Which teaching abroad scheme should I choose? And... how?
May 3, 2011 2:15 PM   Subscribe

So I graduated last year and have been working in sales since then. I'm very intrigued by the concept of teaching english abroad, as I've had some great experiences teaching children before, but am overwhelmed by the amount of different schemes and companies. I have never really travelled before, and I know this may be seen as a big step, but I have this uncontrollable itch to just go for it while I am young and relatively free. I'm really looking for any and all advice from you guys - anyone who's done it, anyone who's considered it, anyone at all! Ideally, I am looking for a half-year placement, with a UK-based TEFL company (although it seems that many companies don't care where you are from). Having said that, I could be swayed by a year-long course. I am very excited by i-to-i, and heard about this through a recommendation. However, as I say, I feel a little like I am stabbing in the dark. I have read with much interest some previous questions, and have heard mention of Dave's ESL cafe, but this seems to be mostly aimed towards the USA.

I have a few key questions:

1) Location.
I am considering Japan (and, yes, I know I have missed the deadline for JET by a mile), Thailand, South America, South Korea, and the Czech Republic. Any good/bad experiences? Anything glaringly obvious about these places that I may have missed in my research?

2) Inclusion/exclusion of TEFL qualificaton.
I am seeing some schemes in which you can earn the qualification whilst (or just before) teaching and living. I am also seeing some which simply require the qualification. Are there any advantages/disadvantages to these?

3) Accommodation.
I have seen some very interesting schemes which offer boarding with a host family. Would this be recommended over, say, private accommodation?

4) TEFL courses.
Any suggestions on good value courses?

These are just a few questions, but I would really appreciate any advice or suggestions, particularly on the location!
posted by jhighmore to Education (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
My friend taught in South Korea through Footpaths (I think that's what it was called), and HATED it. She, like many others, broke her contract and left in the middle of the night. She had a great deal of difficulty communicating with them beforehand regarding her travel arrangements, and the staff was extremely difficult to work with. She didn't do very much research on the company beforehand, and found a lot of negative stuff after she started looking. Someone else I know taught in Taiwan, and had a much better experience (I don't know what company she worked for). So my recommendation is to do a lot of research on the companies, and try to talk to people who have worked for them before.
posted by Safiya at 2:36 PM on May 3, 2011

I taught for two years in Japan, quite a few years ago now, and as I'm still working in the field I know quite a few people who have taught abroad (mostly in Asia). I know that a lot of people get jobs once they arrive in a country, but my advice is to get a job with an international company before you go. (My experience was with GEOS, and I've not heard of i-to-i, but it seems like you're on the right track aiming for a job with a UK company.) Many of the less pleasant experiences people have had seem to have taken place in South Korea, and the people I know who've taught in Japan, Taiwan and China have had generally good ones. My own experience was quite positive although I suffered a bit from culture shock and isolation. A homestay experience is probably a good idea, as the most positive experiences I've heard about are from teachers in the JET programme which seems to provide a lot of support from local people. Free feel to memail me if you have any questions.
posted by smilingtiger at 2:47 PM on May 3, 2011

Not sure if the following is the kind of info you're looking for, but FYI: I'm from the UK and taught EFL through the English language assistant program from the British Council. I can't recommend it highly enough -- it's well respected, I got a lot of support from the sending and host network, and they paid more than enough for me to live on and travel while I was abroad. That said, I was in Quebec which doesn't seem to interest you that much. However, the British Council does send English language assistants to Latin America (there's a "latin america" application route, and then you can rank countries in order of preference). I think the actual set-up in terms of responsibilities, support and class size can vary a lot from country to country, and the deadline for application is in December/January, so this is possibly something for your future consideration. For the most part they don't require you to have a TEFL qualification.

I haven't done it, but CELTA seems to be the standard qualification for working in EFL abroad. I think depending on where you study there's guidance given about job hunting and what schools/agencies to apply to. CELTA is offered through further education colleges, and tuition fees run 900 - 1000 pounds ish.
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 2:54 PM on May 3, 2011

I just got a job to go back to teaching in South Korea after a 5 months break. I'd recommend checking out Esl List just to see what people have said about jobs before you jump on. Take it with a grain of salt either way - there are a lot of people who complain because they are the sort of people who complain, as well as people who praise because they've been paid to praise, but you can sometimes get a good read on a job that has several reviews.

It really does depend on what kind of job you get, how realistic you are about whether the working conditions sound reasonable (I was previously happy at a job where a coworker hated it because she assumed the contract's vacations were not actually how the vacations were structured), and how easy it is for you to be outside your comfort zone.

To address specific questions:
1. Location: I've taught in Seoul, South Korea for a year and four months and LOVE it there. It's easy to travel to other places nearby, and the big city is wonderful for people who love cities...there are also LOTS of other teachers there, as a consequence of the massive population. Other smaller cities have less teachers, and I have friends who prefer that, but it's not me (mostly because I can't hop on a subway and go catch movies any time of the night...which is a sad, sad addiction).

2. I teach without any ESL qualifications other than experience, so I can't speak to this one.

3. I had a private studio apartment, and I loved it...I didn't have any trouble getting help when I needed it or finding people to run around with when I wanted. I also like being on my own quite a bit.

4. see no.3

All that being said, I particularly liked my schedule (working from 2-10pm), although less so on Fridays when I wished I could be done by 8pm. I like being alone and wandering about the city (and country) alone, but I made lots of friends while being there and met good travel companions. I did most of the forays into culture and language and immersion in the country on my own, because it's too easy for me to rely on people who've already done it to guide me and then I don't get as much out of it.

I really loved the city, and the people (foreign or no) that I met there. I liked learning a new language, and teaching. I LOVED the subway and cheap taxis and the ease with which I could get around on my own sans car. I also enjoyed being so close to other countries I wanted to visit. My passport is much cooler now.

I got my first job searching Dave's ESL and calling companies themselves. I got my current job through a recruiter.

It can be rough...I know a few people who were unhappy with their jobs and left, and a few more who were unhappy and switched to better jobs without leaving, and a handful who were medium happy, stuck it out, and went home after their year, glad they'd done it and just as glad to leave......but I also know people who've done it for 5+ years.

If you have any other questions (or if you end up in Seoul) MeMail me!
posted by nile_red at 3:07 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I did 7 years teaching in the Czech Republic (am currently working in the Middle East).

I have done the CELTA, DELTA, MA in TESOL, and am currently working on my Ph.D in Applied Linguistics so my advice is going to be to get the more recognized (and more expensive qualifications).

Re: TEFL courses. There a bunch out there, but the standard for a quality course is 120+hours of classroom instruction and then at the very least 7 hours of observed teaching practice with real students (not other trainees pretending to be students).

If you want my professional advice, get a CELTA or a Trinity Cert. While there are many other quality TEFL courses, there are a bunch that are absolute shit. I was on hiring committees in my last few years in the CR and we would just throw out applications from people who got a TEFL certificate from a company we hadn't heard of...just because there was no real way of telling if it was a decent course or a scam. With the CELTA and Trinity Cert, however, there is a standardization process so the certificates are recognized everywhere.

In the Czech Republic, you probably will not find a job in any of the major cities without a TEFL certificate and even with one it's going to be tough. Don't expect to make enough to eat in any nice restaurants or anything like that. You'll have enough for rent and beer (which is cheaper than water) and maybe for a flight ticket home.

If I were you, I would probably look to Asia as there is more of a demand for teachers there.

Be sure to read the forums at eslcafe.com (like metafilter, it is a bit snarky at times but generally helpful) and even ask any country specific questions you might have there.

Good Luck!
posted by FunGus at 3:21 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

(I'm from the US btw)
posted by nile_red at 3:22 PM on May 3, 2011

(also, once you get a job offer, it's not a bad idea to speak to someone who's currently working there, or past teachers)
posted by nile_red at 3:24 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in Thailand, a good friend works as a recruiter for English First. MeMail me if you want an introduction.
posted by cyndigo at 3:54 PM on May 3, 2011

check your mefi mail.
posted by gursky at 6:42 PM on May 3, 2011

I taught English in Taipei for a couple of years in the late 90's. I loved living in Taipei and that was one of the attractions for me. I went to Taiwan completely unprepared, with literally nothing more than the name of a guest house to stay in. I had a job offer the next morning; finding work as an English teacher in Asia is ridiculously easy if you're a native English speaker (or can pass for one). Certainly, doing some research ahead of time is a good idea because there is a lot of variability in the quality of the jobs.

In Taiwan, they preferred teachers with North American (ie. US or Canadian) accents. Even over British accents. A friend of mine had an excellent BBC announcer accent and they counted him against him. I had to assure the school that his accent sounded better than my American one. Maybe they've dropped this bit of insanity by now.

How much do you enjoy teaching? Would you rather teach adults or children? Kids are a lot of fun, but keeping up the level of energy needed can be draining. I knew quite a few teachers who did the minimum needed to get by. If you want to be good at it, it takes real effort.

Where would you really want to live? There are going to be good and bad programs in all of the countries you mentioned. Assuming the program itself is a good one, which country would you prefer to live in, or have lived in? Are you interested in learning another language yourself? It won't come effortlessly to an adult, but it's a great asset.
posted by Loudmax at 8:53 PM on May 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

The South Korean ESL scene is a complete crap shoot if you're coming over for the first time. I worked at a reputable hagwon (private kindergarten) where I was paid on time, had my employer paying into the national health care and pension systems for me (required by law, but it doesn't always happen), had a nice (small, but nice) apartment, etc. Only real problem I had was in the winter my pipes froze and my boss expected me to pay for the repair (she owns the apartment and I was paying her a maintenance fee every month, so I said no).

As mentioned, before you sign a contract you'll want to speak with someone who currently works at the school. And not a Korean (or native person), but a foreigner. Speak to a few of them if possible.

The thing is, once you're over here you're "locked in" for a year, typically, unless you break your contract. You can do this, but that makes it tough for you to get another job in Korea.

I count myself lucky, honestly. I love working and living here (I teach at a college now) and the money, while it isn't spectacular, seems to accumulate pretty nicely since I don't pay rent or own a car.

As far as good places to look, I think Dave's ESL sucks. Really -- it's a terrible place for information. If you want a reputable recruiter for Korea I'd recommend -- ahem -- Craigslist Seoul. There are oodles of posts every single day from recruiters and sometimes even schools.

I lived in Japan a few years ago and it's awesome, but the word among ex-pat teachers is that the job pool is shrinking rapidly comared to Korea and China where it's growing quite quickly. Also, as you probably know, Japan is amazingly expensive. A ten-minute cab ride will set you back 20 USD. A "cheap" lunch starts at 10 bucks. There are lots of great cultural and artistic things about Korea but man, I sure do love how cheap everything is. Again, pay isn't amazing, but I save more here than I ever did in America with a supposedly "better" job.

Feel free to me-mail me if you want, or click through my profile to my blog. I've got a fair number of other English teachers in Korea linked and you can read about their experiences as well.

Oh, and TEFLA or TESOL or what have you -- not at all required for Korea. If you want to move on to a college or uni position, then you'll want to think about it. (Although an MA in almost any subject is even better.)
posted by bardic at 2:31 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

btw, Craigslist -- Seoul -- "Education" jobs
posted by bardic at 2:37 AM on May 4, 2011

ESL teacher in Korea here - three years in and it's been hagwon (private school) all the way. I'll second the mindset that Korea can be a crapshoot - but not if you do your due diligence. The authorities seem less concerned with the schools and more concerned with how English teachers behave.

Jobs: start with Hi Expat, then head to the Seoul craigslist. Sending off your resume and credentials will get you farther than you think - be sure you work with multiple hagwon recruiters. None of them have connections to everyone.

As for other countries, I can't comment on them. Korea has been good to me - see my profile for my blog on travel and life in the country - and it might be good to you too. Teaching seems more the means to an end - a rather different end than other countries.
posted by chrisinseoul at 8:59 AM on May 4, 2011

I've been working in EFL for about twelve years as a teacher, trainer, consultant, school manager and a few other roles. Like you, I started out thinking this was something I could do before I settled down or got any responsibilities. For me, it turned into a career, but I have had friends for whom it was just two or three fascinating years before the next stage of their life.

It's great that you already know you enjoy teaching children. Much of the demand around the world is for Young Learner teaching and many teachers much prefer to teach adults, so you're in demand there. It's also good that you have a degree, since many countries require this for a working visa.

My main concern is that you're only looking to work for six months. From a school's point of view, that means it's not going to be worth putting many training resources into you and thus you will probably end up at the bottom of the heap. One way to avoid that is to throw money at someone like i-to-i for one of their 'Volunteering' holidays. I don't know a lot about these, but if you go into it with your eyes open, aware that it's basically a holiday with some 'teaching' activities tacked on. You might be able to do some worthwhile teaching, but that's not really what these trips are about.

Getting to your questions:

1) Many people have outlined their experiences in Korea, with which I'd generally concur (and there are plenty of other threads on AskMe about living there), but it's worth noting that the minimum period for a working visa is one year. I believe the same applies to Japan.

2) If you're definitely teaching for no more than 6 months or a year, you can get by without a qualification. If you might be in it for year or more, then get a decent (face-to-face) qualification, as per FunGus's comment.

3) This sounds to me like part of a tourist scheme. Nothing wrong with it, but the family could be lovely or they might just see you as a source of income.

4) See above.

I'd agree with Bardic that Dave's ESL Cafe is generally of poor quality. Take a look there, but be aware that it's the home of the lowest stratum of TEFL teacher and don't believe everything you read.

If you post back to the thread with a bit more information about what you want to get out of this and how your timescales look, then I'd be happy to give some more specific advice.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 10:36 AM on May 4, 2011

Also, it's not a bad idea to find out what sort of papers you're gonna need for a visa...

Some background checks can take a while and it's really nice to be able to apply saying you have all your papers in order.
posted by nile_red at 3:35 AM on May 5, 2011

Let's see. This is my 5th year in Korea. I came with a BS and a MA, neither in ESL/Teaching. What I've learned about teaching, I've learned on the job. Don't be afraid to ask questions or for advice. I did do an online TEFL/YL course and while I got some good stuff out of it, I don't know that I'd do it again. I'd probably work on an online education degree.

Definitely read the contract carefully. About year ago I rejected a contract from a school because they were playing games with the money. Yes, I would have gotten paid what they said, but at the end, I would have lost out on nearly 1000 bucks.

At the moment, I'm at a school I love. I work 2:20-7:30 because we closed our kindergarten. The director is an awesome woman and because the school is so small, we get along really well. I'm in the process of signing a contract for next year and thinking about what I'm going to ask for.

Be aware, schools that have kindergartens + elementary programs will leave you drained at the end of the day. My 8 hour day was filled with something like 12 classes (25 min each). Ask about the schedule. Ask if there is a set curriculum. Ask about how students are assessed.

Feel free to MeMail if you want more.
posted by kathrynm at 8:09 PM on May 6, 2011

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