How to Not Get Stuck in a Crappy Job

Jul 1, 2013

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and to teach abroad but don’t know where to begin. In the four years I’ve spent in Asia, I’ve had a variety of jobs in and out of teaching. I’ve had some great teaching jobs, as well as some not-so-great ones. I write this to help every newbie who is thinking of getting a teaching job overseas, to make the best of their experience and get a position that will make them happy and enjoy their time in a foreign country. I wish someone gave me this advice when I was looking for a teaching position; it would have saved me a lot of time, effort, and headaches along the way.

I believe the causes of unhappiness overseas can stem from several reasons: a bad job fit, being underprepared, and having the wrong expectations when you go to the host country. Teaching jobs are numerous, the to-do-list can be confusing, and as much as you prepare, you never know what to expect, so here are some quick tips to help make your job search as fruitful as possible.

To thine own self be true

The first question you should ask yourself is: “Do I want to live overseas?”, and ask yourself why. Many of us get the idea in the middle of the night, the “eureka, aha!” moment, sometimes out of frustration with our current jobs, or out of boredom, and while it sounds like an awesome idea at the time, it may not be the answer to your problems. Be honest with yourself and ask yourself if this is really a good idea for you. Will you be happy living in another country? Make a list of reasons and make a rational argument to yourself as to why you want to make this decision. I have met many people who go through the process of getting a job in another country, only to find themselves sneaking out of the country like a thief in the night. Don’t be this person, be honest with yourself. Are you leaving a significant other behind? Do you have kids or a family? Do you have a mortgage, a sick mother, or other obligations?

Next ask yourself if jobs teaching english is the right job for you. Why do you want to teach?  Is it to make money, or to travel, to develop professionally, to learn a new language/culture, or all of the above? Would you be comfortable interacting with children, and singing songs? Would you be comfortable teaching working professionals with high demands?

If you accept a position that doesn’t match your objectives, you may be in for an unhappy year. You could find yourself with either a lot of work for low pay, or a job that doesn’t give you enough vacation time for travel, a job that will not matter on your resume, or in an environment that is only around people like you where you don’t get exposed to the local culture. With so many different positions out there, you should make sure the one you choose is the right one for you, but before anything else, you should ask yourself if you really want to be a teacher.

Finally ask yourself how open you are to experiencing a different culture. There is always a degree of culture shock wherever you arrive, no matter how well-traveled you are. Living as a foreigner is different from visiting as a tourist. For many of us it is a part of the adventure, but it’s not for everyone. So make sure you ask yourself these questions the morning after your ‘aha’ moment, then you’re ready for the next steps.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail

Do your homework, there are many countries and many types of schools, research every type so you are able to make an informed decision.

Make a list of countries you want to experience, this is the fun part. Research the countries, their cultures, languages, and find out whether there is a need for English teachers in these countries. What is the cost of living? What is the exchange rate? Will you be able to save money, or pay your bills back home?

The internet is a treasure trove of information (and misinformation), but with so much out there it’s easy to get lost and make a hasty decision. Take your time, research different types of schools, agencies, and jobs in the target countries. Read the job boards, read about others’ teaching experiences on the discussion forums. This is a serious decision; do your homework, and don’t act in haste. You should apply to different schools and agencies, schedule interviews and ask lots of questions. There are plenty of teaching jobs overseas. The right one is waiting for you!

Dot your T’s and cross your eyes [sic].                                                                       

Now that you’ve decided that you are really interested in jobs teaching english, and you know where you want to go, ask yourself if you have the qualifications to apply for that perfect job. Do you have a current passport, Bachelors’ degree, and TEFL/TESOL certificate in hand? Are there enough pages on your passport? Do you have the money for airfare (if the job reimburses the ticket)?

Most importantly: Do you have enough money to get set up, or at least a month’s living expenses? This is important because some schools only pay after one month, or will offer a loan that is deducted from your paycheck over the year contract. Make sure you are ready financially for your new adventure; otherwise you may be in for a tough year.   Have you made payment arrangements for your financial obligations at home? And finally, do you know what to expect within the first few weeks in your new home?


I hope I haven’t scared you but these things are important to know before you take the great leap forward (no pun intended). Make sure the job you take is the right fit for you, BE PREPARED! And have a good idea of what to expect in your future home. Follow this advice and you will enjoy your time abroad!


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