As it came to the last year of my Masters degree, the job market was looking bleaker than bleak. I’d been studying Journalism, but there were next to no media jobs left in London. Not only in that industry, but ANY jobs in general. And those who did have a job didn’t seem to be getting paid much; my working friends were struggling to even pay the rent with their starter salaries. At weekends, they would scrounge around for loose change to buy drinks.
Escaping the UK for a better life
I knew I wanted more from life and didn’t think I could get it in the UK. The end of my education was coming up fast and I had to make a decision. I’d always dreamed of working abroad, so took a chance.
Why work in China?
China was the obvious choice because my sister had been working there for over a decade. I applied for a job as a teaching assistant for the British School of Beijing. I got the job and was surprised how easy it was – after all, this was a prestigious private school and you didn’t even need a university degree. When my contract came through I couldn’t believe the benefits: rent paid for, health insurance, free flights and, of course, a generous salary. My first thought was ‘why don’t more people do this?’
I was part of a group of new teaching assistants – all in the same situation – so it was great not to feel alone. Stepping off of the plane, I knew I’d made the right decision. Beijing’s airport seemed a world away from grey old London, with hundreds of people bustling around in the tropical heat. A team of teachers picked us up and helped us settle us in. Before we knew it, my new friends and I were exploring the wonders of one of the most rapidly developing cities in the world. It was everything it says in the travel books: bright lights, hundreds of people, traffic, street food, all-night clubs. Not to mention the low prices; taxis only cost £1.50 into town and you could get a meal for 70p. Everyday felt like an adventure.
My first day as an English teacher
Initially I was nervous about entering the classroom. Would I be a good teacher? Would the children like me? What if I make a mistake? Fortunately, it felt natural being around the children and I took a shine to all of them. I learnt so much about the classroom setting and how to deal with all sorts of situations. I never had a boring day, and it was so rewarding watching the children develop and grow under my influence.
Homesickness? What homesickness?
I never regretted moving away from home – I felt just like a character in a novel. Even when I felt a bit homesick, I would just speak to one of my colleagues or Skype my mum and feel instantly better.
My friends back in the UK kept saying how jealous they were, but why weren’t they doing the same thing? As the year went on I decided I didn’t want to come home. Life was just too lavish and exciting to go back to a country with few jobs and high prices. After all, what other graduate could afford massages and manicures every other day?
Next stop – Seoul
I began looking for a new job and was shocked to see just how many opportunities there are for English speakers. If you have a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, your pay is even better! There were jobs in Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, New Zealand – even Paris. I chose a job in Seoul, South Korea, one of the most exciting cities in Asia. The pay is fantastic and I still get all of the benefits from my last job.
It’s so easy to find a job teaching English abroad, and it could offer you one of the best experiences of your life, as well as enhancing your career. I’ve gone from having no teaching qualifications to being an English Language Instructor for an entire school. I had the time of my life in Beijing and have many more adventures to come. Anyone can do it, you just need to take a risk and go for it.
Photo of Great Wall of China by volunteer photographer Hatty James
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Updated on 28-Aug-2014