What countries have you taught English in?
I have been employed to teach in Germany and Japan, I also volunteered to teacher train (as well as teaching myself) in India and I’ve taught German in England, Wales and Australia.
Can you give a summary of the teaching jobs you had?
In India, I was teaching in a really rural area, on a farm, in a village, an hour outside of New Delhi. I was working as part of a volunteering programme to help teach locals how to improve education in rural areas, so technically I was teaching adults, but really I was mostly leading by example so, I was also teaching the children from 2 – 18. I taught from 8am-1pm and then from 4-6pm. Teaching hours weren’t strict though and if I was feeling sick I could turn up an hour late or whatever. I only worked there for a month so no vacations but we got the weekends free to explore.
In Germany, I was teaching in a village half an hour outside of Frankfurt. I say village but it still had plenty of amenities banks, restaurants etc. I was teaching high school age from 10-18. It was a Haupt/Realschule which means that the kids were unable to go to university after high school, but instead would go to trade schools or into employment. I taught 12 lessons a week, always had a 3 day weekend, and didn’t have to be in school when I wasn’t teaching, meaning that I often came to school for just 2 hours and then went home. This was alongside the many weeks vacation Germans have. The base salary for the scheme I did is 800€ a month, which is just enough to get by on (just). But I did this as part of my year abroad and so got all the student loans and Erasmus grant besides, meaning I spent the whole year travelling and I saved up enough money for 3 months in Australia at the end of it.
At the moment, I live in Saga city and I commute 15 minutes by train to a Junior High School in a smaller town. I teach about 600 students between the ages of 12-15 and 2 special needs classes (which are my favourite). I teach around 18 – 20 classes a week but unlike Germany I have to stay in school when I don’t have lessons. I arrive in school at 8:10am and leave at 4:30pm. It’s much longer hours and days but the pay is a lot more. I’ll be honest in that I don’t know what I earn (as it doesn’t really bother me) but after bills I think I have about ¥200,000 ~ ¥250,000 (US$2,200 to $2,750) which leaves plenty of money to save. However, I don’t have the time to spend it. I still travel but just in the holidays (2 weeks, Christmas and Spring, 6 weeks for summer) and the numerous 3 day weekends that the national holidays here provide.
Can your provide an overview of your salary relative to cost-of-living in each country?
I am pretty good with money it has to be said. In India I was earning nothing, but then again things cost nothing. For the month I spent out £200 but that includes going to see the Taj and staying in nice hotels etc. I didn’t pay for food or accommodation while I was teaching.
In Germany, I only spent the 800€ as part of my life in Germany and then I booked flights, trains and holiday money out of my Erasmus grant money. Rent and bills came to around 400€ for my massive 1 bed flat, and then I had 100€ a week spending money. I only spent about 20€ a week on groceries, the rest I spent on going out, travel, clothes etc. Other people constantly dove into their grant budget and had no money left at the end of the year.However, I had £6,000 saved by the time I left the country. £2,000 of which I spent on Australia.
Again I know I am terrible but I don’t know how much my rent in Japan is, somewhere around ¥40,000 ~ ¥45,000 (US$440 – $495) a month and I live in a shoebox, however, my shoebox is in the city centre, compared to the German village. I spend around ¥2,500 (US$28) a week on groceries though other people tend to spend ¥4,000 (US$44). I don’t really buy clothes or anything, but I do eat out (which here is cheap ¥500 ~¥1,000 (US$5.50 – $11) per meal). Bills however are expensive and inevitable. I again spend less monthly than most ¥2,000 (US$22) each for my phone and electric (I don’t have internet on my phone) ¥4,000 (US$44) for gas (I like baths), ¥2,000 (US$22) on national health and the biggest kicker ¥15,000 (US$165) into my pension (which is compulsory) you can claim this back however, if you leave before 4 years. I can (and have) lived on only ¥110,000 in a month (US$1210) (almost exactly like Germany), and I did this living as I desired, though again I spend less than most. So I guess that means that really you can easily save ¥100,000 if you want to. You can obviously easily blow it too, as going out for a night out is EXPENSIVE you can easily spend ¥10,000 (US$110) in one night. Luckily, I don’t do that often but I do spend a lot on karaoke.
Can you give a quick overview of what you liked and disliked about teaching in each country?
In India, the children were so eager to learn, and I loved the laid back atmosphere of the place, that it was easy to say that you couldn’t come to school if you couldn’t. Bad sides were the sweltering heat and let’s just say it the constant diarrhoea. I also didn’t like how some of the people I saw treated other less fortunate people, but I guess that is just the culture. Mainly I felt that we were forced to go to nice hotels and take taxis (out of our pockets) etc. where as I would have rather lived in a little bit more normal digs, but the scheme I was on was quite controlling.
In Germany, I loved the easiness and cheapness of travel, the miniscule working hours, and the general culture. Even now I find myself being like “In Germany ….”. Bad points were definitely organisation, I was never told anything. Sometimes whole classes changed around, or school would be closed one day and I was just expected to know despite no one informing me. They also left me alone a lot without a supply. I would only find out I was meant to teach alone (with no lesson plan) when I turned up to lesson and the other teacher didn’t. I taught some pretty badly behaved kids, fights and racial slurs, which I had to break up personally. This, however, was just my school, most people didn’t have this experience.
In Japan, the kids are wonderfully behaved and well mannered. I also get really good training here. Organisation is excellent, I always know what they want me to do ahead of time, and everyone at school is really pleasant and helpful. I also love the country; I think Japan is definitely my favourite. Bad points? Well while long working hours doesn’t bother me so much (this is real life after all) 6am wake up calls do, I sleep a lot and so my bedtime rarely makes it to the darker side of 9pm. I don’t get as much time to travel, and there is a lot of bureaucracy (and faxing) which can drive you up the wall. Also as I don’t speak Japanese very well, I have to get people to read my mail for me etc, though we know this is my own fault. People have often complained that in Japan their colleagues won’t talk to them (or even try) and just treat them like a piece of the furniture, but I didn’t find this at all. Everyone was very welcoming to me, again I guess it depends on the school.
Do you have a TEFL or CELTA certification?
I have an online TEFL from a not so reputable company that I got on Groupon for £65(US$103). It’s 120 hours. Less than that and people don’t count it
Is certification necessary to find employment in those countries?
No. I basically got it so I could be like “Look, I have one.” But by the time I got it I already had a years worth of teaching experience in Germany, which I personally feel is worth more than any TEFL certificate. Some places ask for one, but I think if you have enough experience it becomes irrelevant.
In India, previous teaching experience was required. In Germany, a high level of German proficiency was required and in Japan, I needed a degree (of any class or subject). But never a TEFL certificate.
How did you find your jobs?
India was a scheme for a charity which was run through my University, and so I first saw it advertised in an e-mail which came through the Uni system.
Germany I did as part of my year abroad and in the UK, it is pretty standard to send people through the British Council scheme. Though you don’t have to be at University to apply, students are given priority. Again my University sorted me out with my forms.
Japan I knew I wanted to go to Japan, and so I started looking around online for placements. I work for Interac and I found the position advertised on (you guessed it) my University’s careers newsletter. I also found other positions such as Aeon (for business teaching) and things like EPIK (for Korea). My cousin told me about the JET programme (her university emailed her) which is popular here. However, I’m glad I went private as the salary doesn’t matter to me, and private ALTs get much more vacation time.
I’m currently applying to a homestay teaching position in China for a few weeks over the summer which I again found through my University’s Careers newsletter (which I still receive and read despite graduating and having a job.) Even if you don’t go to a Uni you can still check out their careers website in some cases or if you’ve graduated you can still look at your old one. I have found so many jobs and placements through this service, I can’t recommend it more.
I guess the best advice in general is keep an eye out. I find most of the positions I apply for just from random emails I’m sent or simple things like looking on twitter. I would definitely advise people to make a twitter account and follow all the companies they are interested in as they often advertise positions.
Did any of the schools provide accommodations or pay for your travel expenses?
In India, my visa, flights, food and accommodation were all provided for me by my University who sponsor the charity I was working for.
In Germany, only a 3 day training course was provided for free. But my school did help me find local accommodation, and I stayed (for free) at a teachers house until I found somewhere.
In Japan, I think my flights are reimbursed when I complete my contract though I’m not 100% sure on that. My travel costs to and from school are covered as well as any travel costs I have coming to and from training sessions. Training is also free and there are regular meetings to keep you up to date with new techniques which are great. I had to pay for my visa but it was only about £26(US$41) I think.
Were your work visas arranged in advance for all three jobs?
In India, I believe I was on a tourist visa, which my University arranged and paid for before I arrived. I guess it was tourist because I was volunteering and wasn’t paid.
In Germany, I didn’t need a work visa as I live in the EU.
In Japan, my company sent me all the forms, etc. to fill out for the visa, and took me through the process which was long. They sorted the Japan half of things, but I had to go to London myself to process and pay for it. Because I graduated so late and it takes 8 weeks to process a work visa from start to finish (beginning with sending loads of forms and documents to Japan) I ended up coming to Japan in the middle of the school term, but I still found a placement from someone who was leaving. I know people have come to Japan on a tourist visa and started work, which is technically illegal, but is done. You have to leave Japan in order to process the work visa though.
What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English abroad?
Ignore what other people say about which destinations are good/bad and go with what your heart tells you. Go where you really want to be. It’s location, location, location and you’ll never be happy in the wrong place. Go where you feel YOU want to go, and ignore all the haters. Also ignore those who say that you are running away, or that you can’t settle down if you teach abroad. TEFL can be a genuine career if you want it to be or a break if you want that too. People keep asking me when I’m coming back to settle in Britain and it’s quite hard to get through to them that I’m not.
Follow My Journey – Feel free to send me an e-mail and ask me any questions.
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