no money, college debt, and a boyfriend… but I wanna travel.


A Turbulent Tramp: 15 Years, 6 Continents, Countless Questionable Decisions

teach abroad in japan or korea, short-term or long-term.

When I first moved abroad I had about $1,000 in the bank. For some reason, that did not seem like a problem at the time; complete lack of money didn’t deter me from hopping on a plane to explore the world, and it shouldn’t stop you either. Any able-bodied, reasonably intelligent English-speaker can earn their keep overseas.

I was fortunate, however, in that I’ve never had college debt. I don’t have college debt because 1) I got scholarships and 2) I went to a shit state school that wasn’t very much fun, but I knew it would allow me to graduate debt-free so I could travel the world.

There is one good thing about having college debt; It means you have a college degree. Although your BA in comparative politics and philosophy with a minor in psych holds absolutely no value in the real world (you already knew that, right?), it does make you eligible for teach abroad programs that require applicants to be college-educated.

Back in 2003, Japan was the mecca of teaching English. I went there because when I left Greece I had about $200 to my name and no marketable skills. Oh yeah, and the company that hired me paid for my plane ticket.

I started off working in Japan on a short term contract through The same job openings still exist today, nine years later. The compensation is exactly the same as when I went. Oh, the benefits of Japanese deflation! (A little economics humor there, appreciated by few, I’m sure.)

Westgate offers a three-month university teaching program, which is a great option for people like me that hate children. The best thing about getting accepted into this program is that your visa says “professor,” which made me feel super intelligent. (My father also thought it was absolutely hilarious that his 21-year-old daughter was traveling on a “professor” visa.)

Westgate also offers a young learners program for people who like those evil little people. I recommend the university route; Japanese college kids have about the same level of maturity as American middle-schoolers, and easily have twice as many Hello Kitty accessories, so even if you naively think “I want to work with kids!” you’ll feel like you are working with kids. (Also, working with kids sucks. They’re twice as much worth with one-fifth the mental capacity of adults; who the hell wants to work with kids?)

Again, the Westgate programs are only between three and six months in length. Beware of staying past your contract with Westgate; jobs are getting harder and harder to come by in Japan these days. When I lived there, no one wanted to be there. We foreigners were all there for the cold hard cash. Back in those days, you could teach private lessons for $40 an hour, which is criminal. It was kind of like getting paid to talk for an hour. OK, it wasn’t like getting paid to talk for an hour; it was literally getting paid to talk for an hour. I had a weekend gig in Japan where I’d take kids to the park on Saturdays and smile a lot, and the “school” paid me $50 an hour to do this. (And they weren’t even upset when one day I returned a child missing his two front teeth (permanent teeth), clearly from neglect of supervision on my part. Did I mention I’m not good with kids?)

Don’t count on getting a good gig in Japan anymore. Over the past nine years English-speakers have become obsessed with Japanese culture and the country has been flooded with blond, genki, North Americans and Aussies, ready to take TEFL jobs at reduced salaries. Unless you are a very experienced TELF/ ESL teacher or high up on the gaijin hierarchy (see below), I wouldn’t recommend just turning up in Nippon and counting on landing a super high-paying job with one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, which is what happened to me several years ago.

OK, so let’s go back to the initial problem: You have no money, college debt, and a boyfriend/ girlfriend.

Let’s say Westgate rejects you, or you don’t want to go on such a short contract. No problem. Korea, people! South Korea is where it’s at these days, and it’s the best opportunity you’ve got.

When I lived in Asia, Korea was where the Japan-rejects ended up, like those with a criminal record, fake college degrees, or dark hair. Not anymore. If I were just starting out living overseas/teaching TEFL, I’d be in South Korea.

Let’s go over the benefits of teaching in South Korea.

  1. You get paid a lot of money, but it’s way cheaper to live in Korea than Japan. You can save a ton of cash and pay off your college debt while living abroad and having a good time.

  2. You can teach at a public school with minimal qualifications or talent. (“Teach” is a very ambitious term for what most TEFLers do.)

  3. You can teach private lessons (on the sly) after school or during weekends and make extra cash. Remember, “teaching private lessons” essentially means you talk and smile for an hour.

  4. If you go with the public school program you’ll be with hundreds of other foreign ‘teachers’ so you’ll have instant friends.

  5. I found South Korea surprisingly beautiful. I went to a nice beach, and even went climbing at two of the national parks.

  6. It’s right by North Korea, which brings up a host of sub-benefits.

    1. There are tunnels built by the North Koreans leading into South Korea. TUNNELS.

    2. You can visit the DMZ and it is awesome.

    3. If you’re looking to defect, there is no better place to be.

There. I solved all of your problems. 1. Money (you’ll make some) 2. You have college debt (You’ll pay it off… with the money.)

Oh yes, I haven’t addressed item #3 – you have a boyfriend/girlfriend. This one’s easy. If you have a significant other that doesn’t want to travel with you, you need to dump them. Seriously. They sound lame.


Interested in teaching in South Korea?

They recruit for public school positions in Korea, and they help you apply for free.
You can talk to Anna there, and she is awesome and one of the least-lame people I know. Lauren, who is even more pleasant than Anna, will help you with everything else.
Tell them the turbulent tramp sent you.

  1. 04-28-2012

    I actually applied to teach in South Korea last year, but got both a job here in Spain, and there. I decided to stay in Spain and occasionally feel like kicking myself. The short-term contract sounds like a great opportunity though, I wouldn’t mind doing that (and I don’t mind kids) – thanks for the info! I’ll look into it.

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