Some people spend their entire lives searching for their purpose in this world. Although I have ventured down other career paths, I always find myself back at the same conclusion. I was born to be a teacher and have an innate passion for education. However, the American education system fails to pay teachers a livable wage. Many teachers choose to teach English abroad to help them get out of debt.
The Struggle of Student Debt
Any college student can tell you that a good education does not come cheap. My scholarships and financial aid covered a large portion of my tuition. However, I was still left with a large amount of debt to settle each semester. I had no desire to take out more loans, so I worked several part-time jobs and pushed myself to graduate early.
I also had the unfortunate luck of graduating the same year as the mortgage crisis. Being a part of the so-called “unluckiest generation” meant we were plagued with the burden of student debt, high unemployment rates, and slow economic growth. I received a few job offers after graduation, but nothing that offered much hope to get out of debt. The teaching jobs were in the worst school districts and the salaries were on par with fast food workers. There was no possible way I could afford my rent working a single job, let alone build savings.
The Teaching Path Less Traveled
I sought advice from my mentors and family, unsure which direction to go. I ultimately decided that it was not in my best interest to accept such a low paying job. Rather than working a full-time teaching job and continuing my part-time side work, I chose to enroll in a graduate program abroad. While this meant accruing more debt in my pursuit of higher learning, I was able to finish my master’s degree in only two years at a fraction of the cost. My post-graduate degree also opened a myriad of doors that led me to other opportunities I had not even considered.
In my final months, I met some foreign exchange students who planned to use their diplomas to teach English abroad. We were all disenchanted with the unfulfilled promises of a college degree. The prospect piqued my interest, but the opportunity, salaries, and benefits packages seemed too good to be true. I had no desire to return to the United States to work a minimum wage job or live in my parents basement. I returned home with a sense of cautious optimism and a burgeoning plan.
Teach English Abroad
I spent months comparing job offers in Latin America, Europe and Asia. I agonized over my decision before I realized it was time to stop dreaming and make it a reality. Ten years later, I can tell you that it was the best financial decision I have ever made. While some postings are definitely better on paper, many ESL jobs offer competitive wages, free accommodations, flight reimbursements, and national health care.
By comparison, Asia offers the highest salaries with the lowest cost of living. This means you can maximize your savings and pay off your debts without resorting to a diet of instant noodles or a life of social hermitage. I was personally able to pay off all my credit card debts and student loans in my first year living in Taiwan, and have built a healthy nest egg that has allowed me to start planning for a more comfortable future.
Where to Start
The starting salaries for teaching English abroad differ from country to country. Graduate degrees and certifications also secure better pay. Currently, the highest paying jobs for English teachers are in Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. The best paying teaching positions will likely take you to exotic and remote locales, but there are still decent positions in popular tourist destinations like Thailand and Vietnam. Some countries in the Middle East even offer contracts that pay up to $80,000 for only nine months of work if you are brave enough to travel there.
It was a difficult decision to teach abroad, but for me it provided the keys to my financial freedom. Many English teachers only spend a year or two before returning home to find employment, but I have chosen to make a career of teaching English overseas. I have been able to pay off all my debts, save nearly $1,000 each month, have affordable health care and am rarely required to work more than 30 hours each week. While this may not be an ideal solution for everyone, it provided a clear path out of debt and helped me gain control of my life and finances.
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Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist, and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad had strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. While most of her time is dedicated to either working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food, and new adventures.