didn’t study something more useful and get on this extreme early retirement plan.
#2: Do you Just Want to Travel?
I’ll give it to you straight-despite what almost every single ESL teacher recruiter on this planet might tell you, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns when you teach English abroad. Seriously. It’s a real job and you have to get up each and every single weekday to go into work, unless you happen to work in a Korean university. See: Is my Korean Uni job too Good to be True? In many countries, you’ll only get 2 weeks vacation and it’s often assigned in little chunks here and there so it’ll be pretty difficult to actually travel anywhere substantial.
If you just want to travel, why not find some ridiculously high paying, but perhaps terrible job in your home country (Oil rigs? Tree planting?), do that for 6 months and then travel for the other 6 months?
#3: Do you Have Foreign Friends at Home?
Are you the type who befriends the “international” types in your home country? The one who invites the new immigrant neighbor over for dinner? If yes, working abroad and you will probably get along pretty well. If not, well, you might not really be interested in foreign cultures and you might consider staying in your home country.
#4: Are you Running Away from Problems At Home?
Here’s the thing about problems-they catch up with you even though you’re on the other side of the world. I’ve met a ton of expats here in Korea who were escaping a divorce, money problems or a bad relationship in their home countries and coming to Korea didn’t make them any happier. They perhaps were even more miserable because they ended up trying to deal with all that crap from a foreign country which can be extremely difficult, particularly the money thing. Think long-distance phone calls and middle of the night Skype sessions. Doesn’t sound fabulous does it?
#5: Are you a Picky Eater?
If yes, you should probably stay home. It’s going to quite possibly stress you out way too much trying to find sources for Western goods, particularly if you live in a smaller city. Now, not to get all Judgey McBolen-I’m all about a good Western feed whenever it’s available. But, I consider it an occasional treat instead of my normal mode of operation. If you’re willing to eat just about anything, then working abroad will be awesome for you. FYI: if you don’t like spicy, coming to Asia is a pretty bad idea for you.
Not to get all ranty, but nobody likes that expat in Korea who won’t eat something with seafood. Or garlic. Or onion. Or chili peppers. Or meat. Some people are cool and don’t attempt to eat out with other people and instead eat at home. The ones that people don’t like are those that expect others to cater to that. It’s impossible in Korea. Seriously. I was an (almost) vegan for about 3 years before coming to Korea, but once I got here I abandoned that plan ASAP. I also didn’t eat spicy food in Canada, but I got on that wagon here in Korea and now think the food in Canada is far, far too bland. What has Korea done to me?
Let’s Sum This Up
Working abroad: is it for you? Quite possibly yes. Teaching English in some foreign country can be an amazing year filled with plenty of awesome if you’re the flexible, easy-going type who is looking for an adventure of sorts, or a change of pace in your life.