Today marks two years since I boarded a plane to Hong Kong–a city where I didn’t know one person, didn’t know the language and had no idea how to get around. After an on and off 24-months, I still don’t know the language, outside of asking girls to marry me and ordering ice tea, and I still get really lost in Kowloon, but I do know some people.
Living abroad is one of two experiences I can 100% recommend everyone do at least once in their lifetime (the other, of course, is to eat Chipotle once a day for forever). I know it is unrealistic, because life takes people down different paths and journeys. That being said–I usually get one or two messages a week from people back in the U.S., saying they want to travel and live abroad, but don’t know how to get started.
So I’ll share what I did to get to Hong Kong, Ukraine and now Poland. I’ll also share some friends’ blogs, so you can see how they travel and live abroad as well.
The number one question I get: “What program did you go through to teach in Hong Kong?” The answer is none. I didn’t go through a recruitment agency or government program for any of the jobs I have accepted abroad. I went onto Dave’s ESL cafe and looked for jobs in Asia and stumbled upon a company hiring in HK that liked me enough to give me a shot.
I was looking in Korea, Japan, Thailand, China and Hong Kong, and I have to say landing in Hong Kong has been a true blessing. The vibe and buzz in this city is electric. It’s friendly to Westerners, there is Chinese culture but also Mexican food, cinemas and Coffee Bean!
If you want to work in Hong Kong as a teacher, you can join the NET program, which only accepts applications in November and is very competitive, looking for teachers who are qualified in their home countries or several years experience abroad. If you’re a teacher back home, this would be your best option. The pay is phenomenal, the vacation is fantastic and they have lots of perks, like housing allowances, to live on. You might also enjoy a working environment that focuses on expanding education and not fighting to make cuts.
If you’re not a ‘qualified’ teacher back home, there are plenty (I mean thousands) of language centers here that hire you based on one qualification: you speak English. It’s a bit more than that–but still the main qualification. In Hong Kong, you must have a Bachelor’s degree from a university and a 100-hour TEFL certification, which can be obtained through several providers, ranging from cheap and online to more expensive and in-person.
If you would like to continue a career abroad, I would recommend maybe a CELTA or an in-person TEFL, but an online certificate will get you a job in Asia. Places like Thailand and Mainland China might be less strict on qualifications, whereas Korea and Japan are going to be tougher.
Linked here are the FB pages of Pete and Amy, friends who have taught/currently teach in Japan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Korea. If you’re serious, give them an add and message about living conditions, what to expect while job hunting and any other tips about living in your desired country. Also, Pete has a really great blog.
As for the Poland job, I now work for an international school in Warsaw as a teacher and marketing director. I learned of this opportunity through a friend I made in Hong Kong, who is originally from Texas. The longer you live and work abroad, the more opportunities arise.
If you live abroad, this obviously becomes very easy. The problem with living in the U.S. is that it is expensive to travel. Even if you’re just driving from Sacramento to L.A. for a weekend (about 300 miles for those not from California), you’re looking at $250 in gas, plus food and hotel, which run expensive. That can be a $350 weekend–and that’s if you’re thrifty and only paying for yourself. Flights to Hawaii, NYC, Florida, all can run over $500 depending on departure locations. And once you’re there, you’re paying U.S. Prices.
From Hong Kong, you can buy roundtrip flights to Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, China, Cambodia and many other SE Asian countries for under $250 U.S. And once you’re there, you’re not spending nearly as much on food and accommodation. I flew from Cape Town to London and back to Hong Kong for cheaper than my roundtrip flight from Sacramento to Atlanta a few years back.
Teaching also gives you breaks and holidays to travel every few months, and after every year you can move countries or take a contract break to travel other parts of the world you would like to see. If traveling the world is on your bucket list, living abroad provides you the best opportunity.
Making Friends From All Over the World
In my opinion, the coolest part of teaching English in Asia is meeting and getting to know awesome people like yourself from all over the world. I have had roommates from England, Ireland, South Africa and New Zealand, met some incredible people and learned a lot about these places. Especially in Hong Kong–a night out can lead to drinks with people from anywhere in the world. Not that your friends back home aren’t interesting, but there is something about being around others who are in your same situation and want to travel with you!
Living Abroad Can Still Advance Your Career
Based on the FB messages I receive, the most common reason for not wanting to move right away is that you have put in a lot of work at a company or career, and don’t want to quit now. I totally get it. We go to school, take internships or entry-level positions and work our asses off (well I did at least) to get to the position we’re in and feel it can all be lost by a few years traveling and being abroad.
My answer is usually that world experience and learning different cultures is never going to be seen as a negative in the work force. And if it is, I don’t really want to go back to the U.S. While being overseas, you can learn a language, read about different business techniques, join network groups, start a business, write a blog (heyo!) and many other activities to continue to grow your portfolio. There will always be jobs for you in the U.S. or wherever you are from. If you have worked yourself into a high-level position, then you clearly have the skill set, education and drive to succeed, and I am fairly certain plenty of jobs will be waiting for you when you return (if you return). You might like being out of the U.S. and decide to pursue opportunities in other parts of the world in your field. The point is that the opportunities abroad might be better than those where you live, depending on your current field, anyway.
My main advice is that if you are serious–actually serious–about moving abroad or taking an extended period of time to travel, then do it. Like right now. Find a job, accept it and move. If you’re planning on doing it in a year or two years, chances are you probably won’t. It can be scary, but I promise it will be the most exciting thing you will ever do in your life. There are awesome people and incredible places to see. You just have to take the jump to do it!