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 even 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, I still get really lost when in Kowloon, but at least I know some people.
Living abroad is probably one of two experiences I can 100% recommend everyone does at least once in their life (the other of course is to eat Chipotle once-a-day for forever), but I know that is unrealistic because life takes people down different paths and journeys. Wit that being said, I usually get about one or two messages a week about people from 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 it is I did to get to Hong Kong, Ukraine (hey, still got a job offer!), and now Poland. I’ll also share some friends blogs that you can read to see how they travel and live abroad as well.
The number one question I get is “what program did you go through to teach in Hong Kong?”. The answer is: none. I didn’t go through a recruitment agency of government program in any of the jobs I have accepted abroad. I went on to Daves 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, its 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 thats the main qualification. In Hong Kong you have to hold 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 a bit 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 a bit less strict on qualifications, where Korea and Japan are going to be a bit tougher.
I have linked some friends FB pages here who have taught/currently teach in Japan, Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Korea. If you’re serious, give them an add and message about some of the living conditions, what to expect while job hunting, and any other tips about living in your desired country.
As for the Poland job, I now work for an International school in Warsaw as a teacher and Marketing Director. I heard 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 to L.A. for a weekend from Sacramento (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 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 Asia 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, back to Hong Kong for cheaper than my flight from Sacramento to Atlanta roundtrip a few years back.
Teaching also gives you the 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 that 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
From the people that message me, the most common reason I hear for not wanting to move right away is that they 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, we take internships or entry-level positions and work our ass off (well I worked at least) to get to the position you’re in and you feel that can all be lost if you spent a few years traveling and being abroad.
But my answer to that 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, then 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!