Why teaching English abroad after graduation was the best decision of my life

The decision to move and teach English abroad was inspired by many sleepless nights leading up to my university graduation. I was earning my BA in behavioral sciences and entirely unsure of what I would do next.

Deciding what to do after graduation.

The list of options was as follows:

  • Apply for graduate school to become a psychologist.
  • Stick with working in the non-profit sector, with the homeless population in Austin.
  • Start applying for any job that sounded fun (hey, I was eager to pay my private school diploma off ????).

Throughout this, I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to just travel for a while, to have some time to work out what my next big decision should be.

Given my student loan predicament, it didn’t seem possible to simply travel without any income, so I began to think about the types of jobs that allow you to travel, earn a decent wage, while still offering fulfillment. The one thing I’ve always known is that I want to spend my days being of service. If I can do that, I know I’ll feel fulfilled.

I’m not the type to jump into anything without first researching all possible outcomes. Despite my desire to be more spontaneous, I just can’t help myself. So, the more I searched for that perfect career the more it kept leading me back to teaching abroad.

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Then, in a most fortuitous turn of events, I landed on the English Program in Korea (EPIK) website late one evening and discovered that I didn’t have to be a certified teacher to teach abroad. In fact, I didn’t have to have anything but the bachelor’s degree that I would soon be receiving.

I began to fill out the very lengthy application form and became quickly overwhelmed. A medical exam, visa paperwork, apostilled documents, oh my.

Taking the first step towards teaching abroad after graduation.

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I would now have to reach out to all of my professors and supervisors and explain that I wouldn’t need a letter of recommendation for graduate school but, for an English teaching job in South Korea. I stopped the application there and left it at that for a while.

But I kept researching ways that I could become a teacher and move abroad while doing so. I discovered a number of recruitment agencies and settled on one that sounded like a good fit for me. The application process was less daunting than with EPIK and helped me decide on a region while breaking the process down into a more manageable step-by-step process.

Meanwhile, I applied to graduate school - well, six schools to be exact! I awaited responses with bated breath and wrapped up my last few weeks of college exams and my thesis.

During many late nights, I would travel, via the internet, to all of the places in the world that I wanted to be that weren’t Austin. I worked on applications for jobs with the recruitment agency I was working with and even started my online TEFL course.

I also watched videos of people who had moved abroad, read their blogs, and through this, finally figured out where I wanted to live and teach abroad.

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Researching the best places to teach English abroad for graduates.

I did initially fall in love with the idea of teaching English Thailand. I thought it seemed like paradise and a place that I could really discover myself and what I was meant to do. However, the more I looked into teaching in Thailand I realized it didn’t actually align with my goals. Although I would be able to teach underserved communities I didn’t think it would provide the right opportunity for me to become a well-trained educator.

After looking into the most desirable and even least desirable options I settled on a country that seemed like my Goldilocks (“just right”) teaching destination. I decided to set my sights on teaching English in South Korea once more, as it was one of the highest-paying countries to teach abroad in, with the most attractive benefits and accommodations. EPIK also provides teachers training and orientation upon arrival, ongoing support and co-teachers to support new teachers in the field.

I ended up applying to EPIK via a recruitment agency, which was helpful in that they secured and managed applications and interviews for me. I don’t know that I have ever been as nervous as I was when someone from the agency told me that I landed an interview with an EPIK school. That was to take place via Skype. With a number of school leaders. Who may or may not speak English. ???? It was late in the evening, give the time difference, so I had a full day to sweat the jitters out.

I read through every potential interview question and memorized my most appropriate responses. I even wrote them down and practiced up until the call came through. I made sure I was wearing a suitable outfit, that nobody could interrupt me and eagerly awaited that incoming Skype call jingle.

Miraculously, I passed the interview and moved on to the second part of the application process! I considered the hard part over (little did I know that packing my entire life into two suitcases lay ahead).

Throughout the entire process, I was incredibly nervous, which told me that this was actually what I wanted to do. When I received the message that I would become an EPIK teacher and was only awaiting which city and school I would teach in, I was elated.

I waited months to find out where I would be placed but, unlike most candidates I really didn’t have a preference. I felt so grateful to even be accepted and had so much hope for the experiences to come, that I knew wherever I ended up would prove to be an amazing adventure.

The traditional start time for EPIK teachers is August but I had a late start, beginning in September. This meant I wouldn’t complete my orientation and training prior to the start of the school year. I would be thrown right in, the day after I arrived. I was placed at a large elementary school in a small rural farming town called Jincheon. I couldn’t find anything about it online at the time (things have changed quite a bit by now). I really didn’t know anything about the school or the town but I knew that whatever I walked into it would be a learning experience.

My advice: When in doubt, teach abroad after graduation!

I could never have imagined that my one year in Jincheon would have been the start of my career teaching (both at home and abroad) as well as a catalyst for world travel that resulted in lifelong friendships.

It truly was the best decision I’ve ever made and has shaped the person that I am today. I would highly recommend such a radical change to anyone interested in learning about a new culture, teaching about their own or just discovering themselves within the context of such a raw experience.

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