Several months ago, after a long day at the keyboard working on my latest novel, a stray thought entered my mind – why not take my writing on the road while teaching English abroad. Having dated a woman who teaches English in China, I already knew quite a bit about how it works.
Throughout my military career, and in the telecommunications engineering position that followed, I traveled the world extensively, not just spending time in other countries, but actually living and working in them. Since becoming a full-time author of science fiction novels, my nomadic tendencies have been gnawing at me, urging me to get back out there. Suddenly, I saw the solution.
By teaching English abroad, I could continue immersing myself in other cultures, help others better themselves, and still live my dream of being an author. The typical 15 to 30 hour work week of most TEFL/TESOL teachers fits leave ample time for writing. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much it aligns with who I am as a person and what I want to do in life.
SELECTING A LOCATION
My interest effectively gained, it was time to do my research, and research I did! I started by looking for the best country (based on demand, cost of living, lifestyle, and average income). I researched Thailand, Taiwan, The Philippines, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and others. Having spent time in South-East Asia, I knew that’s where I really wanted to start. Ultimately, I decided that Vietnam was most suited for what I wanted.
As an important side-note, once I made that determination, I stopped looking for alternative locations. In my opinion, you could spend a lifetime trying to pick the best place to start. I can’t say with any certainty that Vietnam is the best place to start for someone who wishes to teach English abroad, but I can say, based on my circumstances, it felt right to me.
SELECTING A SCHOOL
Once I knew where I was going, I continued researching with even more vigor. I’m pretty sure I have watched every YouTube video by a TEFL/TESOL teacher in Vietnam that is out there. From city to living conditions, from course quality and experience to job placement success, from the expenses of those who live incredibly frugally to those who spend money like they are made of it. In the end, I honed my list of cities down to two, Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi; and, I refined my interest in TEFL/TESOL courses to five potential schools. I did consider online courses, but soon ruled them out. For me, the face-to-face, in class, in country training is far more valuable and informative than any online-based course.
The next step for me was deciding which of the five TEFL/TESOL courses I would attend. In making that decision, I considered the following for each:
- Cost (the five I was considering ranged from $1,250 to $1,750)
- Experience (how long have they or their associates been around)
- Job Placement (do they assist or guarantee)
- Accommodations (do they include a place to stay as part of the cost)
- Reviews (what do their alumni have to say about the experience)
I also considered the number of hours in class and on practicum, but found all so similar to make that factor irrelevant.
After extensive research, it was time to reach out to the schools to see what they had to say. Some offered Skype “interviews” whereas others contacted me by phone. Prior to these conversations, I had a well drafted list of questions on best time of year for employment seeking, percent of graduates successfully placed after graduation, unique amenities or education offered, and accessibility for support, not only with coursework and employment, but also with living arrangements and transportation. My pre-interview questions were specific and extensive, but they addressed the questions I needed to have answered. Any schools that didn’t offer follow-up contact for additional questions, I ruled out immediately. Those that gave reasonable answers while offering to answer any additional questions I may have through email or phone calls made the top of my list.
At this point, I was able to whittle it down to two prospective schools – AVSE (via Ninja Teacher) and TEFLJunction. The deciding factor for me was the accessibility and comfort with Ninja Teacher and AVSE representatives. The fact that Ninja Teacher was founded, and is primarily staffed, by native English speakers went a long way toward influencing my final decision. In a nutshell, the thought of being able to easily communicate any concerns, challenges or questions with a native English speaker put them at the top of my list. It didn’t hurt that their founder, Alex Stevenson, has done an excellent job of putting out detail videos on all aspects of life teaching English in Vietnam. Additionally, they were the most responsive and timely. When they said they’d call me at 9pm, my phone rang at 9pm. When they said they’d answer my questions via email, I had answers the very next morning.
Today, I am both excited and terrified. I’ve decided on a new career path – teaching English abroad. I’ve settled on a location – Vietnam. I’ve chosen a school – AVSE through Ninja Teacher. I have even decided on a course date – July 23rd. All that is left is for me to make it happen. This, my friends, is where the journey really begins.
You might wonder what could be so pressing nearly three months prior to departure. You might even wonder why I’m not waiting until in country before beginning this blog. I’m here to tell you that my hands are already full with preparations. If I skipped forward without covering my current efforts, I would be doing an injustice in providing a realistic picture of what it takes to transition into a career teaching English abroad.
As example of how much there is to do, let’s look at what I did yesterday. In the morning, I had my fifth doctor’s appointment of the last 30 days. Before leaving the country, I want to address all of my medical concerns. I’ve booked dental, vision, and general health appointments so I can be fully prepared before leaving the country. Once I leave, I’ll have the comfort of knowing that I have all of the medications and dental/vision supplies I’ll need. The last thing I’d want to do is arrive in Vietnam only to realize I need a new eye exam and a root canal!
After the doctor appointment, I began to work on my packing list. A Google search will tell you what others recommend you bring as well as what NOT to bring. Initially, I’m making an all-inclusive list which I hope to whittle down to what is necessary. What I don’t want to do is overlook something crucial that I should bring. Starting the list now gives me plenty of time to review and adjust accordingly. By the time I depart, I should have a pretty good list of what I will actually need.
In the afternoon, I continued to work on my budget, a process I started as soon as I decided this was something I was going to do. I revisit my budget daily, updating it based on forum conversations and other research. My goal with budgeting is to come within $100 per month of my actual required expenditures once in country.
Last night, I worked on my “to-do” list. A bit OCD, my “to-do” list is pretty comprehensive. In it, I address and forecast requirements such as flight booking, hotel arrangements, visa processing, documentation needs, and everything else I can think of that is prerequisite to my travel.
The short of it all is that, even three months out, there is much to do. The upside is that I’m chipping away at it each and every day. When I board my flight in just a few short months, I will be fully prepared for what is to come.