Where should I go?

Maybe you’re in the grips of a debilitating depression (I would be too if I were a young Millenial with no path forward).  Maybe you hate your wife and job and have finally decided to take a pro-active role in your mid-life crisis. Or maybe you just want to see the world. Whatever your situation, you’re finally ready to take the plunge and go abroad. The question, of course, is where to go.

The good news is that most countries don’t speak English. Close your eyes and spin the globe and you’ll probably land on a country where you can teach. Hell, you can even teach English in your home country to immigrants and refugees, though as of early 2018 the immigrant market in America is decidedly precarious, especially for those from executively-described shithole countries. Far better is it just to go to the shithole directly. That’s really what this is about, anyway — seeing the world.

Some people choose their country based on lifestyle. Love the Latin languages and lifestyle? You have almost the entirety of South America at your disposal. Want to live like Hemingway in the 20s? Head to Europe for a bohemian lifestyle. Want to give something back to the world? Go to Africa and volunteer.

Or maybe you’re in it for the money. No shame in that. Most are. If so, you’ll probably want to start in Asia. Thing thing about Asia is that there are lots of Asians. I mean, lots. The market is is vast and varied, almost overwhelmingly so. And most Asian cultures place a premium on education. Your typical East Asian, Confucian-influenced families would give up food for education if that were the only available option (only a small hyperbole). Think Korea (the sane one), China, Japan and Vietnam.

There’s also Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia which rank high on popularity but just under the above countries in terms of salary. Thailand in particular is a sought-after destination, offering world-class food on the cheap and no shortage of ridiculously beautiful islands for travel. Of course, the popularity of these countries means schools can offer lower salaries and benefits since there’s always a well-stocked pool of teachers willing to make a pittance for the lifestyle.

So what can you expect to make? And what benefits? It really is location dependent and how good you are at sussing out the right school/situation.

In Thailand, for example, you can expect to start out at between $1000-1,500 a month with the school offering accommodation whereas it wouldn’t be difficult in Korea to find work for double that. Again, much of it is how much research you do and how well you sell yourself. Join expat groups on Facebook, email schools, find teachers working at those schools and email them. No school should shy away from referring one of their teachers to you as a contact.

It’s increasingly common to hire teachers directly from the home country. There’s an interview done via Skype or Facetime, then an offer (or not, if you’re the awkward loser I think you are). This might be the best way for someone who doesn’t feel comfortable just turning up and going job hunting. Often these schools can help arrange visas and work permits before you come which makes things (relatively) hassle free.

The Mecca of ESL, however, is in the Middle East. From Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates, the highest-paying jobs can be found (not coincidentally) where oil is found. The living and teaching environments can vary widely, whether it’s living on a compound in Riyadh or a luxury apartment in Dubai. These jobs tend to go to the highest qualified and most-experienced ESL teachers, those who have done the job so long they’ve had no choice but to make a career out of it. Most of these jobs are salary-based with paid accommodation and flights home, the drawback being of course that you have to live in the Middle East.

In all these locations, you’ll find every type of teacher. From those with no direction (like you), to career teachers to overweight sexpats only working enough to pay for the next round of drinks and bar fines. Some teachers are all three of these at various points, transmogrifying, progressing or regressing, a fascinating spectacle of evolution or devolution that never ceases to amaze, and it is this that’s the hook, the selling point, the drug that keeps teachers chasing the dragon — living abroad is never boring (even though you probably are).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, though few, there are still pitfalls to be avoided. The flip-side of the spectacle and novelty of moving to another country is that there are people looking to capitalize on the naive and thick-skulled (i.e. you). It’s just a matter of knowing what to look for.

What you’ll need.

I’ll spare you any further abuse (who am I kidding, no I won’t) which you deserve for choosing a useless major. The good news is that (somewhat ironically I think) your degree isn’t as useless as you think. The schools you’ll want to teach at require at least some proof that you’re not a total ignoramus. And while a degree is certainly no proof of that (I have one, after all) it’s good enough for them.

It should be mentioned that it’s entirely possible to teach without a Bachelor degree. Some schools are willing to accept whatever talking head they can find, so long as that head is talking in English. But we can do better than middling pay at a disreputable school. You’re a talking head with a degree after all, right? In addition, many countries now make work permits for expats conditional upon having that piece of paper, as if studying poli-sci somehow made you worthy of a job. I won’t tell them if you won’t.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s often easier to find work if one has Anglo Saxon-toned skin. Many places have misguided notions of what a ‘Western’ person is and their association of whiteness with English would be nothing other than racist if it weren’t mostly borne of naivety. And while you can rightfully rage against the unfairness of this, it exists nonetheless. However, despite all this, and with the caveat that this is only personal experience talking, the world is changing. In the past decade, I have seen schools in several Southeast Asian countries go from a whitewash to hiring every hue of the skin tone rainbow. Yay for diversity.

While I’m talking of work permits, let me add that you’ll want to collect all the required documents before you leave because once you’re in country, sending something to or from your home country becomes a serious pain in the ass. How do you know what documents are necessary? Check the laws for whatever country is stupid enough to let you in.

Typically required are:

A police check, both state and federal (for US citizens). Ahh, a trip down memory lane. 2 underage consumptions, one charge of identity fraud (fake ID required to buy the alcohol for the previous 2 offenses), disorderly conduct (alcohol is a hell of a drug) and a slew of (mostly sober) traffic violations. You should be alright, dear reader. We both know you’re too boring to have a rap sheet.

University transcripts: besides written proof that you studied bullshit, many schools also want to see how well (or not) you managed said bullshit. I’m sure they’ll be floored by the A you got in ‘Cultural Studies’.

A teaching certificate. Don’t shit your pants, it’s not what you think. As crazy as it sounds, reputable schools will want you to have at least a modicum of training. There are many programs out there, some of which can be done either in your home country or destination, or even better yet, online. Google TEFL or CELTA and you’re on your way. They’re cheap and easy enough for your broke and dumb ass.

Your documents will typically need to be notarized and/or translated, so check the laws of wherever it is you want to go. Make sure you get as much of it done as possible before you depart.

Depending on your destination you may want a battery of vaccinations, more to assuage your mom’s worries than anything else. Unless you’re riding trannies bareback in some Bangkok parlor, you shouldn’t have to worry about anything more than your mundane cold or flu. Mosquito borne illnesses are rare and the prophylactics are often worse than the actual disease. The ones for malaria in particular are infamous for their bizarre side effect of making people mental. Google it if you don’t believe me.

There are typically Facebook groups for expats living in your destination, so check with them for any hard-to-come-by creature comforts. Many of the things you take for granted might not be available overseas. Like Funyuns. What the fuck…

Last, don’t forget your childhood teddy or blankey or whatever you hug at night to make you feel safe without mom around. Homesickness is inevitable and while FaceTime can certainly help, there’s nothing quite like a tangible piece of home (unless of course the only real thing you have are scars from your stepdad’s beatings).

Finally, though it goes without saying, I feel compelled to say it because it’s your dumbass I’m dealing with — don’t forget the most important, unAmerican thing you can’t do without: a passport. The only question is, where should you go.