This is the first in a short series. I plan to write more, including telling those interested how to get started in my field of work.
I haven’t spoken of it before (not that anybody asked), but I work teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) and have done this for more than fifteen years. Anyone who has taught ESL will have eyes wide open at that number because they know most people last just one year, very few last two, and the percent who last five is tiny. Of the hundreds of expatriates I know or know of, less than a score have been abroad for a decade or more.
How did I get started?
Back in 2000, I was underemployed and living paycheque to paycheque at a wretched “rent to own” company. My former college (which will not be named) has a student placement office where current and former students can check job boards. Many were from businesses seeking to recruit recent graduates, so there were often jobs not offered elsewhere.
I didn’t get offers for any of those. What I did get, though, was a copy of “Teach English in Korea!”, a posting from a recruiting company. I had previously applied for teaching jobs in Japan but was rejected because I didn’t meet the Japanese government’s required qualifications. (“Anata wa nihongo o hanashimasu ka?”). I did, however, meet the South Korean government’s requirements. I figured, “What the hell, it’s a new experience and better than where you are,” so I applied. (Thanks, Kris.)
The interview went well and the confirmed hiring me a day later, though I didn’t realize at the time that being a warm bodied native speaker with a white face was enough. (The first time in my life I began to understand privilege.) Within six weeks I had gone from working a dead end job to a passport, plane ticket and my life in two suitcases. The yard sale to sell off everything helped a lot both in load and money.
The next two months were a whirlwind, flying for the first time in my life (I’m still a white knuckle flyer), training, and most shockingly, living in a foreign country where I didn’t know a word of the local language. Thankfully, the Korean hangeul script is dead easy to learn and read.
I’m going to leave it there for the moment because the next point would be another thousand words: What is it like to teach ESL? I’ll save that for another day, preferably tomorrow.