It’s a new and unfamiliar world out there for recent college grads. When the graduation gowns are stowed away to the back of the closet and the celebration champagne runs out, the sobering reality of life as a non-student both frightens and excites young adults beginning a new chapter in their lives. Some prioritize traveling for a short period of time, unwinding and celebrating their hard work while others immediately enter the work force to jumpstart their budding careers. Job hunting turns out successful for some while others struggle to enter employment. Unfortunately, many are oblivious to the surprising amount of high-demand jobs readily available on the other side of the world. One of these unorthodox employment options is rarely considered by bachelor degree holders with a firm grasp on the English language: a traveling ESL teacher.
A 30-second Google search reveals there is no shortage of ESL teaching positions throughout the world. The qualifications for an entry-level ESL teacher position in China’s booming English teaching industry are pretty straight-forward: be a native English speaker with a college degree and (at least) be TEFL certified. Normally, you can contact a recruiting agency in the U.S. that vets and places applicants in Chinese schools legally, but I’ve also met expats that came to China on a whim with tourist/non-work visa and found work. This is pretty risky considering it is illegal to make money in China as a foreigner without a Z-visa and SAFEA work permit, and a non-work or residence visa would require traveling outside of the country (or to Hong Kong) every 3-6 months for renewal. Either method works, but I would personally recommend researching reputable recruiting agencies to help place you in the country of your choice; it’s less stressful being a legal foreigner.
The craziest part about up-and-leaving to teach English in another country—in my experience, China—is how regularly you’ll surprise yourself. The trials and tribulations (maybe a little dramatic, but it wasn’t easy) I’ve faced during my time here influenced my personality, understanding, and overall perspective on life and this world for the better. The definition of success and happiness completely changed for me. Many of my exploits in the past 11 months make for great stories, but those same situations made for even better learning experiences. If someone told me that a year after graduating college I would’ve began learning Chinese, end up favoring Chinese food more than any other food, befriend both Chinese and other expats from around the world (Australia, South Korea, Zimbabwe, Canada, England, Tanzania, Japan, New Zealand, Hungary, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Scotland, and other Americans), travel a good portion of Southeast Asia, complete the Great Wall Marathon, be rented as a foreigner for promotional dancing, eventually walk into a Chinese classroom with no fear or inhibitions to teach 13-16 year olds English daily, and play tour guide for my parents visiting me on the other side of the world, I would’ve found it difficult to believe.
The life of a foreign ESL teacher is what you make it. Do you just want to work part-time while also private tutoring on the side? No problem. Do you want to work full-time with a heavy workload? The opportunities are there. Will you have time to travel and explore your surroundings? Oh yah, you betcha’. Does it provide a decent living? You would be surprised. I make 5,000 RMB (~$800) per month with a little extra on the side from private tutoring and my school pays for my apartment, utilities, visa fees, and healthcare. My paycheck is spent on eating out, weekend shenanigans, travel, and really anything I want since my only regular expense is groceries. If I decided to stay and teach a 2nd year? I would make 10,000 RMB per month minimum, still have paid holidays, housing stipends, and paid healthcare depending on the school. I’m not living the life of luxury—although private tutoring for wealthy families can get you invitations to expensive dinners, wine tastings, and other swanky events—but I’m truly comfortable.
So whether you’re seeking a change of pace, a new life, a convenient and cost-efficient way to travel, or a résumé builder, be aware of the opportunities afforded to native English speakers. At first, teaching will be intimidating and you’ll embarrass yourself more than once. Do take solace in the fact that it becomes easier and easier each passing day to the point where it begins to feel natural. In my experience, after the Chinese academic year flies by and the school year is over, it feels odd not hearing the collective”laoshi hao” (hello teacher) each morning as you begin your lesson.
If you have any questions about being an ESL teacher in China specifically, don’t be afraid to ask!