Tips for Getting Started
Let’s get one thing straight off the bat, teaching abroad will not be anything like what you expect. You can, and will, do months of research, talk to people who have done it and formulate all the best and and worst case scenarios in your head; and once you get where you’re going, all that research and all of those scenarios will go flying out the window. Teaching abroad will challenge you, change you and push you outside of your comfort zone; it will also be one of the best experiences of your life. So, if this sounds like something you want to do, if you’re ready to have all of your expectations turned on their head, read on. Here are a few tips and tricks on how to get started with the teaching abroad process:
1. Talk to a Friend
If you know someone who has taught abroad, they’re going to be an invaluable resource for figuring out whether this is a journey you want to embark on in the first place. If it is, find out where they went, what they liked/didn’t like about it, what kind of schools they taught at (public, private, after school?), what sort of resources they were provided with by the school, and so on.
2.. Get TEFL/TESOL Certified
Make sure you know whether you need a TESOL or TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certification in addition to any post-secondary education you might have. Chances are, you will need one; be prepared to pay a small chuck of change for the certification, but don’t worry…it’s worth it! If you choose to teach abroad instead of paying to volunteer abroad, you’ll make this money back and you won’t even notice because you’ll be drowning in kiddie cuteness.
- Oxford Seminars: offers both in-class and online courses, they’re a bit more expensive but widely recognized http://www.oxfordseminars.ca/tesol-tesl-certification.php
- iTTT: offers an online course, and is cheaper than Oxford http://www.teflonline.net/
- Groupon: yep, if you’re a member of Groupon then you may have come across this discounted course. I can’t speak to it’s amazing credibility, but it will get you certified for $69 if you’re in a penny pinching situation
3. Shop Around
You might have a specific destination in mind: Europe, South America, Asia, Australia, and so on. My advice to you is this, be prepared to shop around and be flexible on your destination. The main point is being away and experiencing something new, right? A lot of places will have different benefit packages that they offer to their teachers, and from experience, I can say that teaching in Asia has a lot of rewards (in addition to the amazing kiddies, of course!).
If you decide to teach in Asia, chances are your school will provide you with:
- half of your health insurance
- a settlement allowance
- contract resigning bonuses (time off and extra moula), and
- good time off
Be sure to compare the different countries you have in mind, and even be willing to compare between the country you just “HAVE TO GO TO” and ones you’re a little more “einh” on. I’ll be straight up, South Korea wasn’t my first choice when I started this whole process, but it offered one of the best overall packages, and I am SO glad I did choose to go here. You never know where life will take you, allow yourself to get caught up in the unexpected and go somewhere you’ve never thought of…if it’s offering what you’re looking for, of course.
4. Choose the right recruiter
There are a ton of recruiting agencies out there, and it’s up to you to decide which one is the right one for you. When I started the application process, I simply googled “teaching in South Korea + Canadian” and went along with the most popular sites. That’s one way to do it. Another is to really take the time to sort through what each recruiter will offer (i.e. where will they place you? private or public school? are they a placement agency or are they a liaison? how much pre-departure and on-the-ground support will you need?), and pick the one that you think will give you the most support.
Some recruiters to keep in mind:
- Canadian Connection (this is the recruiting company I used to get to South Korea, but rumour has it that South Korea will be phasing them out to focus only on EPIK, so do your research!): http://www.canconx.com/
- EPIK (specific to Korea, pretty much the most used recruiting agency FOR Korea): http://www.epik.go.kr/
- Footprints (includes countries like South Korea, the UAE, China, and more) : http://www.footprintsrecruiting.com/
- Oxford (if you’ve done an Oxford TESL course, you’ll have access to numerous job opportunities, and they’ll even help you get your foot in the door; the downside to this, of course, is that you have to pay for the $600+ TESL course): http://www.oxfordseminars.ca
- ESL Teacher Recruiter (specific to South Korea): http://www.eslteacherrecruiter.com/
- Overseas Employment (the official recruiter for Disney English): http://overseasemployment.ca
With any online searching, please make sure that the recruiting agency you’re dealing with is a legtimate one. If they are legitimate, then answering specific questions won’t be a problem for them; questions such as the following:
- full time/part time status
- exact location of the job
- qualifications needed
- school information (like I mentioned before: private?public?)
- salary and hours
- start date
- bonuses (money and time off) – and whether you’ll be provided with such things as housing, airfare, etc.
- vacation time
If the recruiter CAN’T answer these questions well, then it might be time for you to take a step back (or run for the hills) and…shop around.
5. Start the process EARLY
You’re applying to teach overseas, the unexpected will happen. Yes, even to you. For myself, it was learning halfway through the process that my first choice city was no longer available through Canadian Connection and I would have to switch to EPIK if I still wanted to go there. For others, it was passport expiration dates, problems with their visa, saving the money for airfare (it does get reimbursed, but you have to pay out of pocket first), getting reference letters, police checks, etc. There is a lot to do, but don’t be put off by this. Just take a breath, section off time for each section of the application, and give yourself plenty of time to get it done. You’ll be fine.
6. Leave the baggage
This blog is about expanding your horizons and not being afraid to stretch your comfort zone; a lot of times this means that you need to let problems at home be problems at home and not take them with you as extra carry-on. If you’re distracted by shoulda, coulda woulas, you’re going to have a much harder time adapting to your new life and it’s going to be harder to enjoy your time here. With this in mind, make sure you:
- end/suspend/pass over your phone contract
- pay off your credit cards, or at least have an automatic payment system in plan
- let your provincial health insurance know you’re going out of the country (might I also suggest getting international health insurance for the first month you’re away until your new one kicks in?)
- finish up your apartment/housing leases, figure out mortgage payments if that’s something that’s on your plate
- BANK STUFF: get your direct deposit information, heck bring a checkbook with you, so that you can make transfers from your new account to your old one. MAKE SUREYOU HAVE ENOUGH MONEY IN YOUR SAVINGS TO PAY ANY OUTSTANDING BILLS AT HOME FOR THE FIRST 2 MONTHS YOU’RE AWAY…it can take some time to set that stuff up once you’re in a new place.
- Taxes: figure out what the rule is for filing taxes while you’re away, you’ll be glad you know this stuff ahead of time
- power of attorney: if you think you’re going to need someone at home to have access to any accounts or other important information while you’re away, make sure you sign a power of attorney for the length of time you’ll be away (and no, it won’t be in place forever…that’s why I said for the length of time you’re away)
- make duplicates and triplicates of important documents: certifications, diplomas, passports, health cards, drivers licenses ,banking information, your visa when you get it. Bring 2 copies with you (one for yourself, and an extra for god only knows), and leave one at home…probably with the same person who has power of attorney.
With all of this taken care of, you’ll find it much easier to ease into your new life with less stress and worry. You’ll certainly breathe easier!
7. Communicate with Home
be prepared for the fact that your family friends, well, they’re going to miss you….chances are, they might even feel a little jealous at times. SO, what do you do to make sure they know you haven’t abandoned them for your super cool, new friends and local rockstars? Figure out the best way to stay in touch with everyones (snail mail, email, skype, FB, etc.) and get the necessary information before you leave. Have the addresses, skype IDs, phone numbers, emails, etc. of those important people, and make an effort to stay in touch. It can be something as simple as a postcard or an email update or a “hey, how’s YOUR life going? how are things at HOME?” I know, it will be impossible to be in touch all the time,. so for those really important loved ones (yes Mom and Dad, I’m really ok), maybe set aside some time each week/every 2 weeks/month, whatever, to keep in touch. They’ll feel happier knowing you’re not really that far away, and it will make coming home easier at the end of your adventure. Reverse culture shock is REAL, don’t let not staying in touch with your support system at home make your transition back into your “old life” a harder one than it has to be.
8. Expect the Unexpected and HAVE FUN
I don’t care if I’m sounding like a broken record, you really do need to expect the unexpected, and try to perepare for it as best you can. This is why you have triplicates of your important documents, and why you’ve bought an inernational calling card, and have the numbers of your recruiter (and someone to call once you’re on-the-ground), and it’s also why you have American cash, a visa with some space on it, and some of the local currency as well. oh hey, where are the phone numbers for the closest embassy to the airport? ope, right there in your lame under-the-shirt travelling purse/safe with your passport. Seriously though, make sure you have some cash with you just in case your debit card or visa won’t work in the local ATMs…it happens.
If you do these things, you’ll be prepared for most things that come you’re way. If nothing untoward happens and you’ve still done all of these things, well then you’re ready for the best part of all…your NEW LIFE!!
Sit back, dive right in, and have fun.