Lively kids at the orphanage in Cambodia.

Teaching ESL off the beaten path in Asia

You won’t be making the big bucks here but you’ll be seeing the countries develop and you’ll be helping them build the next generation into a force to be reckoned with. What do I mean? Consider that the Asian continent has more than a billion people, that’s a lot mouths to feed and one way to feed them is to do business with the West. With the places listed below, you’ll often be making enough to live comfortably within the country but may not be able to save very much. The requirements for some positions are a university degree and a TEFL certificate BUT don’t let that stop you from looking around and passing out your resume. The jobs often listed online will have a certain set of requirements but if you show up in person, you’re better than a promissory email. That being the case, some of the countries below offer TEFL certification either for a cheap price or in combination with your work.

Dave’s ESL job list has shown an increase in jobs in Myanmar. As the country modernizes and opens itself up to tourists, folks they are going to need to learn English. The British Council runs one school, though there are a few others, mostly in Yangon and Mandalay. Setting something up beforehand will save you a trip to do a visa run, but unless you’ve been to Myanmar before, you won’t know what the country is like. Another option is to volunteer. Due to the impoverished situation of many of the locals, children get abandoned and live in orphanages. If you’re willing to commit a few months with minimal compensation, teaching in an orphanage could be a test of your English teaching abilities. one organization that was recommended to me was Jobs aside, Myanmar holds great promise since it is one of the last countries in the world to begin modernizing itself. That comes with a cost, however, as some folks say that despite it’s impoverished people, the prices are similar to that in Singapore. In any event, it’s an untapped country in many ways and it would be a true adventure to see this country now and then visit it again in 10 years.


Lively kids at the orphanage in Cambodia.

Lively kids at the orphanage in Cambodia.

Prepare your heart strings to get pulled in this country as the devastation caused by the Pol Pot regime came only after the country was bombed during the Vietnam war. It seemed the country just couldn’t catch a break and the bombs kept falling and land mines filled the fields. To this day, land mines permeate arable farmland and cause numerous casualties each year. Warnings aside, Cambodia is a country you will either love or hate. The younger generation has only heard about the damage done, but the older generation lived through it. As a result, you might detect a difference in attitude towards foreigners in different age groups. What’s clear, however, is that the people are optimistic and eager to improve their situation. One of the ways they can do this is by learning a second, or even a third, language. I worked in an orphanage, SFODA (Sacrifice Families and Orphans Development Association), for three weeks around the Khmer new year in April. I found the kids highly sociable and fun-loving, eager to learn and participate in class. I had a class of about 20 students, ranging from 4 to 19. I was brought there mainly to teach while other volunteers (if there were any) would also help out with caring for the kids. I went through an agency to get my placement but, as I would find out once I got to Cambodia, you can find lots of places in need to help simply by asking your guesthouse or looking through the classifieds in one of the English new papers. If you’re looking to make money, you can do that to by freelancing. When I was there most teachers were charging about $10 an hour. Not for the faint of heart, but you’ll be glad you went. Some folks I met went through the Peace Corps, though there are other agencies you can go through that often ask for some money so they can place you. Use your judgment, for many of these countries an agency can be helpful but not necessary. As a final word of caution, I met one lady who worked for this orphanage, which was recently closed because of corruption.

IMAG8447This mixed Buddhist and Islamic country is similar in nature to Thailand. Kuala Lumpur offers the big city lights, while Pulau Penang on the West coast offers small island life and the Perhentian Islands off the East coast offer some of the best diving spots in the world. Remember, however, you’re here to work not just play! With the tropical weather and ease of life among an eclectic mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian, you’d be surprised that you could actually find a job teaching English here since so many of its inhabitants already can speak very well. The British Council runs a school but there are quite a few private institutes that need English teacher. Don’t restrict yourself to the mainland, however, as Borneo can offer a very different experience. Some say Malaysia is “expensive” compared to its neighbours, but I found that it depended on what you did. If it’s drinking, yes, Malaysia is more expensive, but accommodation and activities are all similar in price through Thailand and Malaysia. Again, it depends on where you want to be, as Malaysia doesn’t pop into mind when folks think about SE Asia. That being case, the Malaysian government is revving up its marketing engine to attract businesses and tourists with its 1Malaysia and Visit Malaysia 2014 campaigns and a push to draw more international and multinational companies to the capital by 2020.

Row of Sitting BuddhasIf there’s one place that just about everybody wants to go, it’s Thailand. The affordable bloody cheap cost of living combined with gorgeous scenery, Western amenities and adventure travel all contained in one elongated country. This is Thailand. While reverently holding their King in their hearts and minds, they welcome foreigners with open arms and smiles. Although you can snag contract jobs with various private institutes and international schools, you can also find work in smaller towns or areas off the banana pancake-trail. Remuneration isn’t much, $1000, though some jobs will offer you other benefits, but it’s enough to live comfortably and enjoy a decent standard of living. Further, if you’re like many of the foreigners moving to SE Asia, you probably have an idea to work online, a la Digital Nomad style. Since so many people visit Thailand, you may want to gain some experience to back up your qualifications (if you have them). Other than that, freelancing is an option, though it might take you a few months building up the necessary client list to support yourself in the country. Try for listings.

This small Islamic, monarch-controlled country boasts huge reserves of oil and natural gas making it one of the richest countries in the world. It’s probably best to see what the recruiters have to say about working in this country since work visas and permits can be difficult to obtain without sponsorship. It’s not a very big country but the demand for English is there and landing a job may depend heavily on your experience and qualifications.


Idyllic beaches along the coast of Bali.

Idyllic beaches along the coast of Bali.

Spreading itself over an almost impossible number of islands with the fourth largest population in the world, Indonesia is divided. The west, primarily Islamic, booms while the east, primarily Hindu, lags behind. But the Indonesian government now offers some nationalities a working holiday visa wherein you can work and travel in the country for up to a year. In any event, Jakarta (estimated population of just over 10 million people) is probably your best best bet in regard to finding employment. A city teeming with energy, the city attracts many students from the villages. Salaries aren’t very large and the usual benefits are included in the contracts, but understand that the medical system and contract system in Indonesia a little behind western standards. Further, some employers have been known to hold onto foreign teachers’ passports for the duration of the contract. Indonesia may be one of those countries you want to visit first before committing to any contract. That being the case, most folks prefer Yogyakarta to the nation’s capital, so you might want to look there instead. Bali was home to a few folks who were working online for a company called English Town. If you aren’t too concerned about making money, there are a few volunteer organizations that would love to have someone teach a few lessons or stay for a few months, Sekolah Menengah Atas Unggulan CT Foundation was recommended to me. It is based in Medan, Sumatra, but I’ve never gone through them.

And now you have an introductory guide to finding ESL jobs in Asia. The continent is booming and the demand for English is practically insatiable. That being said, things could change very quickly so get there while you can. You’ll broaden your mind, open your eyes, and gain valuable work and travel experience while having fun along the way. Good luck, have fun, and be safe!

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