Teaching and travelling in Asia – we all know at least one person or a friend of a friend who’s done it. It seems like it would be a sweet lifestyle, a break from career mode, a time to re-evaluate your goals and ambitions in life, while experiencing the vast globe out there as a free vagabond and making some dough.

Still, the idea of being plopped into a completely different country, away from the comforts of family and home, is a very daunting one. But if you’ve been thinking about teaching and travelling for a while now, I have three words for you: just do it.

Why should I teach English in a foreign country?

There are many reasons to take the detour from your initial career path, but many of them you need to determine on your own. I remember the first time I got hit with the travel bug in 2009 in the middle of my stint as a full-time editor – it got real bad. I stayed up late nights researching every possible way I could fund my travels and the best way to do it was to teach overseas. 

But there are other reasons people teach abroad: for personal development, to build your resume, to pay off loans, to volunteer, to experience a new culture, to be around kids, to be able to travel, to satisfy your curiosity, to relieve boredom and for some, to escape their problems at home. Whatever you do, make sure your reasons are genuine so that you can mentally prepare yourself for this experience.

I don’t have experience as a teacher. Is it scary?

Truth be told, I was never really a “kid person.” The first day I was put in front of a dozen Korean kindergarteners to teach, it was awkward. I’m no teacher – I immediately thought I was way in over my head. Cut to 12 months later and I’m ugly-crying on my last day, having to say goodbye to these kids I’ve grown to love so much.

Teaching English in Korea has allowed me to contribute my knowledge and perspectives about the world to mini adults who are continuously fascinated by the stories you tell them (it also taught me incredible patience). You don’t even need experience with children – you just have to be enthusiastic and open.

What were some of the activities you did with the kids?

My advice to those who are hesitant about the whole teacher aspect: be creative, be yourself and make it fun for you and the students. Depending on the school, you may have the freedom to shy away from the curriculum in order to mix things up.

Interesting activities you can do? Give them cool colouring sheets like the pages from the Indie Rock Coloring Book – nothing beats a Korean kindergartner asking, “Teacher, can I colour the MGMT one?” Showcase travel photos and pictures from National Geographic they can share and talk about. Play Beirut during art class or Dan Deacon for a made-up magic freeze dance game. Teach them songs like Justice’s D.A.N.C.E. or Christmas Song by Alvin and the Chipmunks. Buy disposable cameras and see what they see on film.

There are so many ways you can infuse your interests into their lives and seeing how they react to these tailored activities is especially rewarding. They will love you for it, want to know more about you and follow in your footsteps.

I want to do this. Where should I start looking?

First, you need to decide what country you’d like to teach in and your salary range. Korea and Japan offer some of the best ESL positions in Asia and will often include an entire flight package with accommodation – their teaching contracts are usually a minimum of a year. Each institution has a different set of teaching requirements, for example, TEFL/TESOL certification. However, many private institutions or academies only require a bachelor’s degree, so if you want that time off to travel right after university, all you need is that piece of paper.

The best and most popular website to go to for a head start is Dave’s ESL Café. There are several job posts that go up every day, as well as forums and links to other sites. If you post your resume on the Job Wanted Board, you are more likely to get offers directly from schools and recruiters almost immediately.

Other places to look into include the Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program that caters specifically to university graduates and Teach Away Inc. for a more comprehensive and visually appealing website for teaching in Asia as well as other countries.

But remember: take my positive experience with a grain of salt. Do a ton of research and filter all the offers to find that perfect fit.

What can I get out of teaching and travelling?

Every individual experience is completely different. Though it took me a while to muster up the courage to fly to Korea for a year and teach English, I wouldn’t change this experience for the world. As I was teaching 6-year-olds in a private English academy in Seoul, I too felt like a 6-year-old girl, wide-eyed and immersed in a culture I knew hardly anything about – even crossing the street was a new and exciting experience.

Career-wise, teaching and travelling has allowed me to gain loads of communication, improvisational and organizational skills as well as international experience that you can transfer over to your future job. More importantly, it humbles you, it makes you a compassionate observer of the people and visuals around you and it generally makes you kinder human being.

So no more thinking about it – it’s never too late to hop on a plane and take off on a new and adventurous challenge like teaching overseas. You may not want to come home afterwards.

~ Desiree Gamotin