Help me find an international adventure, and quick!
January 2, 2008 5:32 PM   Subscribe

The clock is ticking on my lease. Fifty days, forty-nine, forty-eight, forty-seven... and I have neither a steady job nor money for a new place to live. I would like to volunteer or teach abroad, but I am under very pressing time constraints. [Details inside]

Landlord is remodeling the house, and just gave my roommate and I sixty days to vacate. Well within her rights. And she's been a good landlord, so I'm not too upset. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily, because my life has fairly been in the crapper lately, and I can't really afford the rent anyhow.

I have training and experience in two careers:

1) As an upper elementary school teacher (B.A. w/ emphasis in education and three successful years teaching fifth grade at private schools)

2) Writing for entertainment media (excellent master's degree, desultory credits, great portfolio emphasizing writing for children & family television, lots of connection)

For various reasons mostly beyond my control (including, for instance, the writer's strike) I have not been working in either field for the past six months. Still, I have been Making Things Work. Albeit unhappily. I nanny, tutor, babysit, freelance, write book coverage, and take odd jobs as they come. But I can't keep it up. And with a forced relocation pending ... I don't think I want to. I have spent every cent I can beg, borrow, and wheedle, (I also have +/-$50,000 in student debt) and am unable to pony up money for the deposit on a new apartment. (Especially in L.A., where I live.)

Ideally, I would like to throw all my belongings in storage and jet around the world for a few months. Do Peace Corps, Teachers Without Borders, JET program. Anything that would provide me with room, board and (unlikely, but necessary) a stipend that I could save and use to reestablish myself at the end of a semester/year. But the application/placement for those programs is very calendar-sensitive, and I'm out of sync and in a hurry.

How do I do this? Short of joining the military, how do I get myself an all-expense paid trip to somewhere, for some time, to do some thing? I speak a small amount of Spanish, for what it's worth. Surely there is a charity or NGO (preferably education-related) that can use educated and experienced bodies post haste?

[Apologies for seeming a bit scattered – I only learned of this an hour ago, and I'm trying to ask constructively, and with more coolness than I am currently feeling.]
posted by mr. remy to Work & Money (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There is the possibility of short term housing via craigslist until you can work everything out.
posted by Pants! at 5:40 PM on January 2, 2008

Any of the formal programs will want a lot more than 60 days to set something up. Think at least a year, maybe 2, for JET.

If you don't have money for an apt, I doubt that you have the money for the ticket to a foreign country, nor the dough for the CELTA or TEFL course you will have to take before being taken seriously by many Teaching English programs abroad (which, let's face it, is probably what you will be doing if you go abroad).

I can't find it now, but I remember seeing a program in China that cost around a grand for a whole year (obviously, you'd also have to pay for the plane ticket too). Yes, this means you are not being paid, but all of your expenses for just $1k a year! That's pretty darn good I'd say. You can probably slink into an Internet cafe and do some freelance work while you're there.

But realistically I think your solution is moving to a less expensive town. I know you want an international adventure, but you generally need a bit longer than 2 months to prepare for something like this, if you don't have the dough (if you have the dough, by all means by the ticket, fly to the strange and wonderful country, and look for a job -- but 2 months is generally not enough time to find something that will pay you right away, offer housing, and also take care of your plane ticket). If you can afford a ticket, you can afford a deposit or you need to lower your standards.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:40 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine is doing something with catholic charities that up your alley, I'll ask her for the name of the program
posted by Oktober at 5:46 PM on January 2, 2008

sadly, this program costs money too

Awaiting Angels

It's $150 for a week, with discounts the longer you stay, up to about $1200 for 12 weeks.

Still, it's peru, and that's a nice long vacation.
posted by Oktober at 5:51 PM on January 2, 2008

Oh, and the greatest myth of all time is that there is a shortage of people willing to be volunteers and that NGOs are looking for them. In general, these volunteers are seen as "tourist volunteers" and while their work is helpful to some extent, they are nearly always asked to pay an amount of money in order to participate in volunteers. This payment serves two functions: 1) it is a source of fundraising and 2) it covers the cost--yes, the cost--of having a volunteer there.

Just so you know, 2 or 3 years ago I had a similar idea as you (although for me, I was simply getting tired of my job) and started to look around for all these NGOs who would cover my food and shelter in exchange for my back-breaking labor. And the truth is these organizations just don't exist, or if they do they do not make a point of advertising themselves. The few exceptions, like Peace Corps, VSO, GeekCorps etc. all have long and fairly rigorous application processes, and are at last somewhat picky (I've been rejected by all three of them, I'm ashamed to say).

What I did was go traveling for around a month, just to get my wanderlust under control. Then I worked for another year or so, went to grad school with a lot of help (thanks Mom, Dad, and Grandpa's trust fund!) and then saved money and went to Egypt, which is very cheap and very fun. I think if you were willing to risk it and could afford a ticket, Egypt wouldn't be a bad choice. They're desperate for English teachers here so you could probably find a job with your teaching background, but you would have to be lucky also---I have some friends who were looking for jobs for a looong time). On the bright side, if you find the right cheap apartment you can live like a king for around $500 a month.

I think one important thing you should know is that living abroad is probably going to be more expensive than you'd expect unless you are really good at budgeting. Since things are so cheap, it's easy to start doing things that normally cost a lot in the states (like going places by taxi or eating out) that end up bringing your costs up to a level higher than simply living very frugally in the states would get you.

So yeah, I'd move someplace exciting but dirt cheap, and perhaps spotlight as a substitute teacher.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:56 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can definitely take a sublet to buy yourself some time. Maybe keep what you need for 2 months of bare-bones living, and sort/cull your posessions, and put the rest in storage? Use the 2 months to plan a getaway with more leisure. Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:01 PM on January 2, 2008

I considered moving to Taiwan a few months back, and read up a lot on the ins and out of getting a teaching job there. Jobs are pretty thick on the ground, especially if you have a teaching credential (but not hard to find even if you don't), and the money's not bad... not what you'd make in the US, but the cost of living is lower as well.

I would recommend heading over to and asking some of the regulars on the forum there. Dave's ESL Cafe is a great resource as well, and has forums about many different regions and countries.

Work in China itself is also easy to find, though I think that it takes a bit more faith or at least a willingness to head over without a big safety net and then find a decent position. I don't know how much a ticket would cost, nor do I know how much you've got in savings, but generally speaking ESL jobs do pay the bills. I taught for a big corporate school in Japan and was able to save about $1000 USD/month, but those jobs do take a bit more lead time than you're talking about (about 5 months in my case, at AEON).

Feel free to message me if you'd like to talk further, but also just poke around those sites a bit. Oh, and I just remembered, this company, Reach to Teach, does placements in Taiwan & Korea and has a reputation for treating teachers pretty decently. I'd imagine they could hook you up with something fairly quickly, especially considering your work experience.

Good luck!
posted by allen8219 at 6:09 PM on January 2, 2008

You can get a job as an au pair! Take care of kids, get room and board, and a smallish salary... find a family that will pay for your airfare, and you won't need any money at all! When I was an au pair, i found my family through, and the whole thing was set up within a couple weeks.
posted by logic vs love at 6:15 PM on January 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Echoing Deathalicious, particularly about the length some programs can get in to. A good friend of mine's leaving for the Peace Corps in a month- 6 months after she was initially supposed to have left and 8 or so months after her initial application.
You might also try the AmeriCorps program, though it is totally Ameri-centric. I looked at it for a while and the "jobs" that will pay the rent, it is kind of volunteer work. Really depends on what you apply for. They have a whole job-listing section on their website.
posted by jmd82 at 6:21 PM on January 2, 2008

If you are interested in Peace Corps and similar programs, go ahead and apply now -- you can always say "no thanks" if by the time they offer you a place you already have something better lined up. (Note also that federal programs, like Peace Corps and Americorps, offer certain benefits for deferring and repaying student loans; whether this helps you or not will depend on how much and of what kind of loan you have.) I'm less familiar with Americorps, but Peace Corps sends out batches of volunteers all year, so you can apply any time. How long it takes from filling out the application to getting on the airplane can really vary, though -- if you have skills they are looking for, no medical or other issues, and are flexible about where you are willing to go, you can be on a plane in a surprisingly short time; on the other extreme, I know someone who took two years from application to departure, because of all sorts of complications.

So what I'm suggesting is that you put those applications in the pipeline (get them done this weekend, even -- there really isn't anything to be gained by delaying), and then move forward with other plans. Because maybe they will reject or defer your applications, or maybe you change your mind -- you don't want all your eggs in that one basket.

Normally the prospect for wanting subsidized volunteering experiences is not so positive, for all the reasons Deathalious gives. But trained and certified teachers are much hotter commodities (because they have, you know, an actual needed skill, unlike most volunteers, sad to say), and there are more options out there. I don't know how many will pay enough to make your loan payments, though (from a quick look at an online loan calculator, depending on your interest rate and the loan term, the monthly payments on that could be pretty high) -- you need to figure out what the minimum you need to make this work, and be realistic about that.

As a final note, selling and giving away all your stuff is a much better idea than putting it in storage, especially if you are going away for a couple of years. Trust me, you won't want 99% of it when you get back. Sell the car, sell the furniture, sell the consumer electronics, keep a couple of boxes of truly important keepsakes and mementos.
posted by Forktine at 6:29 PM on January 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Logic vs love has it right - you could definitely be an au pair. I'm sure that, as you have work experience in education, you will be fighting off the offers. You probably won't get paid very much, but all expenses (room, board, often use of a car, and maybe your flight) would be included.
posted by Lucie at 6:30 PM on January 2, 2008

You could look into wwoof. Hawaii is pretty nice & airfare is cheap from LA. You'd have time for a second job, your room & board is covered & you learn a new skill.
posted by poodlemouthe at 10:48 PM on January 2, 2008

I teach English in Korea and you'll have no problem finding a job here especially with your teaching credentials. Most people just show up here with a BA or BS in an unrelated field, like I did. They give you a place to live and you'll make over $2,000 a month. The process has become a little more involved recently due to some new regulations, but it still doesn't seem that bad. Also people have different experiences with living here, so you'd want to look into that and see if it's a fit. But yeah check out Dave's ESL Cafe for more info.
posted by bindasj at 11:28 PM on January 2, 2008

(Especially in L.A., where I live.)

Fucking move.

Move now, and move someplace cheap. Move in with mom and dad if that's an option. You just need a place to store your stuff. Put your stuff in a rented storage facility if you have to, but get it settled before you go exploring the heart of Africa.

Once you aren't competing with the calendar, I'd suggest JET. With your background in teaching and writing, you'd be a shoe-in. Seriously, they will open the door for you. A friend of mine spent a couple of years teaching English in Osaka with JET with only a BA and a completely-average GPA. No MA. No history of teaching. You've got both.

The Peace Corps is hard to get into. AmeriCorps slightly less so. Salary for a year at the Corps is $25k. At JET, it's about $35k.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:59 AM on January 3, 2008

The only thing that will hurt you with JET is if you've ever, for any reason, had to take antidepressants etc. I had a friend who got rejected because she was honest in her app about the fact that she once had depression. Someone she knows was less forthcoming, got into JET, went out there, and nearly had a nervous breakdown he was so messed in the head. But he got in. So if you've ever had mental problems, lie on your JET application.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:01 PM on January 4, 2008

« Older I want 55 5th St. But, noooo!   |   In need of *easy* method for tracking multiple... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.