Teaching English as an Asian
January 25, 2010 12:05 PM   Subscribe

How difficult is it to get a job teaching English in Asia as an American-born Asian?

I have heard from recruiters and friends that finding a teaching job in Asia is quite tough regardless of your background or fluency if you don't look the part (ie. white). Some have told me that even if I do find something I will have to accept less pay and expect parents to frequently voice their concerns.

I am very interested in finding a teaching job in either Taiwan or China and have a college degree, experience working with children, and can get TEFL certified if necessary.

What can I expect going into the job hunting process given my Asian-American background? Any advice to improve my chances or reputable companies would be greatly appreciated.
posted by jsmith78 to Education (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not Asian-Canadian, but I did teach English in a variety of situations (we eventually ran our own school) in Japan from 1994 to 2004.

Wouldn't your biggest challenge be getting a visa to get a teaching job? I'm not sure what the criteria to work in Taiwan or China is like, but isn't it pretty difficult to show up with no visa and no job offer and teach?

It might be a good idea to line something up before you travel to the country. I do know that Canadians are eligible for working holiday visas in Japan, so you can get the visa and show up and look for work.

As far as how your ethnicity will factor into everything, I must say that I was sometimes jealous of my Canadian/American/Australian friends with Asian heritage, as they could "pass" as Japanese and weren't stared at on the train, and they could also find clothes and shoes more easily at the store. In terms of culture shock, they generally faced the same sorts of challenges that non-Asian "foreigners" did. And they could find jobs just as easily.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:19 PM on January 25, 2010

Unfortunately your friends are right. Part of what these schools sell is an "international image", which basically means that they will almost always choose a white person (even one of questionable linguistic pedigree) over you.

You can get a TEFL degree, but in my experience (on the mainland, also as a white dude), you dont really need one. One thing I do recommend you consider is picking a city first and just going there and looking for a job, it is a lot easier then trying to arrange something from halfway around the globe, and you will have more options that way. You might also have better luck applying for positions with actual academic schools rather then "language institutes" as they aren't trying to sell their teaching staff as much.

Good luck!
posted by BobbyDigital at 12:21 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, you can get a tourist visa for up to 30 days (in China) and apply for jobs with that, if someone wants to hire you they will give you a business visa (proffered) or an employment visa (still does the job, and lets you stay in the country longer, but you will have a tougher time quitting if you get a better offer).

30 days is plenty of time to find a job, and I think you can get a longer tourist visa now.
posted by BobbyDigital at 12:23 PM on January 25, 2010

Yes, white people will have somewhat of an advantage for those stereotypically white jobs. But it's not impossible: I know at least two Canadians / Americans of Chinese parentage who did not have difficulty landing English teaching jobs in Beijing.

Bear in mind, though, that if you look Chinese, people in China will expect you to be able to speak Chinese. However if your heritage is non-Chinese, then you will be excused. You will, however, face a different kind of discrimination, as the Chinese consider themselves superior to other Asian cultures. And if you are of Japanese parentage, bitterness still lingers concerning the imperial barbarism of Japan during WWII.
posted by randomstriker at 12:26 PM on January 25, 2010

I have two Korean-adoptee friends back in Korea teaching English. There's a special visa program for adoptees to return, though, so I don't know how that affects things.
One blogs: http://serenityinseoul.wordpress.com/
posted by Coffeemate at 1:07 PM on January 25, 2010

I ran a chain of ESL schools in SE Asia. I was the only school owner willing to hire an African-American instructor; he did a great job before (sadly) overstaying his visa and getting deported. I wish he had told me about the problem in advance! Good teacher for a corporate class, once they got past some preconceptions. It's sad and short-sighted but some schools will want you at a discount. Might I suggest:
1. reaching out to the local contingent of whatever nationality you are? A lot of Korean-American teachers did very well tutoring Koreans.
2. Preparing yourself and positioning yourself as a teacher for special cases? ADD, ADHD, etc. students. Once word got around that I was afraid of nothing, could not be distracted and could reach some of these kids, my private tutoring took off. Where I was, there were no resources for these kids and English proficiency was the Holy Grail to their parents. I demaded payment in dollars and got them. Good luck.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 1:15 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I taught in China, a friend teaching at the neighboring university was Chinese-American. She had graduated from Princeton, was a native speaker of English, as well as a passable speaker of Chinese. While she was able to get a job, she did have to deal with students who regularly questioned her ability to teach them English. One of the recurring comments was that she couldn't possibly speak English well enough, since she was Chinese.

An ex-girlfriend of mine was Chinese-Canadian here in Japan, and as I recall, had fewer problems along those lines. Also anecdotally, a couple Asian-Canadian and Asian-American friends here in Japan haven't had nearly as much trouble as the friend in China, for what it's worth.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:36 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

"You will, however, face a different kind of discrimination, as the Chinese consider themselves superior to other Asian cultures."

I find this to be true of all assholes from (insert whatever culture compared to another culture).

This guy is Asian (if he isn't sorry! though i'm pretty sure this is the blog/guy I'm thinking of) and got a teaching job in Korea so its not hopeless.
posted by guniang at 4:37 PM on January 25, 2010

I find this to be true of all assholes from (insert whatever culture compared to another culture).

Perhaps, but the inter-Asian hostility to which I refer is harboured by the common chinese person, perpetuated by both orthodox and popular culture. You need not search out the assholes.
posted by randomstriker at 5:00 PM on January 25, 2010

My Chinese-American friend who taught English through the Peace Corps in Krygyzstan reported that some people definitely questioned his English proficiency because he looked Chinese, but he ultimately had a very enjoyable time, so it wasn't problematic enough to sour his experience.
posted by MsMolly at 7:20 PM on January 25, 2010

I met a Malaysian Chinese girl in Tokyo who tutored my Tokyo host mum in English. You might have better luck with one-on-one tutoring.

In Australia I was an "Aussie" for the English as a Second Language section of the local university - a bunch of us went into English classes and chatted with the students to build their skills and local knowledge. It was entertaining when they were surprised to find out that I had only been in Australia since 2006! Especially entertaining were the Malaysian students, who were part of a short exchange and already had super fluent English skills - we just ended up chatting about what I missed since being away.

But yeah, there is a general bias towards white-looking people mainly because they're assumed to be English "native" speakers. (Never mind that a lot of "native" speakers I know have atrocious spelling and grammar...) Maybe you could go to South East Asia and tutor English there?
posted by divabat at 9:15 PM on January 25, 2010

In China at least, universities are usually more flexible about hiring Asian-Americans/Canadians/etc. I say this particularly as nearly all of my jobs teaching English have been at Chinese universities. (I'm Chinese-American.)

Private language schools are more difficult, they answer to the parents and the parents are the ones who will usually complain about an Asian-looking teacher, and that has scared off many schools from hiring native speakers of Asian heritage.

You will definitely face discrimination in the hiring process, and it certainly won't be as easy as it will be for white foreigners, but it's not impossible.

Good luck!
posted by so much modern time at 12:06 AM on January 26, 2010

English teacher in Korea here:

Foreign-born Koreans often return to their homeland (which sounds like a misnomer; home is where your heart - and possessions - are) to find jobs using their practically-native English. Gyopo is the word, and they have jobs specifically for them; while different in category from the native-English-speaking jobs, they commonly make the same as other foreigners.

If your Korean is up to snuff, there's plenty of writing / translating / editing jobs, along with other jobs that take advantage of your bilingual-ness. If not, it's an uphill battle - as previously mentioned, looking Korean means the locals assume you speak Korean, especially the older ones.
posted by chrisinseoul at 6:45 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

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