Globally, student debt is rising. According to 2016 data, the average student debt for US graduates is $37,000 for bachelor’s degrees and $57,000 for graduate degrees. Students in the UK are in even greater debt, owing $55,000 (£40,000) for a bachelor’s degree, while in Sweden – where tuition is free – students can owe $20,000 on average upon graduation.
Student debt is stressful but, for those willing to take the leap and teach abroad, opportunity abounds. In most cases, teaching overseas allows graduates to save big, pay back loans, and gain valuable international work experience.
“I had $45,000 in student debt after [completing] my master’s in education,” says Jessica, an American living and teaching in Gwangju, South Korea. “I paid that off in five years working here. It wasn’t easy, but I’m happy to be debt-free. I would never have been able to save like that back home.”
Typically, the best-paying countries for teaching overseas are South Korea, Japan, China, and Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE. While most teachers earn salaries of $2,000-$5,000 a month, they also get free housing, free or reduced medical care, visa sponsorship and end-of-contract bonuses. There is also the potential to teach private lessons for extra money.
Erin from Texas explains the perks of teaching abroad: “In Korea, you don’t have to pay rent and you get free lunch from your school, so you keep most of what you earn every month. Instead of spending $800-$1,000 a month on rent and bills, everything you earn can go towards your debt.”
Some even raise families abroad, such as British expat Lindsey. “It’s a little strange. My kids get teased in school sometimes for not speaking Korean perfectly but, overall, working here has been worth it. I wiped out $26,000 of debt in two years.” Lindsey and her Korean husband plan on moving back to the UK once they have enough money for a deposit on a house.
Most countries require a bachelor’s degree and a clean criminal record to teach overseas. An English as a Second Language (ESL) certificate will also make you more desirable. If you have a master’s degree or higher, you can teach at universities, which offer higher pay and extended paid vacations – up to 16 weeks in some cases.
While the best teaching jobs go to certified teachers and majors in education, English, TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), linguistics and related fields, there are plenty of opportunities for other majors such as business, law, history, film studies and even design and culinary arts. The majority of teachers are hired to teach ESL but there is an increasing demand for teachers of subjects such as history, science and mathematics.
Once you decide to teach abroad, you have to decide what type of working environment you want. Do you want to work with children or adults? Do you want to work in a public school or private school? There is also the question of which country you would like to live in.
It’s also recommended that you research the school, or company, that you will work at. Try speaking to a current or former teacher before signing a contract. Check the school’s reputation online. Doing basic research will pay off in the end.
However, living abroad isn’t without its challenges. Loneliness, culture shock, lack of community and being away from friends and family are constant barriers that expats face. However, staying focused on financial goals, travelling and studying the local language and culture can help reduce these difficulties.
Overall, teaching overseas for a few years is a smart choice for new graduates looking to pay back loans quickly, travel and immerse themselves in new cultures. The experience will also bolster your professional profile, showing that you are adaptable, culturally aware and not afraid of new challenges.
Murdock O’Mooney is a teacher at the Department of English Language and Literature at Chosun University, South Korea
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