Live Gone and Prosper
Let me give everyone a piece of unsolicited advice. Finish your degree, pack your bag, and go teach English for a year. It doesn’t matter where you go. It doesn’t matter if you want to be a teacher. It doesn’t really how much money you’re going to earn. It doesn’t even matter if you end up hating the whole experience (you won’t). In my eyes, there is no single more valuable, accessible, and amazing experience available to any of us. The majority of my experience is in Taiwan, and most of my comments center around East Asia as that’s what I’m most familiar with. It’s probably best to assume that I don’t know what I’m talking about, so do your own research. I’m just writing this more to encourage people to get out there and try something new and awesome.
Why go teach, you ask?
You are guaranteed a job. Bam! Article finished. But really, a Master’s degree in English will make you one of the most qualified applicants for almost any ESL teaching job out there, especially in Asia. Do you know anybody in Canada with a humanities degree that can say they have a guaranteed job? You’re not going to go make seventy grand a year, but you’re not going to do this for a career either (you think). Don’t do it for the money. It will ruin the experience for you because you’ll pinch pennies. Ball out, yo.
You are going to make some money. Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and China all offer very lucrative local salaries that allow you to pay some loans, live well, and travel a lot if you want. Places like Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia also offer Westerners jobs, but the money isn’t nearly as good. You’ll still be the best-paid guy or girl on the block, but when everyone else on the block makes $30 a week, it’s not that hard to do. As I said, don’t do it for the money alone. Make your loan payments, go out for dinner a few times a week, and take three vacations a year.
You are going to travel. Drive a motorcycle on the highest navigable road in the world in northern Kashmir. Take a gander at Deer Cave in Borneo as millions of bats pour out of a giant cave mouth for nearly an hour. Hire a local fisherman to take you to deserted islands in the Philippines. Eat a 5-star French meal for $25 in Laos. Drink beer perched on top of a 1200-year-old temple in Cambodia. Watch people go number two on the biggest street in Shanghai. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you’ve ever had any interest in travelling, teaching English in Asia is the best way to do it.
You’re going to teach. You might even like it. I taught kindergarten, elementary school, and high school. Most of us have some experience teaching here at the university, but teaching here is like, you know, work and stuff. Trying to teach English to a dozen 5-year old Taiwanese kids is a whole different kettle of fish. If you like kids, you’ll never have more fun and get paid at the same time. I made $50 before lunch every day for reading stories, rolling around on the ground, dancing, playing games, and generally acting the goat. It’s super high energy, but it’s awesome. Teaching older students is also pretty fun, but the older they get, the more class begins to resemble work.
Best of all, you’re going to be out of school. You’re going to gain real experience, finish with a real reference, get paid real money for doing a real job, and travel. You’re going to get really good at using chopsticks. You’re going to end up hating rice. You’re going to make friends for life, learn how to swear in a foreign language, and see more temples than you ever wanted to. You’re probably going to miss home a lot. You’re going to feel more alone and alienated than you ever have in your life on some days. On others you’ll feel like you’re a part of something unimaginably cool. You’re going to learn how to drive a scooter and discover that perhaps some stereotypes about some drivers may have a basis in reality. You’re going to put on a swimsuit and run around in a typhoon (watch out for falling power lines and flying branches). You’re going to have hundreds of little kids who scream your name every time they see you, who run to you and hug you and tell you how much they love you five days a week. Some days you will want to throttle each and every one of them, but most of the time you’ll love them back. You’re going to get an opportunity to redefine yourself, to shed as much or as little of the person school has turned you into as you want.
So, be gone. Get lost. School, work, and the real world will all be waiting for you in a year or two. The ease with which we can go teach abroad is an opportunity unique to our generation, and as the generation of kids learning English in other countries grows up and teaches their kids themselves, it may never again be as easy as it is right now.