I have a second cousin who has been teaching English as a foreign language in Japan for many years with a bachelor’s degree in a non-related field. He is married to a Japanese woman and has both a stepdaughter and a biological child with this woman. He is extremely happy with his life as I understand it. He receives just enough salary with which to stay afloat. As a lay English teacher with a bachelor’s degree in a non-related field, if he were to ever leave Japan (and he won’t, perhaps can’t), he would have no choice but to find a comparable position in another Asian country for similar money.
In all that you wrote, what you never mentioned and what I really needed to know to advise you properly is what your long term plans are. What are your career goals?
You make an indirect comment about looking for something to do for one year. For example, if your plan is to work abroad for one year and then return home to attend graduate school in math or physics, then it doesn’t matter where or what you teach.
If you are looking to gain relevant work experience before returning to the university as a system’s engineer then I would seriously caution you against teaching EFL in China (or anywhere else) for a year. In that context, it will present as a giant black hole on your curriculum vitae.
International schools in China are not English language immersion environments: they are real schools whose curricula are approved and credentialed by Western educational accrediting councils. That is, earning a high school diploma from (for example) an American international school in Shanghai has the same meaning as earning one back home. Most of the students in these international schools are the children of Western expats and affluent Chinese kids with plans to study abroad. There are only a relative handful of these Western-approved international schools in China and, yes, you really have to be certified as a primary or secondary school teacher (or both) to even be considered. These jobs are very competitive because the salaries are often better than those offered back home and, unlike home, housing is included and fewer taxes are typically paid.
Teaching EFL in Korea, Thailand, Japan, or Taiwan on the basis of a bachelor’s degree in a non-related field and a 4-week TEFL course certificate is no better or worse than teaching English in China from a vocational perspective
. Working in Europe is out of the question for an American citizen unless you can somehow manage dual citizenship with a member country of the European Union.
To answer your third question and part of the first, here is a basic rule of thumb you and others should seriously consider when contemplating Asian EFL employment: If you are being paid to do something in a foreign country that you are not qualified to do and would never be hired to do in your native country, then—professionally speaking
—it probably isn’t worth doing. As for the money, that is a very different story because everyone has different needs. What is a “great gig” for some, others would never even consider.
English teachers in the UAE must have a master’s degree in linguistics or TESOL and the better English teaching jobs in Hong Kong also require an advanced degree. Of course, this is why English teachers in the UAE earn an average of $4370 USD per month instead of $951 (and that doesn't include housing, travel allowances, and outstanding medical insurance). The EFL teachers at my University, for example, would be eligible for ESL teaching jobs back in the States with provisional licenses. They would then have a limited period of time with which to become permanently certified.
The same is not true of EFL teachers in China because the EFL curriculum in China is not standardized
and it's not approved by any Western accrediting body of education. If you will be teaching at a university, more often than not, you will be told by your supervisor to download materials from the Internet to use in class (there are rarely assigned textbooks and I've never seen a course syllabus for any college level EFL class). Your mission--should you decide to accept it--is to get a bunch of overworked and exhausted Chinese kids to talk to you in any way you can: through jokes, personal stories, and even physical comedy if you're up to it (one completely uneducated and unqualified foreign "teacher" I personally knew of used to pull up his shirt and expose his fat belly to the class every time they appeared bored. The kids would roar with laughter. He was a big success in the classroom and the Chinese school owner loved him because he kept the kids coming back for more). This is the full extent of my “general warnings against China.”
If you haven’t already, you should read the personal reactions of a real English teacher
who came to China for three months on a leave of absence. She couldn’t believe how relatively unimportant English is regarded in China and how in order to reach her students, she had to stop teaching… as she understands what it means to teach English in her home country.
The perceived economic advantages or disadvantages of teaching English in Asia seem to be as varied as the number of people who are doing it. We are living in a global economic depression. Thousands of Americans, Canadians, Australians, Brits, New Zealanders, South Africans, and Europeans with high school and college diplomas are piling into China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Taiwan every month eager to receive an average salary of $951.00 USD (6000 yuan, the national average) and free substandard housing in exchange for the privilege of having a job and saving a little bit of money each month (unless one travels or gets really sick).
I personally know of a South African couple who have been working as EFL teachers in China for years and will die there doing so. She has a nursing certificate (equivalent to our associate’s degree) and he is a high school dropout with a fake double-major bachelor’s degree. They are not very happy with their salaries (as, at one point, they had three children with them) but they have no place else to go and they would be the first to tell you that their lives in China are actually better than they would be if they were to go back home.
As I see it--and I am quite vociferous about this bias--teaching English in China makes sense to subsidize a short-term working vacation (as was the case for the Latin-American teacher above) or Chinese language study for a year or so. Everyone else needs to carefully consider the issue of diminishing returns unless, like the aforementioned South African couple, this is your best option (and for many, especially in today's economy, it is).
As for entering China without a work visa and then looking for work after completing the TEFL program, our research data consistently show that about 84 percent of all Westerners who enter China with a non-work visa will eventually be able to convert their tourist or business visas to Z-visas. Restated, 16 percent, or one in 6.25 people, who enter China to work on a non-work visa will never receive a Z-visa. As for finding work in late August, if you knock on enough doors, you will eventually be able to find a job at a private English language school
teaching EFL, not math. University employment would be out of the question unless there were an unforeseen last minute opening.