Teaching ESL Abroad: An Awesome Job?

For two years I taught ESL in South Korea, in Seoul, where it is very common to run into someone working as an ESL teacher. I got so used to meeting people who teach ESL that on one occasion I mistook a Boeing Korea executive for an ESL teacher. Even as someone who consciously tries not to make assumptions, the plethora of folks in Korea who teach ESL got me thinking it’s the job choice for almost everyone there.

When I met Korean folks while living and working in the country, often they would ask if I was an ESL teacher, to which I’d say, “Yes.” Some people would say, “Oh,” with a lackadaisical or nonchalant response. With so many people in South Korea teaching ESL, this doesn’t raise the eyebrows of many. It’s popular just as it can be viewed as unimpressive.

One could look to the requirements for being an ESL teacher for some insight. What does it take to become an ESL teacher in a country? Well, each country has different requirements. Also, there are different educational settings that require different things. If you want to teach ESL in the Middle Eastern countries, you most likely will need years of experiences and perhaps some educational background in Education, ESL or teaching. If you want to teach ESL in any of the many universities all over the world, you’d most likely need a Master’s degree in ESL or Teaching or something closely related, this is all assuming you are a native English speaker of course.

But what about in South Korea? Well, South Korea probably has the best opportunity for teaching ESL, given the amount of money one could make, the total benefits package (many schools will buy your plane ticket to/from Korea, for example), and as well, because you essentially only need a Bachelor’s degree, a clean background check from your country and the willingness and diligence to do the job.

So, for some, the idea of teaching ESL is bland. It’s easy seemingly, or it doesn’t take much skill (if you want to do it well, I disagree), and the barrier to becoming an ESL teacher is low in most countries. For some, it’s something people do when they can’t or don’t do anything else. So, conversations can go like this:

“I’m an ESL teacher.”


Back in the USA, however, when I mention I lived in South Korea for two years and have traveled to a number of countries, many folks here within the black community ask if I was in the military. When I say I was teaching ESL, I usually bear witness to slightly surprised faces. Not all brothas that have been to other countries were in the military (although much love and respect to those who have taken that route!).

Nevertheless, being an ESL teacher is an awesome job, if one recognizes the opportunity and impact available.


OPPORTUNITY: See the world while you work, make money untouched by USA taxation (for the USA citizen readers), explore a different culture, develop skills that are transferable to all walks of life, save money, learn different languages, make connections within the global community, gain an understanding of other regions and economies and did I mention money?

IMPACT: Learning the English language for many people in different countries means a better life. You bring economic and social development possibilities with you to your country destination. Plus, you can build relationships, lasting ones. From the black community perspective, we can share our culture, history and sheer uniqueness with communities all over the world.


When I walk into a classroom to teach, or do some exploration on the weekends, or spend extra time after class to listen to a student flush out their ideas in English, or explain a grammar-in-use concept for the third time, I recognize the power and blessing of it all.

Teaching ESL is not the only way to see the world, but it is an awesome choice for those aware of its possibilities.


*Originally published on www.marvmillsblog.com

This story was curated by Marvin Mills.

Travel Noire

Travel Noire

A platform of cultivated insights from a global community of black travelers.


  • Reply June 6, 2014

    Kristen Noelle

    I’ve considered teaching ESL abroad for several months now. Given the benefits you mentioned with being able to impact the quality of life for so many, save money and explore other countries, it sounds so beneficial! How difficult is it when you don’t speak the native language, in your experience?

    • It’s not very difficult depending on the location. In the UAE, most things are in English and most students are exposed to English within the society. The pay in the Middle East is much greater than South Korea but it’s becoming quite competitive. The UAE requires 2-3 years of teaching experience and a teaching certificate.

      Other Middle East countries are not as strict but the pay may be lower.

      South Korea is a good start for those without teaching experience and/or a license.

    • Reply June 24, 2014


      Hey Kristen well I’d say it’s a great idea to learn the local language!! As you could imagine your experience could transform by speaking some of the language.

      But if you don’t speak it, there can be difficulties of course. It would take some endurance and flexibility, some patience with people, some good universal body language 🙂 but overall, I’d say it wouldn’t be too difficult.

      The truth is that in a place like Korea there are many people who can speak some English, and also in Korea the secondary language for signs is English. So you wouldn’t really have too much trouble.

  • Reply June 14, 2014


    This has been a dream of mine for some time now. Can anyone who actually has a mortgage, car loan, other financial obligations stateside speak to remedies for achieving this goal, with such obligations? I hear the pay is great but what other concessions, if any, do they make for say housing expenses and the like?

    • Reply June 24, 2014


      Hey Madeline!

      When it comes to financial obligations, I know of someone who sold their car before going abroad. Also, it is doable to have a mortgage and also be abroad. The pay can be that good. But the other piece when it comes to a place like Korea is that in addition to pay, they pay for your housing. So, you would most likely have no housing expense in Korea. You also wouldn’t have a car most likely. So I’d say it’s very realistic to still have some obligations back home and go abroad for a time. Hope that helps!!

  • Reply June 20, 2014


    If you are a classroom teacher and are certified in the U.S., Australia, Canada or the U.K. you can also teach at international schools abroad. Your pay is higher than ESL and your benefits include housing, insurance, shipping, visa expenses and a ticket to and from the country. I’ve been teaching abroad for 7 years and I’ve never taught ESL. Just another route to think about if you love teaching and you want to live in a different country. There are websites that list teaching positions or you can do what I’ve done for 1/2 the jobs I’ve had and pick a country and do a search for international schools and send your resume. Certification is a must though for the schools with the best packages.

    • Reply June 24, 2014


      Hey Jaiinburma!

      Thanks for this additional info! Yes, I’ve got a number of friends who teach at international schools and it’s a great opportunity. Also know of someone who is a school counselor at an international school, and she’s from the USA. I didn’t know that was possible until connecting with her. In which countries have you taught?

  • Reply June 20, 2014


    Teaching is a great way to travel and live in different countries if it’s what you’re interested in. I’ve never taught ESL, I teach at international schools. You need to be certified to teach in your country and preference is usually given to those who have traveled or have experience teaching. International school benefits are also usually better than ESL, I’ve always received housing, shipping, insurance, visa processing, and a ticket to and from the country. In addition you could receive a professional development allowance. ESL teaching is a good way to go and if you find you love it maybe get certified and make the move to international schools. Better compensation. I’m trying to recruit more people into my field. 🙂

    • Reply June 24, 2014


      I do hear that the international school opportunity is really good. Thanks for that insight and encouragement!

  • Reply June 23, 2014

    Jamera McNeil

    I’m heading into my senior year of college and I’m interested in teaching abroad. I’ve looked up a few nonprofit organizations and the Peace Corps and I just wanted to learn the name of the organization you used to teach abroad.

    Thank You
    Jamera S. McNeil

    • Reply June 24, 2014


      Hey Jamera

      Great that you are thinking about this process and planning now. For me, I taught ESL with a private language institute called SDA Language Institute. But there are literally hundreds of private school/academies you could teach with. Also there are public schools in South Korea. There are also recruiters that will help place you with a program. I recommend this website: http://www.eslcafe.com
      You will find a bunch of information, job postings, etc., for Korea and places all over the world.
      If you search for EPIK or GEPIK you will find public school programs specifically in Korea.
      If you want a general organization that doesn’t just focus on Korea, I recommend GreenHeart Travel or TeachAway. They seem to have good opportunities.

      Hope that helps!

  • Reply June 25, 2014


    I am going to take this a sign!
    I just talked to an advisor from TEFL Academy about teaching abroad (last night). I have worked in the fashion industry for over 13 years but now, I am ready for a career change. I have general interest in helping people, travel and gaining new experiences at this time in my life. I was interested in Thailand but after reading this I want to look into South Korea and Turkey.
    Thank you for this post, it has helped me in more ways than one!

  • Reply July 17, 2014


    Wow! Thanks for this article.
    Would you happen to know if bringing a wife and child along when teaching is allowed? Helping people and traveling have always been my passion. This seems like the only way I can do these both and still be able to constantly immerse myself in other cultures as a family man.
    I’m currently in the military and the deployments to various countries are awesome but I’ll have to provide more time to the family in the future.

    This article has really excited me! Thanks again!

    • Reply November 9, 2015


      Following your comment as I have the same question. 🙂

  • Reply September 18, 2014

    Niesha S

    I teach English in korea now and its been a pretty good experience. Lots of money to be had but the culture shock is no joke. Its a great experience for a year or so.

  • Reply June 28, 2015


    Terrific task composing Teaching ESL Abroad – Travel Noire.

  • Reply November 23, 2015


    Hi! What are reputable companies to teach ESL with? I’m interested in S. Korea and other Asian countries. Thank you for any advice you can offer!

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