Author Topic: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?  (Read 5485 times)

Beric01

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FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« on: August 09, 2014, 03:02:38 PM »
To give you a little background, I'm currently fairly Mustachian (although I still have things I can improve). I'm currently living on around 1/3 of my after-tax income, and should be FIRE'd in 9 years at age 33 (I've been in the workforce 2 years to date). The thing is, I'm constantly looking for opportunities to pull in that FIRE date, as I'm just not a fan of office life in general. My true goal is to leave the USA completely and live overseas, most likely in a country in Asia.

So here's my thought: I was doing some calculations and it looks like I could leave the US at age 30, move overseas, and teach English for 5 years, while living off of my saved investment income. I could then have spent 3 additional years of my life abroad, which is what I really want to do, and reach FIRE only 2 years later than otherwise.

I was wondering if anyone had any experience teaching English abroad, or any thoughts? I have a few thoughts and concerns:
  • There seems to be a high attrition rate for English teachers? I see things like bonuses for completing a single year. However, hours are often less than 30 per week...
  • A big advantage of taking a job like teaching would appear to be to make connections with the community. Right now I have very few connections living abroad, and it would probably be rather odd to just show up, FIRE'd, with no specific plans. I'm not certain if there's better ways to make connections when moving to a foreign country.
  • Whatever country I move to, I strongly want to study the local language. But I have struggled to find time to learn a 2nd language in the US while working full time, so I'm not sure if that would be any different while working abroad.
  • I have concerns about certifications. I don't want to be working a minimum-wage job. Right now I have a business degree and work in high-tech, but I don't want to have to spend 2 years studying for a master's in English teaching just to make a decent wage. I'm not certain if my experience could qualify me for Business English.
  • I could consider a job related to my actual field I'm working in right now, but I do NOT want to work 40+ hours a week. Basically every job in my field is going to require those hours, so I don't see much way to leverage my experience.

Thanks for any advice! I'm really looking for a sanity check here - trying to figure out if I'm crazy or if this might actually work.

neophyte

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2014, 03:38:47 PM »
Sanity check - it might actually work.

I spent a little over a year teaching in Korea, loved it, would love to go back, I just don't want to teach English. 

At least in Korea, most jobs will provide you with a small apartment and pay you enough to live on. More than enough actually. Enough to save a fair amount if you live frugally.

There is a high attrition rate.  Most people don't actually do it intending to stay there.  They go for a year or two for the experience, to travel, to meet an Asian girl (or guy), to pay off student loans, etc.  Even those who intended to stay may find that living in a foreign country can be much more difficult than they imagined or find themselves moving back home to be closer to aging family members.

Be careful with the 30 hours. A lot of places that advertise 30 hours mean 30 hours of teaching time, but they expect you to be in the building working on grading and lesson planning in addition to that. There are part time things available though.  You might just have to look harder.  The qualifications you need will vary by country. Many will accept any degree or any degree + a basic TESOL certificate ($100 online course that probably doesn't actually mean much kind of thing).  The best jobs will tend to go to people with a Master's in teaching, but the pay difference might not be all that great, depending on where you end up. I would recommend going without one and seeing how you like the experience, and then if you wanted to keep doing it and thought the degree would be beneficial, you could get one.

There are a few other folks around here who teach English in Asia who'll probably be happy to share their experiences with you too.
« Last Edit: August 09, 2014, 07:43:37 PM by neophyte »

sandandsun

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2014, 05:23:32 PM »
I'm indirectly involved in some teach Eng abroad programs (some that offer certifications) through the university where I'm employed... You do not need an Eng related degree to teach abroad, you can get a relatively quick TESOL certification (some are better than others, look for something affiliated with a university or non profit org specifically in that field... The stuff offered for 100.00/online/groupon is worthless)...
This can be a great opportunity, or it can be miserable... Everything depends on where you are placed, what kind of training, prep, support you get... Best advice: go with an established program in US ( they vet employers/locations and offer support) and talk to others who are currently in the program in an area/school you will likely be placed...
Just think about it in comparison to teaching in the US... A private school in a High SES area will be a very different experience (not necessarily better, just different, depends on what you are looking for) than a public school in a low SES/rural/other area...
It can be very rewarding, and an experience you'll never forget.... As a bonus, you will absolutely pick up the local language if you stay for a year or more, impossible not to : )

andresgentry

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2014, 07:13:13 PM »
I was a TEFL teacher for five years in China and four of those years I also managed the schools I was teaching at. My thoughts:

Very few of my co-workers ever learned Chinese since their social circle was composed of the other English teachers they worked with. If you want to learn the local language of the country you'll need to choose a city that has few foreigners and even then you'll need to make special efforts (like hiring your own private tutor) since your work and social environments will work against learning the language.

I find TEFL teachers to be emotionally toxic. If one teacher has a bad experience or a bad day then all of the teachers will hear about it and all the teachers will be affected by those negative emotions. Because your co-workers are your social circle, so it's hard to get away from those negative motions outside of the school. And unfortunately, I have found many TEFL teachers to be emotionally unhealthy - many are running away from something in their home country lives, so they're not equipped (or want) to deal with life in a healthy way.

Going along with this, the amount of drinking that TEFL teachers engage in can be phenomenal. The constant hangovers do nothing to improve anyone's mood. And your mood will often be dark even without the hangovers since it's hard to live in a foreign country where you don't know the language. People don't realize how isolating it is to not be able to speak with or understand anyone around you. It's no picnic.

So how to avoid some of these problems? First off, many of these problems might not exist in other countries - I suspect TEFL teachers have a better experience in Latin America, but that's just a guess. Second, try to teach at a university - that would give you a social scene that is healthier than what you would find at a private school. Third, spend a month to get a TEFL certificate - it's well-worth the investment as you'll get ideas for how to teach a language. A master's is not necessary unless you're making a career out of TEFL. Fourth, keep alcohol and bars to a minimum. Fifth, if you notice that some of your co-workers are complaining a lot, just avoid them. If you start commiserating with them then before you know it you'll be in the same funk they're in. And sixth, make an active effort to learn the local language by hiring a private tutor. The sooner you can understand what's happening around you the more "normal" you'll feel. That'll relieve some of the pressure of living in a foreign country (and it'll give you a chance to expand your social circle beyond your co-workers).

fecklesslayabout

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #4 on: August 10, 2014, 09:57:24 AM »
I taught English in China for two years (still live here, but work an office job).

- In my experience those 30 hours are definitely teaching hours, not total working hours. Depending on where you work/what company you work for the schedules can be terrible. I used to work every Thursday from 7:30 to 5:30 at an elementary school, teaching 8 45 minute classes to 60 incredibly excited first graders at a time. It was an incredibly brutal work day  -- I was essentially on my feet yelling and jumping around like a maniac for 10 hours -- but I only got paid for six hours of work. Add in lesson planning etc. and 50 hour weeks are much more realistic: if you want a part-time schedule you should look for job listings that specify part-time or the total number of working hours. I'd also agree that the attrition rate is mostly because most people do it as a brief post-college adventure/launching pad for travel: they don't want to spend too long teaching English in developing countries and end up 30 years old with a resume that only qualifies them to teach English in developing countries.

- expat communities tend to be pretty friendly and easy to break into: you'll automatically bond just over being "not from here." Making friends with local folks can be harder because of language/cultural differences, but great when it works.

- I'd say only about 20% of the long term expats I encounter speak even decent conversational Mandarin. The "you'll just pick it up!" thing might work better in places like Central America: it's pretty tough to just casually pick up a language like Vietnamese or Thai unless you're in a situation where there are no other English speakers around. If you're dedicated to it, though, it's WAY easier to learn a language like Chinese in China than it would be in the US.

- All you need is a TEFL cert; that's more than enough for most schools.

You might want to try volunteering at a Head Start/an elementary school/an ESL center for adults to figure out both whether or not teaching suits you and which age group you'd prefer to work with before you ship out to teach full time. Teaching is hard enough as it is: you don't want to end up, say, working full time at a kindergarten prior to learning that children's laughter gives you migranes, or at a school for business English if facing down a room of glassy-eyed salarymen every night would make you want to slit your wrists.

myrax

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #5 on: August 10, 2014, 10:39:01 AM »
If you are interested in it, start browsing online forums for TEFL teachers based in the countries you are interested in. The people posting often have very specific information on salary and actual working hours, along with working conditions. Though also be aware that some of the posts tend to be hyperbolically bitter.

I lived in Japan for two years teaching English, and in South Korea for one year teaching. It was great, I saved a lot of money, and I knew several other people that did as well. I just had a Bachelors in Sociology, and no certification, but I would recommend getting a TESOL certificate- it's usually a few weeks training, and it makes you more competitive.

In my experience, the signing bonuses are an indication that teachers don't stay at the same job for long, but it doesn't mean they are leaving the country. I knew a lot of teachers that signed on with large companies with mediocre pay in order to get into the country. The best jobs usually hire people that are already in the country, rather than take a risk on paying for someone to fly over. If you go this route, you have to figure out what will happen with your visa, and if you will have to pay your first employer for the plane ticket... But that is something you can figure out once you are looking at actual jobs.

If you want to spend time living in Asia, teaching English can be a great way to go, as long as you do your due diligence and research the teaching position. Also, the tips about avoiding bitter, hard-drinking expats are very good.

Beric01

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #6 on: August 10, 2014, 07:32:04 PM »
Thanks for the feedback so far! So sounds like I may love it, and I may hate it. I agree working at a university is best of course, but I'm sure that's not easy to get into, so I like the idea of starting with a simple training first off. I've done some volunteer teaching in the past, so I know I don't hate teaching.

Sounds like the biggest issue is making friends with the locals, rather than just other expats. Any more thoughts on that?

Left

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #7 on: August 10, 2014, 09:26:49 PM »
I don't know why people consider teaching english overseas as a good way to make money :S I look up expat videos because that's what I want to do when I FI but not teach overseas to get there. Unless this video is that far off the norm of english teachers (I don't think it is from what I've seen on other sources) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvpiHKMRt_c&list=PL64B5BC7899A8ED4E&index=3, he said you can generally save around $15-18k USD/year. I don' t know why people consider this route in making money because that's about the same as maxing out a 401k, which isn't all that hard in the US. Sure the COL is lower, but if all you can save is the same as a 401k, I'd rather stay in the US to make money. I'm probably being unfair since I have my housing paid for and I make $50k which is above US's medium but for people smart/driven enough to teach overseas, I don't see why they couldn't make the same in US?

That is unless you want to see other countries, then teaching english is fine, I just don't think it is a good deal if you are trying to make money as a goal.

@OP, check out the guy's other youtube videos from link above, he talks about teaching in Korea but other asian countries should have similar. I think JohninTaiwan on this forum is an english teacher in Taiwan?

plus the entire "teaching english" is an euthanism I don't agree with, I see the job/position more as a teacher's assistant, something college grads do for undergrad professors and not an actual career. Is it a career? I don't know anyone that does it long term personally, I mean I have a friend that teaches in Korea but I don't know if he plans to do it long term.

edit: once you are over there, you could always sign up for language exchanges to help you learn the language and help others your age to learn english, and you'll meet locals too since expats won't be doing english exchanges
« Last Edit: August 10, 2014, 09:36:49 PM by eyem »

expatartist

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #8 on: August 10, 2014, 11:59:52 PM »
Andres Gentry is spot on, especially:
try to teach at a university - that would give you a social scene that is healthier than what you would find at a private school....
spend a month to get a TEFL certificate - it's well-worth the investment as you'll get ideas for how to teach a language. A master's is not necessary unless you're making a career out of TEFL.
Fourth, keep alcohol and bars to a minimum.
Fifth, if you notice that some of your co-workers are complaining a lot, just avoid them. If you start commiserating with them then before you know it you'll be in the same funk they're in.
And sixth, make an active effort to learn the local language by hiring a private tutor. The sooner you can understand what's happening around you the more "normal" you'll feel. That'll relieve some of the pressure of living in a foreign country (and it'll give you a chance to expand your social circle beyond your co-workers).

Expats in general tend to socialize over alcohol. It's a social lubricant which tends to go overboard, particularly amongst those who are unhappy where they're living. Needless to say, adding copious amounts of a depressant into the mix is rarely a good way to go.

I don't know why people consider teaching english overseas as a good way to make money :S  I don' t know why people consider this route in making money because that's about the same as maxing out a 401k, which isn't all that hard in the US. Sure the COL is lower, but if all you can save is the same as a 401k, I'd rather stay in the US to make money. I'm probably being unfair since I have my housing paid for and I make $50k which is above US's medium but for people smart/driven enough to teach overseas, I don't see why they couldn't make the same in US?

English teachers could make the same in the US, but they'd prefer to live overseas - different strokes for different folks.

wepner

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #9 on: August 11, 2014, 12:15:54 AM »
Teaching English in Japan is fun. Japan isn't as expensive as people think and even though I work only 30 hours a week there are also lots of chances to work at private kindergartens or do corporate stuff if you want. The base pay is something like $2500 a month plus free transportation to and from work. Depending on where you live obviously there are pretty solid and really cheap ways to learn Japanese and learn about Japanese culture at community centers and I definitely echo eyems advice to try language exchanges its an easy and fun way to meet people and learn the language (I was much better at making friends than improving my Japanese though) Also there are lots of things to do that doesn't revolve around alcohol here (and lots that do) Also, I guess Japan is seen as less exotic than Korea or China so people are more likely to go to a movie or a museum or a park or mall or something.

The only real downside is that it doesn't pay too well and it is difficult to get a raise, but if you are just looking to save a modest amount and work on other areas in your life it would be great.

I've got some friends living in Korea and they love it their apartment is paid for and food is really cheap there so its possible to save the majority of your paycheck.

pom

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #10 on: August 11, 2014, 02:52:49 AM »
It makes way more sense (to me at least) to find a job overseas within your field. This is not to put down teaching english but let me give you some an exemple (I will use my first oversea assignment at age 32 as an exemple as that lines up with when you plan on going, I'll adjust numbers for 10 years of inflation (+25%):

- Moved from NJ to Brussels
- My pay was 6 250 a month with 4 weeks vacation. I worked 40 hours a week. Net pay was 3 125
- Got a company car with unlimited gaz, including for personal use. I asked for extra pay instead of the car but it was a no-go.
- Got a pension plan and earned Belgian social security credits (I worked for 2 years so the pension will only be about 1500 a year but that is not too bad)

One of the main advantage is that you keep a very nice layer of security: the ability to return to your field in the US if you chose to do so or if things turn bad. When I went back to the US 2 years later, I did not get my old job back, I got a new job within my firm with a promotion and a 20% raise.

What may worry you is the 40 hour week but for me it was mainly fun for the first year, meeting new people and leaning new ways of doing things.

Anyway you have some time to think about it.

tarheeldan

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #11 on: August 11, 2014, 04:23:48 AM »
Does it have to be english? If you could get a job as an overseas hire at an English-speaking international school it would be a really nice package where you could save almost all your income.  Housing included in salary and whatever % of full time you work can be deducted from kids education  at the schol if you end up staying, marrying, and working part time after having kids.

expatartist

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #12 on: August 11, 2014, 07:48:15 AM »
Does it have to be english? If you could get a job as an overseas hire at an English-speaking international school it would be a really nice package where you could save almost all your income.  Housing included in salary and whatever % of full time you work can be deducted from kids education  at the schol if you end up staying, marrying, and working part time after having kids.

Teaching a subject in which you're qualified at an international school will definitely pay more than teaching ESL -- better salary and benefits, much better savings potential overall. The key is to get hired when you're in your home country, or working in a continent different from where you'll be working. This will ensure you get an overseas hire (rather than local hire) package. Colleagues of mine at an international school in China have been hired to and from Hong Kong at 'local' rates. There are dozens of sites with relevant info, job fairs, etc. http://internationalschoolsreview.com is one I look at and am a member of for relevant info.

Edited to correct URL
« Last Edit: August 12, 2014, 12:08:56 AM by expatartist »

Beric01

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #13 on: August 11, 2014, 09:13:26 AM »
It makes way more sense (to me at least) to find a job overseas within your field. This is not to put down teaching english but let me give you some an exemple (I will use my first oversea assignment at age 32 as an exemple as that lines up with when you plan on going, I'll adjust numbers for 10 years of inflation (+25%):

- Moved from NJ to Brussels
- My pay was 6 250 a month with 4 weeks vacation. I worked 40 hours a week. Net pay was 3 125
- Got a company car with unlimited gaz, including for personal use. I asked for extra pay instead of the car but it was a no-go.
- Got a pension plan and earned Belgian social security credits (I worked for 2 years so the pension will only be about 1500 a year but that is not too bad)

One of the main advantage is that you keep a very nice layer of security: the ability to return to your field in the US if you chose to do so or if things turn bad. When I went back to the US 2 years later, I did not get my old job back, I got a new job within my firm with a promotion and a 20% raise.

What may worry you is the 40 hour week but for me it was mainly fun for the first year, meeting new people and leaning new ways of doing things.

Anyway you have some time to think about it.

Yeah, my current company is actually an international firm, so I'd love to get a job transfer overseas in the next few years, as we're not even based in the US. However, I've asked around and it seems no one has ever transferred back to our home country, only from there to here. But as the same time, I'm the only person in the US who isn't married, so that may be a factor. But you're right, I've still got 6 years to get a transfer before I decide to retire instead.

The problem is that a 40 hour week is never really just 40 hours, either, so I would have no time to learn the local language working 40++ hours abroad.

Does it have to be english? If you could get a job as an overseas hire at an English-speaking international school it would be a really nice package where you could save almost all your income.  Housing included in salary and whatever % of full time you work can be deducted from kids education  at the schol if you end up staying, marrying, and working part time after having kids.

Teaching a subject in which you're qualified at an international school will definitely pay more than teaching ESL -- better salary and benefits, much better savings potential overall. The key is to get hired when you're in your home country, or working in a continent different from where you'll be working. This will ensure you get an overseas hire (rather than local hire) package. Colleagues of mine at an international school in China have been hired to and from Hong Kong at 'local' rates. There are dozens of sites with relevant info, job fairs, etc. http://Http://internationalschoolsreview.com is one I look at and am a member of for relevant info.

I'd like to get a job teaching something more advanced, but my field is business, not teaching, and I'm not currently qualified to teach anything in the US. Apparently my English skills are quite good, probably much more advanced than my business skills, so that was why I first thought of teaching.

I fully agree with you on the overseas hire, but the problem is executing the transfer. I'd like to get an overseas transfer in my current company even, as the wage in the US is probably almost twice that of hour headquarters.

However, a big part of this is just that I really want to live abroad. If I were FIRE'd I'd leave the country now, even with no job. But as it is now, I just don't want to be working internationally until I'm 50 if I just got up and left the country with my currently minimal savings.

pom

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #14 on: August 12, 2014, 03:32:16 AM »

The problem is that a 40 hour week is never really just 40 hours, either, so I would have no time to learn the local language working 40++ hours abroad.


Ask people from the other offices, some countries have very healthy work practices.

I worked at a Big4 accountancy firm in Paris and one of my employees left to work at PWC in Holland. We had a beer a year later and he told me that a lot of the employees worked 80% (even the partner in charge of his team) so he did too and it seemed to be the sweet life to me. I would go from earning 100k full time to 80k par time ... in a heartbeat.

Gimesalot

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #15 on: August 12, 2014, 09:16:19 AM »
I have been thinking a lot about doing the same thing. Of course it would be great to just have my job transfer me, but that is easier said than done.  Last time my company looked into doing a similar thing, the cost came out to about $500k a year per employee!  Also, I don't really like my job, so the thought of doing something new is nice.

So here is what I found from my reaserach...
If you are a professional with a good job, it is not necessarily the best way to save money.  Salaries are enough to live on, but if you want to travel or explore, it will be gone quickly.
Teaching at an international school is difficult, unless you are already a teacher in the States.  You need to have a teaching degree, the higher the better.
You don't have to teach English.  I have several friends that "grade" the spoken portion of the TOFEL exam.  You need few, if any qualifications.
You will probably have to work as much as in the US.  The benefit is that on nights, weekends, and holidays, you can explore cheaply.

For me, I see teaching Engllish abroad as a way to travel and explore, without touching my stash.  It will provide me several years of income, health insurance, and accomodations, while letting my money grow.  For me that is enough. 

pom

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #16 on: August 12, 2014, 10:04:19 AM »
Last time my company looked into doing a similar thing, the cost came out to about $500k a year per employee! 

That is because they are talking about an expat package which probably includes relocation, apartment rental, car, private school for kids, tax equalization, expatriate pension plan ...

I never got the chance to get one of those, they are usually only offered if there is a specific skill set that they absolutely need. All of my jobs abroad were local contracts, I have always been paid more or less the same as my coworkers.

plank

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Re: FIRE'ing even earlier to teach English abroad?
« Reply #17 on: August 12, 2014, 10:22:27 AM »
Beyond the semantic argument that taking a full time job in another country before you are financially independent is neither FI nor RE, please remember that teaching is a real job with real responsibilities.  I have been a teacher in Korea for 7 years and currently in Germany for 2 years.  It's a thankless job for not a lot of money.  If you are going into it thinking it will be a fun, easy way to see the world, you will be disappointed.  You will be one of the teachers a previous poster mentioned who drinks way to much to alleviate the stress (and there are many). 

If you really want to be a teacher, it is a great opportunity, but it's also a responsibility.  The students or their parents pay a lot of money to attend your school.  Morally, I would never be able to just slack off.  If you don't plan your lessons and teach passionately, your students won't learn, and it will be your fault, potentially holding them back in life.