Tag Archives: asia

Final notes on applying for jobs

If possible, contact the job directly instead of a recruiter.  The recruiter is a middleman who provides very little real value but has incentives to lie.  Not all do, but generally, try to find a school yourself.  In China, echinacities.com is a excellent site for that, they have China news and guides too.  Seriousteachers.com is great for China and other countries.  Dave’s ESL is the classic site, specializing in Korea but also China, the Middle East, and anywhere.  Websites can be very country specific.  In Taiwan, tealit.com is a good place.  Japan has their own sites as well: http://www.ohayosensei.com.  Eslteachersboard.com is a great site, not only do they have jobs, they have forums for people to say which schools are good or bad.  Other job boards that have forums like that are heavily censored.  Checking out a school is very important.  There’s a lot of scammers out there who won’t pay you or lie about working conditions.  Some just suck to work at.  When talking to a school, whether online or in person, ask to speak to current teachers alone.  This will tell you more than anything about the school.  Make sure they’re not just managers posing as teachers.  Checking out the school online is good too of course, but in my years of experience, I’ve learned that online reviews need to be taken with a big grain of salt.  People are far more likely to post something negative than positive.  Some of the people who go out of their way to post seem halfway crazy, or just intensely angry about something.  I’ve read reviews for schools that I had worked for and been amazed.  When reading the review, does it pass the smell test?  Does it sound plausible or like some angry person trying to smear a school’s reputation?  Look for specifics!  Are they posting a list of vague adjectives and insults, or specific actions?  Try to find recent reviews.  Schools can change, and it might even be a different school with the same name.  Even schools that have branches may have wildly different working conditions.

The job hunt can vary a surprising amount by country.  In some places (South Korea) it’s almost impossible to get a job by visiting on a tourist visa and then visiting schools in person and changing your visa in country.  This is by design, the Koreans got sick of backpacker teachers.  In other places (Vietnam), the opposite is true.  A few schools advertise online (ILA has a reputation for preferring to hire teachers from abroad and not those already in Vietnam), but most don’t.  You have to go there in person and apply, oftentimes doing a demo.  Most places are in the middle though.  More and more, all countries are moving toward the first model, mainly due to visa constraints.  The last few years have seen regulations tighten up everywhere, it’s getting harder and harder to just fly in and start looking for a job.  China has gone this way.  If you arrive on a tourist visa and get a job, you have to leave the country, or at least go to Hong Kong, to get a work visa.  Arriving on a tourist visa and just looking for jobs on foot can cost you serious time and money, but it has the advantage of being able to check things out before you get there.  There are more than a few scammers and bad bosses out there.  Being able to talk to current teachers away from prying ears is a huge plus.  If you must find your first job online though, ask for three current foreign teachers’ emails and phone numbers.  If they refuse or the contact info seems suspicious, you just saved yourself some serious trouble.  Taiwan still seems to be more like Vietnam than Korea in this regard.  But it depends on location and the type of job.  For better jobs, jobs teaching more than ESL, and jobs up north, applying from abroad is more common.  Of course once you land in the country you can start checking out places to work for next year.

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The first job hunt part 2: My experience in Vietnam

In 2009 I moved to Vietnam. I stayed over four years. Before, when I worked in a country, I’d hear about the golden age of teaching there. When work was plentiful and anyone could survive and thrive in the market. When I entered Vietnam, that’s how it was. Jobs everywhere, paying a shockingly high wage despite how poor the country was, and things were cheap. Visas were easy too. If mine was about to expire, I’d just hand it into my school three days beforehand and tell them to get me a new six-month visa, the cost was deducted from my salary. Those days are over though. Around Tet New Year (it always happens then), the authorities decided there were too many foreigners making money. So overnight, with no warning, prices on visas went up and regulations went way up. I couldn’t just get a new six-month visa like that. I had to go through a long, expensive process of getting my degree notarized, getting a criminal background check, and more just to get a work visa. Many, many teachers had to leave. Others had to make visa runs to Cambodia every couple months. Jobs are still there, but foreign teachers flooded in and the economy had some problems, so the golden age is over.

This was also my first time living in a third world country. For those of you who haven’t before, you can’t totally understand it until you live there. I remember when I was there, international sites had some videos of traffic in Vietnam. Go on youtube and check it out, that’s what I experienced every day. Rivers of motorbikes flowing down the street, making sudden turns, tailgating, driving on the sidewalk. When you’re standing on the edge of the road and you see a river or motorbikes with no gaps coming, how do you cross the road? Just walk. They’ll all drive around you. But doing it the first time is incredibly scary. The only thing the police do over there is pull people over to fish for bribes. Bathrooms can be vile. Don’t talk on your phone when you walk down the road! You’ll get mugged. If you rent a place, the owner will feel comfortable just poking around your place when you’re not there. Yeah, there’s a lot of things I miss too. It’s a crazy place. But for those who’ve never been to the third world, you can’t really know how you’ll feel there.

The first job hunt: part 1

Young Westerners going to Asia today have opportunities, but not as many as there were a decade ago. There are still many ways to make good money and have a good career. Getting a good understanding of the lay of the land will help though. Kinds of jobs and numbers of jobs and requirements for jobs varies quite a bit by country and over time. When researching things, try to find recent info. I’ve read some blogs and other websites describing job markets that I knew were totally off. I will tell you what I have experienced in Asia, trying to stay specific. I started in South Korea, teaching in a public school, I was hired through GEPIK. I hated it. Classes were huge, I was given virtually no training or books to use, my co-teacher and principal were bitches, and at least half the class would scream at me while I tried to teach. Korea has a bad reputation amongst English teachers, and the Koreans work hard to earn that reputation. They’re perpetually angry, demanding, and have a reputation for not paying you. I’ll admit the country has advantages. It’s first world (for those of you who’ve never stepped out of North America or Europe, you don’t know how crazy the third world can get) and the pay is good. If you’re in the Seoul area, there are things to see, good public transport, and other foreigners around. I was there in 2007, I don’t think it’s changed enormously since then.

After that, I wanted to work in Japan. Japan’s cool, right? It is a cool place, but not easy to work in. The English job market is old and therefore developed. Those who have jobs there don’t want to give them up. The number of positions aren’t increasing either, for demographic reasons. If you look online, most places require you to already be in Japan or even already have a work visa. Some don’t, but they usually have other requirements. If you have special credentials, give it a try. One big disadvantage is the amount of money you need to start there. It can be a few or even several thousand dollars. No school gives you an apartment, and the deposit is not small either. You’ll have to fly in and survive by yourself until your first paycheck.

I heard things were good in Taiwan. So I went to Kaohsiung after that. I worked there for a year (2008) and absolutely loved the place. Taiwanese people are friendly and polite, everything is cheap but of good quality. The countryside is beautiful and easily accessible from the city, and the city itself is green and pleasant. There’s a surprising amount to explore on the island. When I lived there first, it was easy to find work. With everything being real cheap, life was easy. No experience no qualifications ESL work has dried up though. When I went back to visit a year ago I almost didn’t see any young English teachers like before. Like anywhere, there is work available, but it’s not easy to get. When I lived there, I lived in Kaohsiung, down south. Most of the work seems to be in the north these days, in the area around Taipei. I remember when I lived there talking to all the young English teachers. I met Canadians who would enter on a tourist visa and overstay it by years just working illegally. I met others who would come in and went to some public school in a small town, the principal was just happy to have any foreign teacher there, he wouldn’t get too agitated about papers.

First lesson: General behavior in your classroom

1. Be active, open, happy, interactive, with quick reflexes.
One of the biggest things, especially at the kind of ESL jobs that teachers almost always begin in, is keeping students engaged and happy to be with you, especially for kids. I know in my case this took a while because I had to change my general character. I am an introvert. But even people like us can engage with others. We oftentimes have a lot of stuff bottled up. As long as we don’t have to teach all day long, an introvert can be just as effective as an extrovert because of this. But it takes a willingness to change and some practice.

When I am in the classroom, I am always moving around. It’s better to move with a purpose but failing that, just pacing to match the energy level you’re at or walking around the desks keeps students interested. It’s good to use body language when teaching, but try to make it have a purpose. Just waving your hands around without reason may just confuse students. Some kinds of body language are obvious: making a face to show an emotion or moving your hands up and down to show higher and lower. But you can also explain things by telling a story, talking as you act it out. Then, when you want to see if students can guess or remember something, do the action without saying it, ask who can say it.

Eye contact matters a surprising amount. If you’re speaking to one student, of course look in their eyes. But even when I’m talking to the class I don’t look at the board or above their heads, I look one student in the eyes a few seconds, then let my gaze move to another. Try to get everyone more or less equally. This will have a powerful unconscious effect on students. They will feel that you care about them, will stay more interested in the lesson, and be more emotionally invested in class. It will also have a positive effect on classroom discipline.

Who is this blog for?

By nature I’m not good at teaching. I studied physics and math in college. I didn’t feel the strong need to talk a lot, interact, or stay physically active. So my teaching career did not start out well. The fact that schools typically give little or no training did not help. But my general comportment was a very big factor. I rarely connected with students and was fired from many jobs. I still have problems that I am working on, but my success has changed enormously in the classroom.

In some ways, this is better for you to read about than a teacher who’s always been very successful in the classroom. They may be just a natural who has trouble articulating how they do well, or even understanding what it is that they’re doing that helps them succeed. They lack perspective. This is a blog for new teachers.  Too many blogs have tips and tricks meant for already established teachers.  This is for those of you who have little to no foundation to work with.