Taking the Plunge
So you’re thinking of moving to Asia? Here are some tips we have put together which will hopefully set you on your way.
We at Teachers For Asia have placed thousands of teachers of all levels into a wide variety of locations throughout Asia since 2009, ranging from beginner ESL teachers up to those teachers with professional teacher qualifications and years of experience teaching in their specialist subjects. We work with Private Academies, Public Schools and International Schools all over Asia, so do check out our Jobs page (http://www.teachersforasia.com/jobs/) for more details on what is currently on offer and get in touch to set up a Skype call with one of our friendly placement specialists so we can get things moving for you.
Location, location, location
Where to go? It’s a daunting question, to say the least, but it’s possible to break it down to a manageable choice if you consider what you want out of your time in Asia. Think about what you want; to save as much money as you can, or to just keep yourself going with the bare minimum and live in a tropical climate somewhere? Are you searching for a fully blown cultural experience, or are you more drawn to an exciting bustling city life, such as in Shanghai, Seoul, or Bangkok? Of course it’s possible to experience all of these things in the one location, but doing your research and thinking about the kind of lifestyle you want to lead will help you find somewhere that suits you better.
Thailand, for example, has great weather, beautiful scenery and a fascinating culture, but you won’t make much money there. China seems to be one of the best places to make money right now, but be prepared for the massive cultural differences that abound, especially if you move away from the better known cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Korea is a good place to make money and you’ll certainly have the experience of a new culture to immerse yourself in but the jobs market has tightened considerably there since 2012 so the variety of positions and opportunities in general doesn’t compare with China or some other markets currently.
If you’re dreaming of being flung into the thrill of a totally new culture, each country has something to offer, but consider moving outside a big city to have a fuller experience. However if moving to the countryside and being the only foreigner in a smaller area is a bit daunting, a mid-range city can offer the best of both worlds in terms of a social life, cultural experience, and maybe having the option of home comforts available from time to time.
Prepare your Papers
Once you’ve decided on a destination, the job hunt and visa process can begin – but don’t make the mistake of waiting until you find a job to start putting together your documents. Each country will have its own specific visa requirements, so find out from the team here at Teachers for Asia what you will need. Most countries now require a criminal background check – apply for this straight away as it’s usually the longest step of the process and the check will also need to be apostilled (legalized) for some locations (including China and South Korea).
Your teaching certifications, degree, or TEFL certificate (each country differs on what’s needed) will need to be in English (I had to have mine translated from Latin to English), and may need to be officially authenticated (this is now the case for China as well South Korea). Prepare for the costs of these steps – depending on your government’s fees and what exactly you will need to do; you may need up to a couple of hundred euro to cover everything here.
Always keep copies of your documents at hand – you never know when you will be asked to produce another apostilled copy of your degree, for example. Be aware yourself of visa requirements, and make sure that every step is followed through; this information is available online on the Embassy / Foreign Affairs website of every country. Always keep a copy of your contract and be responsible for what both parties agree to; these are details which are easy to forget, but you can save yourself considerable stress or bad fortune by being a little particular about the paperwork.
Talk to Teachers
When it comes to recruiters, blogs and everything else in between, it can seem like everything you could possibly want to know is online; but be aware that some people offer advice from a different point of view to your own, or want to influence you in some way. I couldn’t believe when I started working in Thailand how incorrect some of the advice that I read on blogs was, or how easily some people fell into a trap of a bad employer in Korea, for example. Ask the school or recruiter to put you in touch with a current or former foreign teacher in the school if possible; it’s the best way to ease any concerns you have, check what the working schedule is really like, and find out if everything is ok with pay and general working conditions. They should also be able to advise you on life outside school too; what activities there are and any cultural etiquette which will ease your transition and possibly save you from some awkward situations down the line.
If you can’t get in touch with a teacher from the school check out Facebook for foreigner groups from the area; a local contact will have invaluable advice which no amount of blogs will beat.
Embrace the Culture
This is the most important piece of advice we can offer – dive head first into the culture wherever it is you end up. Eat the food, make local friends, try new hobbies, read up on the history, and learn some of the language. The more you give, the more you will get back, and then some. I’ve seen so many foreigners who cling too much to their English-speaking friends, or order the item on the menu with eggs “because that seems safe”, or struggle to even read the menu a year or two into living in the same spot.
Trust us; be brave and put yourself out there, and you’ll have an unforgettable experience which may possibly change your life forever. You don’t need to attend classes every night of the week and live off grasshoppers to achieve this either; just make an effort to be aware of and grateful to the country which is providing you with a new experience and a means to do it, because you’ll be appreciated so much more and forgiven for the inevitable cultural faux-pas that happen to every expat at some point in their careers. Accept the fact that at times it will be difficult, and things will be thrown at you that you never expected or don’t know how to deal with. However if you’re open-minded and a bit flexible, these moments will fade into the background. You’ll soon learn to navigate your new surroundings, and a year abroad could quite easily turn into a new home.