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Working Abroad: Escaping (With all the Responsibility!)

Like most of generation X (and beyond), television helped raise me, and it pixilated me into many marvelous realms – African jungles, cartoon land, and Mr. Dress Up’s (for those from Canada!) living room. In it, the Berlin Wall crumbled, a space ship exploded and an extraterrestrial named Alf lived with the neighbors. As an adult I now find that the scope of possibility doesn’t seem quite as wide as it once did. I went to school, collected debt, and collected more debt with the purchase of a vehicle. As a broke construction worker, I wondered where the marvelous was hiding.

When I started talking about working in Korea I was unsurprised to find that nearly everybody else had at least entertained similar fancies. We grew up astonished after every commercial, and its difficult to ‘settle down’. Moreover, industry continues to migrate, and workers often find themselves without fulfilling work within domestic borders. Currently 1.5% of Americans live and work abroad, and in Canada the number is closer to 5% (both numbers approximate). If you’re going to do the same, you’ll surely meet some of us.

To the extent that television is a strange parent, an exotic land can be strange a host. Many work abroad because they’ve seen the suburbs and shopped the Walmarts. They’ve ‘been there, done that’, and found the t-shirts at an ‘everyday low price’. If you’ve started to think outside your borders, perhaps about working abroad, then great! You’ve at least established what you don’t want; namely more of the same. Consequently, what you’re going to need to do now is to be specific about what you do want to do. For starters, do you think that stores, neon nightlife, and a fast pace and polished sheik is your style? Or, maybe you’re looking for something significantly more laid back, ample trees, beaches, shorts, sandals and an organic funk.

It is well beyond the scope an article to begin listing what different locations offer. But, I will say that South Korea, for example – which employs a vast number of foreigners for no other reason than their English tongues – is a small country that offers a surprisingly wide spectrum of possible landscapes/lifestyles. From the incredibly compact city to the rural island, you can find it here. In any regard (and as a prerequisite), it’s worthwhile to think about what you’ll enjoy, which presupposes you know yourself to some degree. Then, start searching for a place of suitable matching. Much like you shouldn’t dive into unknown waters, it’s a good idea to plan your destination. With the Internet at hand, the research required can be done with Lazy-Boy ease!

The second prerequisite is a sincerely open mind. Enjoying diversity is impossible if your mind has already decided what’s worthy and right. In other words, you’re going to have to learn a lot about cultural adaptation to new and strange lands, discussed in other travel guide sections.

But alas, working abroad has two aspects. The first is being abroad, which we’ve glossed. The second, of course, is working. It’s important to realize that escaping the humdrum familiarity of hometowns is not an escape from responsibility. There is still a work week, likely a dress code, office politics, bills, bosses, and, of course, a sink full of dishes and laundry machines without English markings. And, there’s still a Pay Day! In a sense, working abroad is much like picking two flowers with a one hand-swoop. You’re experiencing firsthand something foreign, and it’s possible to make a decent living while you do it.

The vast majority of jobs abroad require you to teach English, and the qualifications vary. Some places are looking for a native English speaker, period. Other places want you to have a university degree (of any kind) as well, while still others are looking for a Master’s degree, or a Master’s of Education (especially for university jobs abroad).

Typically, the amount of pay depends upon qualifications. In many cases your apartment might be paid for. With some thrift, money can be saved and/or (if it’s your goal) student loans can be significantly reduced.

The first step is research. Search Dave’s ESL café. Also,,, and are websites devoted to providing information to those thinking about jumping the ocean. Happy travels!