Sol-Mun Market in Taegu
Nicole Bouvion
This isn't Kansas anymore...Taegu, Korea is one of the many locales available for teachers looking to roam.

Field Trip

The Gig: Teacher

The Work: Yo, long-suffering teachers: fatigued by low pay, crowded classrooms, paltry resources and petty faculty feuds? Why not take it on the road? There are thousands of opportunities out there to ply your craft around the world, for a couple months or a few years. Stints teaching English are especially plentiful — you can do it in Indonesia, Estonia, Costa Rica, Croatia… But there are also opportunities to pursue other curricula. The Fulbright program, for one, sends scholars around the world to teach their specialties at universities, secondary and elementary schools. And, if your politics can handle it, the U.S. Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) hires teachers to instruct kids at military bases everywhere from Iceland, Italy and England to Korea, Japan, and Germany. If government work isn’t your thang, you can hook up with any number of schools, private businesses or non-profits and arrange your own gig. Howard Chaffey, for instance, negotiated his two-year English-teaching stint directly with University of Geosciences in Beijing.

Training/Education/Requirements: Depends on what you’re doing. Qualifications for teaching English range from simply being a native English speaker to having a bachelor’s degree, a TEFL certificate and some teaching experience. Obviously, if you’ll be offering instruction in physics or computer programming, you’ll need some expertise in those areas. Fulbright Awards generally require some pretty sterling academic qualifications. If you want to be a DoDDS teacher, you’ll need the same credentials you would to teach public school in the U.S., including passing the National Teacher Examination (NTE).

The Pay: Salary also varies depending on what kind of program you select, where you’re working and for whom. You may get $10,000 USD a year to teach at a school in Indonesia, for instance, and closer to $40,000 USD to teach in Germany. During his stint in China Howard collected about $200 USD a month plus board and at least one meal a day — plenty to get by on, travel and even save a bit.

Some volunteer programs just cover your room and board, while companies dedicated to teaching businesspeople may dole out some pretty cushy salaries. Fulbrights cover your costs and also provide a fairly generous monthly stipend on top of that — lecturers, for instance, get about $2,400 a month. DoDDS teaching salaries range from about $20,000 to $60,000 depending on your experience and education as well as the type of school — private or public. You also get a housing allowance, moving expenses and sometimes other stipends.

Perks: As a teacher, you get a chance to know at least a handful of locals and to learn about how they live. “I took my younger students on a weekend field trip that was very special, walking around the countryside, talking about growing up and the differences in our countries,” Howard says. And then, he says, there are the travel opportunities. “I was able to travel all over the country (big holidays) and since I had Chinese contacts all around, was able to see lots of stuff most westerners don’t.”
Nicole Bouvion, who spent two years as a DoDDS teacher in Taegu, Korea, says she got an amazing cultural education of her own. She also liked her colleagues. “The base I worked on was quite small, and that created a tight-knit community. That closeness was definitely a great part of the experience. I now have friends for the rest of my life, even though we are scattered all over the world.”

Overseas teaching stints can also offer freedom for teachers accustomed to regulations in their home schools.

Downside: You may find that those teaching tactics that work so well at home don’t always translate, leaving you feeling a bit frustrated and incompetent. Inevitably, you’ll have to negotiate some cultural minefields. And you’ll also confront the challenges inherent wherever you’re teaching, from “big brother"-type practices to endless bureaucracies and the various cultural concepts of time. Finally, if you’re not totally simpatico with your sponsoring agency, you may find yourself forced to teach things that you don’t necessarily think are the most useful or critical topics. Then again, that’s not much different from teaching at home…


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"The sights, sounds and even smells of Korea will stay with me forever. “ — Nicole Bouvion, former DoDDS teacher

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