Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Korea vs. Taiwan vs. Japan vs. Hong Kong vs. China

Teaching English Asia
Teaching ESL in Asia
There are an outrageous amount of choices when it comes to choosing a country to teach ESL in.  And they all have their advantages and disadvantages.  Take my advice for what's it worth, since I've only ever taught in Korea BUT I have traveled to all of the above countries for as least a few days.

Things I like about Korea:

1. The free airfare (in general if you work at a hagwon or public school).

2. The free housing.  This is the case for almost all jobs.

3.  Money saving potential.  Tax and health care expenses are very low.  You can save 80% of your salary here if you are thrifty.  And starting salaries are not so shabby.  If you like to eat, drink and travel around, it's cheap and you can do that every night and every weekend and still save 50% of your salary. 

4. The ease of getting a job.  For a hagwon, just a phone interview will usually suffice.  Of course, you have to jump through all the hoops for immigration, including criminal background checks and interviews and stuff.  But there are more jobs than applicants usually. 

Things I don't like:

1. The stares.  You are like a zoo animal/celebrity here, unless of course you look Asian.  People always staring, always wanting to talk to you on the subway and say hello.  It's fun at first but old after a while.  Seoul is not so bad as the countryside, to be fair.

2. How weird of a place it is.  And actually I kind of like it.  Korean culture is way, way, way, way different from anything in the West and some foreigners just can't adapt to it.  I can and have, which is maybe why I've been here for 5 years.  And it seems that those can adapt reap the rewards with jobs (such as mine!) that are amazingly sweet. 

3. The difficulty in making Korean friends.  I've only had 2 sincere, good friends here in my 5 years.  Maybe I have some sort of defect, but to be fair, this often seems to be the case with foreigners.  I think Koreans have a very hard time thinking outside their Korean box and outside of their own Confucian circle of family/coworkers/classmates and just don't know how to interact with foreigners.  Maybe it's me who doesn't know how to interact with Koreans.  Whatever. 

4. You are tied to your school for one year by way of your visa.  It's like indentured servitude if your school is crap.  Everyone gets ripped off here at some point.  And the government has a kind of toothless labor board to "help you."  I can tell you from experience that's basically worthless.  Buyer (or  foreign worker) beware. 

Anyway, other countries all have their good and bad.

Japan: you own your visa, which means you can switch jobs easily.  The bad is how expensive it is, and how much you have to watch your money.  Also, it's not so easy to get a job there but check out this guide to teaching in Japan for some tips.

Taiwan: is a very chilled out place.  No stares or weirdness in dealing with foreigners.  The bad: no free rent or airfare.  And the hourly pay is only okay.  Check out this Teaching Adventure in Taiwan.

Hong Kong: I loved it.  For sure the most Westernized place in all of Northeast Asia.  Amazing.  But again, not so easy to get a job there.   If I was a certified teacher though, I'd be all over their NET program.  Check out Culture Shock Hong Kong to learn the do's (and don'ts) before you go.

China: More of the wacky, "There's a foreigner" kind of thing.  And the pay for now is not comparable to the other places listed.  And the air.   It really is polluted, as least in Beijing.  And coming back to Korea was like a breath of fresh air, which says a lot. But hey, you want culture, it's all there.  In abundance.  And learning Chinese actually has the potential to be a valuable life and career skill for you.

For my thoughts on the best places to teach ESL in the world, financially speaking, check out: The Wealthy English Teacher: Teach, Travel, and Secure Your Financial Future.

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