Sustainable travel is a large part of what we want to share on our blog, sustaining your mental health, the environment and how to sustain your travels while you travel. This is a personal story of how the decision to start teaching English in Asia had a significant and positive impact on my life as a sustainable way to travel.
Often when you look back on your life there are certain defining moments. life-changing moments. Moments that you know had a huge impact. Perhaps it was one subject you decided to study over another. Or it was choosing one career over another. For me it was when I chose to try teaching English in Asia.
When I finished my Honours in drama the only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to travel. I spent about a year backpacking and busking through Europe. After a while I missed everyone at home too much and came back to “start my life”. The travel bug had not left and I was itching for the next ticket I could get.
Trying to get into the job market at home
I first tried to crack the performance industry. I got a good agent and started auditioning. At first I was excited. I got several callbacks but nothing ever materialised. I started waitering to try cover bills. After a few months I was running out of money and patience.
It was then that I made my first big change.
I play the bagpipes. One of my fellow bandsmen asked if I was interested in becoming a tutor at his old school. It was through the role of bagpipe tutor that I managed to get a position as a drama teacher as well. I was working as much as any of the teachers but I was essentially an intern teacher, so my starting salary covered food and rent. Period.
I took the opportunity of having a steady job to get back into my studies. I enrolled in a distance-learning course to get my teaching qualification. It was not an easy task; studying for 2 years while working full time is tough!
I completed my teaching certificate and got moved up to the status of qualified teacher. Monique had finished her Master in Drama Therapy and had started looking for internships and work in her field. On paper it looked great, 2 qualified professionals heading out into life. Between us we had 12 years of higher education.
The problem was that we were only scraping by. Monique and I would spend most of our time just sitting at home. We couldn’t afford to do anything else.
We had practically zero savings. If we went out once a month for some drinks with friends, it was a very social month. Hell we could hardly afford to even travel in our own country.
Nothing looked set to change for the foreseeable future.
This fact was depressing for two young professionals who love to travel to new countries and explore new cultures.
Knowing we needed a change we considered our options. We had both been working in the teaching field so it seemed the most obvious route to take. Monique had always been interested in TEFL, so we made the moves to find out what we needed to do.
Making the move to teaching English
We found ‘Love TEFL’ at i-to-i; a well accredited TEFL training company. We worked our way through the online modules and practical courses with the dream of a future of travel. When we obtained our sparkling, new certificates we started looking at what was available.
There are a mountain of jobs you can apply for. It is quite daunting at first. What is legitimate? Is it a scam? What is reasonable pay? We spoke to our friends who had been or were still in the field. The most common and and well spoken of option was EPIK.
So we sent in our applications and quit our jobs. We had a horrible period of limbo between quitting our jobs and getting accepted by EPIK. Both our jobs needed advanced notice to end the contracts. This meant that we had to end our jobs shortly after submitting our applications.
It was a serious shot in the dark. Monique and I are incredibly privileged, though, to have parents who could look after us for a few months while we waited to find out if we had been accepted into EPIK.
After many months of anxious waiting the good news finally arrived. We would be joining the ranks of those teaching English in Asia. To read more about what it takes to be an EPIK teacher read this article on teaching English in Korea.
Just from a work perspective
I have tripled my salary from when I was a teacher in South Africa while working less hours. I was at the mercy of the school when it came to my time. Any extra school event I had to attend. My weekends were often filled with functions. For several months I was at school from 7am until 10pm working on the school play. Now my hours are set in stone. If I do anything over the contracted hours I get paid overtime.
Obviously not all jobs are made equal. If you decide to teach English in Asia, I’d suggest reading up as much as possible about it first. Consider things like your working hours, your salary, your leave and anything extra that may be required of you.
The other perks of teaching English in Asia
The exciting world of travel has opened up!
Holidays are no longer just a time when I don’t have to be at work. Monique and I spend weeks looking at what is out there. We have dozens of countries only a 2 or 3 hour flight away. A lot of them don’t even need visas! The flights are also really affordable and easy to book. We use Kiwi.com, an exceptionally convenient way to book all our flights. You can read about our adventures in the rainforests or Borneo or our scuba adventures in Bali, and even just going and getting traditional tattoos in Thailand!
Local travel has also become a real opportunity. I knew very little about Korea a few years ago. Now I have my favourite places to visit, my favourite Korean food, my favourite K-pop group. We have been able to fully immerse ourselves in Korean culture.
By living and working in a country you can experience and explore it in ways you can’t if you visit for only a week or 2. Monique and I have been to dozens of unique festivals. We’ve explored forests and mountains. Spent time on the most picturesque of islands. Even zip-lining and skiing. We have met so many awesome people along the way.
And on top of all that we still have money left to save.
Why teach English in Asia?
The aim of our blog is sustainable travel, both for the traveler and the environment. Teaching English as a native speaker is definitely a way to make travel sustainable.
I would advise against seeing the teaching as just a ticket to travel though. As a teacher your number 1 responsibility is to your students!
If you are on the fence about trying a TEFL job, I’d recommend that you take the plunge.
Happy travels and blue skies!
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