Full-time travel is something many only dream of doing but are often too scared to for so many reasons. Two years ago, I decided that’s what I wanted to do — and so I did. I moved to Thailand to become an English teacher! Since then I’ve been using Thailand as a home base for traveling around Southeast Asia. Although teaching was a way for me to be abroad and still make an income, I quickly fell in love with the job (and everything that comes along with it) and decided to stay longer than the six months I originally intended.
I have to admit, teaching in a foreign country isn’t for everyone; it requires a lot of patience and commitment to completely immerse in a new culture. However it also isn’t as scary as it seems. If you’re wondering if teaching English abroad is right for you, ask yourself the following questions. Your answers might surprise you!
1. Will I be financially ready?
I recommend saving at least enough money to last for your first 2-3 months out here. Your first month, you’ll likely be doing your TEFL course in Thailand (if you choose an in-country option), so only around when month two hits will you finally be working, and since Thais get paid monthly, you’ll still have to wait for that. But also don’t forget you should have enough money saved in case of emergencies as well as the visa runs that you will likely have to do until you’re granted a work permit. A good estimate is to have 50,000 THB (or $1,500 USD) to get you through, though experienced budget travelers can likely get by on less. Plan accordingly!
2. Am I okay with making less money?
In all honesty, teaching in Thailand isn’t one of the most lucrative ESL gigs you can get in the world of teaching English overseas, yet there are still thousands of expats who do so. You might be leaving a nice, well paying job at home to come out here, and that might deter you from doing so. But just remember, the cost of living is so much lower — you can live a very comfortable life for around 35,000 baht (approx. $1000 USD) monthly. This happens to be the average starting salary for foreign teachers with no experience. And while it might not seem like much, it provides a very decent living, with the ability to still save for your down time travels around Southeast Asia!
3. Will I be serious about teaching?
Many people end up becoming ESL teachers for many reasons. Some find that during their travels they run out of funds and need an easy way to make some money, while others think that it’s a good way to start traveling. I’m one of the latter, and while I decided to be a teacher merely as a means to start my meaningful travels, I quickly fell in love with it. I love my students and being a first point of contact in their English education. Students need motivated teachers who will be serious about their education, and not just looking for a paycheck before they can hop off to the next island. Think about your reasoning — if you won’t be serious about the gig, I’m sure you’ll have no problem finding a hostel that is hiring should you need some quick cash. BUT if your heart is truly in the right place, then book that ticket and head out!!
4. Do I want to travel and see the world?
If all you really want is to travel and see the world as much as you can, and you’re not quite sure where to start… I suggest starting as a teacher abroad. After you live in a new, foreign place for a while, you will figure out if you love the lifestyle or not. You might decide that being so immersed in a brand new culture might be too much for you, and as a traveler, that’s not something that will benefit you in the long run. But by using a starting point such as a Thailand, your travel options are endless! And obviously, making an income as a teacher is a great way to fund all the globetrotting you’ll be doing in your spare time!
5. Is this the time for me?
This is important! Teaching English abroad is right for you if maybe you’re not happy with your current career, or if you’ve just graduated school and you don’t know what to do with your life (which was me), or you’re really just ready for a brand new change of scenery!! Also keep in mind your mental state. It can be quite emotionally taxing if this is a brand new type of adventure for you and it takes a while to adjust. Before you make any meaningful relationships, it can be quite lonely. Make sure you take these things into account so that you’re fully prepared for your new adventure!
6. Can I seriously commit?
Ask this question from a teacher’s perspective. To sign a contract and commit to your students for at least 1-6 months (depending on if you start at the beginning of the semester or the middle) is big. If you realize in your second month that teaching abroad isn’t for you, and you’d rather be back home — think of your students and all you’ve taught them in those two months. Your students learn to love you very quickly, and it’s hard to disappoint those who are so happy to see you everyday. Also, remember that these feelings could likely be a sign of culture shock or homesickness. Both of which will pass if you stick it through and get over the hump.
7. Will I be HAPPY?
This is the most important question you can ask before you make such a leap to move overseas. In the end, all that matters is if you’re satisfied and happy with the decision that you’ve made. Obviously we can’t know for certain until we’re already down our chosen path, but we know ourselves well enough to know which decisions we’ll regret more (to never go abroad, or to pull the BandAid off and just go now?).
To be honest, I’ve never heard of anyone being unhappy with his or her decision to move and teach abroad. Living and working abroad opens your eyes to all the possibilities that are out there – you look at the world differently, you experience culture differently, you become a true traveler and not just a tourist… You learn to take everything in, no matter where you are, and you experience a country in a way that you never did before.
Trust me, just do it!!