The future of Thailand’s youth is in my hands – mwahahaha!
Okay, so maybe that’s a little serious, but to a degree its true. They are allowing me, a non-degree-holding person to teach English without a college degree. There’s a pun in there somewhere.
When I first looked into traveling abroad, the most common way of funding your travels, or creating a life for yourself in another country, is to teach English. “Well that should be easy enough” I thought. I speak it every day, I had to learn it myself at one point, and I feel I have a thorough grasp of how to make the English language my bitch.
What isn’t advertised is that you need a college degree to do this. It seems to be assumed that everyone has a degree. The schools themselves aren’t so strict about it, but rather the country. For example, to get a working visa in China, you need a college degree. To be employed in Japan as a non-Japanese citizen you need a college degree. Luckily, I can tell you how to teach English without a college degree.
There are plenty of sketchy services that offer to forge the paperwork for you, or give you a fake degree. It should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: do not do this. I considered it for 0.68 seconds–for an Android, that is nearly an eternity…but I decided against it.
First, being locked up abroad would probably be the worst thing ever. Secondly, who wants to live with the constant fear of being discovered any day now? Thirdly, even if you did manage to calm down and start enjoying your life, it could be ripped away from you at any time.
Since finding ways around rules (not read: breaking laws) is my specialty, I began to explore other options. There had to be another way! I pestered and harassed my traveling heroes. I spent countless hours scouring the depths of the internet, and put out the intention that I would like to be presented with the opportunity to teach.
In a casual conversation with a friend, he mentioned a program to me called Workaway. I took a look at the site and the host lists, debating if I wanted to move forward with paying the $35 lifetime membership fee. There seemed to be a lot of hosts across almost every country in the world – but of course they would make it seem this way for my money, right?
Each host posted a description of the work that they would like done and the compensation offered in exchange. Most of the jobs that I saw offer meals and accommodation in exchange for about 5 hours worth of work per day. The jobs offered varied – from working on farms and child care to being a receptionist at a hostel or teaching English. BINGO!
Why don’t I get paid, as in, money?
Looping back to the conversation about the country itself requiring a degree for you to make money, Workaways are strictly a volunteer operation. Since you’re not getting ‘paid’ the country doesn’t really care what you’re doing.
Most Workaway programs have a minimum amount of time you have to commit to. When it comes to teaching, 4 weeks is typical for the minimum, but many places would let you stay as long as you want!
If [when!] my blog takes off and starts paying its rent, I could teach at this school indefinitely, creating my life in Thailand.
But how would I pay for things like sushi, toilet paper, and beer?
I make my extra money online. Again, it’s not much by American standards but it goes so far in many of the countries that need English teachers. Also, if you ask your Workaway host where you might be able to make some extra money, they will most likely have ideas.
I’ve been doing Tarot readings for money on the side. If you have a skill that offers a service, or could produce a product you could sell, both of those would work. Many night market booths are filled with paintings, drawings, knitted or crocheted items, along with items that have been sewn or crafted- and then there’s me.
I know this part is hard. “What could I do? I don’t have any skills of value.” Believe me, I struggle with this big time. I’ve been reading tarot for 5 years and, still to this day, I don’t feel confident that tarot is something other people would want. I don’t know why; everyone wants it, but I still just can’t seem to believe it.
My advice (that I struggle to take myself lol) is: Just put yourself out there. Total worst case shit-is-fucked scenario, no one wants it, you tried, and now you know. I betcha, though, that if it’s something you invested in learning, and take pride in, you will be able to market it.
Workaway vs. TEFL/TESL
The school that you’re working at will really define the experience. Anywhere you teach, Workaway or not, you’ll need to set healthy boundaries. Teachers worldwide get walked on and taken advantage of all the time. Chicago to Japan, teachers are always being asked for more, more, more!
Disclaimer: I have never worked through one of these programs myself and this is information strictly based on my own research and what I’ve heard from others who have done it. Here are some articles by TeaCake Travels if you’d like to read more about these programs in Vietnam, Thailand or China.
- Benefits (health care, sick days etc)
- Generally well-paid to allow a comfortable style of living
- More secure – often you’re taking on a role as teacher for a full school year
- Can be used universally, not at the mercy of Workaway availability
- Teaching for a full school day
- Put together lesson plans and schedules
- Responsible for grading homework outside of office hours
- Sometimes end up spending some of your own money on classroom supplies
- Have to comply with national classroom standards – test scores etc.
I’m currently teaching at Chiang Saen Academy in Chiang Saen, Thailand. Kids are dicks.
- Less work hours – most Workaway jobs are for half a day or a few hours of tutoring, typically around 5 hours total.
- Meet new friends! Workaway jobs usually have a few teachers at a time rotating through, giving you a great chance to meet people from all over the world!
- More relaxed – many of the schools offering Workaway opportunities are privately run. allowing you more creative freedom in the classroom
- Lesson plans are provided (wait, I thought you just said more freedom?). Generally you’re given a lesson plan that consists of topics – numbers, the alphabet, shapes, colors etc. depending on the grade. How you teach these things is up to you. I prefer games and group activities. I also start my classes with a compliment exchange. A state or country run school is much more regulated.
- Flexible commitment: if you don’t like the school, or want to move to the next city, do your time and move on. If you’re love, love, loving it – stay!
- No out-of-office hours. No homework to grade, none of your personal money being spent on supplies.
- Can be less stable. You’re at the mercy of what’s available – if they’re full up on teachers, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Just plan ahead and this shouldn’t be a problem. I had my teaching gig lined up before I even left my job.
- You don’t get ‘paid’. Since this is volunteer-based and kind of working around the system, they’re not allowed to pay you. Important: look for places that provide room and board.
- Can be a little disorganized. Volunteers are always a little hard to wrangle. Your schedule might be changed, or you show up for school only to find out it’s a national holiday that you didn’t know about. This happened to me on Royal Ploughing day – a holiday marking the beginning of ploughing season. They close school for this!
- Potential for less rewarding relationships with students. If you only teach at a school for a month, it might not be the same emotional reward of having taught them all school year.
Which is right for me?
Frankly, I can’t tell you that – you’ll need to make that decision for yourself. Do your research, ask questions, make a shit-is-fucked plan and GO FOR IT!
Then let me know how it goes. Are you leaning toward one or the other?
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