Friday, July 6, 2018

How Not And How To Travel Abroad

"Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts." (Winston S. Churchill) I remember the first time I decided I was going to travel around the world. I was still an over-enthusiastic high school student that had no idea of how the real world worked. Call it my teenage mind playing tricks on me, but I really thought that I would one day get up and jump on a plane and leave the country for another.
High School Graduation

Granted, my teenaged mind struggled to understand that traveling costs money and takes a lot of planning. At the time, I didn’t have a job and my current earnings came from my weekly allowance and taking care of the farm animals. My dad would once in awhile donate to my “spending fund” that I used to watch movies on the weekends and buying things I thought I wanted. I was very much a typical teenage girl.

Graduating from high school was an eye-opener. I really thought I knew what I wanted to be as an adult. I feel that my high school forced graduating seniors to pick a career to make the school look good. Many of my class just wrote down whatever came to mind; many of them never entered college. And that’s the thing, college isn’t for everyone and many school systems engrain the idea that college is required after high school but the schools neglect to teach how to pay for college without going into debt.

One day I woke up and found out I had been out of school for two years and stated to a rather unenthused father, who was living off four hours sleep, “I’m going to go to college.”

My dad smiled without saying anything. That should’ve been my first warning, but no, I felt like the heavens were shining down on me and that God had chosen me for something important. I felt like I was given a sign, a sign to go to college…I think.

I continued, “I’m going to start in the spring term. Classes will begin in the third week of January.”

Again, my dad just smiled. I could tell his eyes were bloodshot and stress was weighing him down. Tax season hadn’t started yet, but the hectic work schedule did.

Even though I continued to feel like the only person on the planet because I had randomly decided to go to school, I knew that I was missing a vital part to the equation—picking a degree or even a class.

Yes, I had decided I was going to college before I had decided on what I was going to be learning in college. Smart.

“What program are you going to be in?” asked my dad after a long, uncomfortable silence.

“I’m not really sure, dad. I’m thinking about taking the TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate. It will be a great starter course for me so I can see if I like college.”

My dad wasn’t enthused. I had been down this road before. And with my dad’s response to me saying I was going to college, I knew I was on my own. When I graduated high school, I thought I was going to be a computer animator and I was going to run away to Florida and go to a private art school and spend $100,000. It didn’t happen and I’m thankful that it didn’t.

Regardless, I started college in the spring term of 2015 at Fox Valley Technical College. I didn’t expect much, and I wasn’t even going to see my instructors because all my classes were online. I didn’t even need to come to the campus until the last two weeks of class to participate in student teaching. That was the only time I met my practicum instructor.
In the classroom.
And that was when I had an “ah-ha” moment. I was praised by my instructor for my teaching style and my ability to adjust to the changing environment in the classroom. My instructor was the one who convinced me that I had something, something special that worked in the ESL (English as a Second Language) industry. What I didn’t know was that to continue I needed to fork out at least $50,000 for the next four years to become a certified ESL teacher and many times, companies and education institutions wanted ESL teachers to have a master’s degree.

My dreams were squashed. The shining light from the heavens disappeared as quickly as it showed up. I was suddenly in the same position I was in before I started college. Wanting a successful life and career but no way to obtain it.

This is where my story comes to a screeching halt. This is where I started making commitments before thinking and spending money as if the money grew on trees. I wasn’t being smart, I was acting like most of the college-age students in the United States.

Spend now—get a degree—pay back later.

This is where I failed for the first time in my adult life. My failure cost me greatly and the financial burden I was left with haunted me for years to come.

I had decided that “If I can’t afford to get a degree in the United States, then I’ll get my degree in another country.”

My dad just shook his head and went back to his book, a book that didn’t look that interesting. Yet, he did ignore me, and I was left wondering what I was going to do. I obviously wasn’t going to get his support, especially financial support. 

Without much thought, I paid an international school their tuition fee without having my living situation figured out and how I was going to get to the country. This was strike one.

I spent over $600 to pay for tuition and the transfer fee for the school to even talk to me and accept me as a student. I quickly did some research on apartments in Bangkok, Thailand, searching for the cheapest places I could find. According to my research, Thailand was one of the cheapest places to live, so finding a cheap apartment shouldn’t have been hard, right? Wrong. Strike two.

I was left living in a country I knew nothing about and a potential for me to be living in a crime-ridden part of Bangkok. I was only twenty-years-old when I made this decision and I wonder what I was thinking. I wasn’t just going to be a twenty-year-old student; I was going to be a twenty-year-old American college student that had never left the country, barely ever left the state of Wisconsin, alone. Strike three.

It happened a little over a month before I was supposed to leave. Christmas was just around the corner and the Christmas music was playing at nauseam in every store, radio station, and street corner.

Instead of having a Christmas full of cheer, I was sitting in a hospital bed with an unbelievable amount of pain. I didn’t know it then, but my health issues were going to stop me from doing a lot of things. The severity of the situation forced me to give up my dream of traveling to Thailand for college.

It was for the better, though. I still hadn’t found the funds to go to the college and I was running on fumes financially.

“It’s for the best,” said my dad. He didn’t smile, and I didn’t respond. As hard as it was, I knew I wasn’t going to be living in Bangkok.

The hardest things were that I had spent over $1,500 already and I only got back about $600. The tuition fee was nonrefundable. The airline ticket was only reimbursed for 50% of what I paid because I waited so long to cancel. The first-month rent in the shady apartment was also nonrefundable because I was never able to get ahold of the manager after I paid. Strike four?

Even with this horrible experience, I almost tried again without taking the time to research what I was doing and what I was getting myself into. Bunac is a great program where you can sign up to travel to another country where you’ll be trained in how to teach English. The program is a great starting point for all aspiring ESL teachers and people who are undecided on what they want to do.

I had picked the Thailand program through Bunac. Boy, I should’ve slapped myself the instant I clicked on the program. I should’ve known better. It was less than a year after I lost $900.

I didn’t spend a penny, though. But I was thinking about it. I was a millisecond away from possibly making a mistake that could’ve bankrupted me. I was lucky last time, I found a job right after and saved like my life depended on it.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said my dad. He was unusually quiet through the whole situation. I almost thought my dad had approved of my plan.

I wanted to cry. I wasn’t getting any closer to my dream and I was working a dead-end job that was taking away benefits faster than Speedy, the fastest mouse in Mexico, could steal cheese.

I was giving up. I didn’t know what to do. My dad suggested starting a blog and presenting my artwork online and in the public libraries. For a short time, this worked. I was able to keep myself active and my mind wasn’t allowed to wonder. I was happy or so I thought.
Art Class at Menasha Public Library

I had another “ah-ha” moment about a year later. It came out of nowhere and I was sidelined quite harshly. I almost felt my heart drop when I thought about the possibilities. My DVR counselor worked for the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation in Wisconsin. I had mentioned my predicament and suggested something that triggered what I call a “miracle.”

“Did you know, Heather, that DVR has a program that helps their clients with self-employment endeavors?”

“No.” I wasn’t sure what to say. Was this a joke? Was I being tricked? Did I even have a chance? I mean, the idea just came to my mind and I’ve thought about it for all of twenty seconds.

“If you can prove that your business can make a working wage and business plan can convince the self-employment board that your plan is feasible, DVR could help with start-up costs.”

And this was the start of my success. You may be asking, “How does this relate to traveling abroad and teaching English?” The answer is simple.

I started my tutoring business in July 2016 with a simple idea to help students in special education get assistance in academic subjects outside of school for an affordable price. This idea grew into helping more than elementary and middle school students in math and English. I now tutor college students, tutor in social science and social studies, I teach private art classes, and I help ELL (English Language Learners) speak and write English.

I’m in college, again. Not for the same reason, I was in college back in 2015. I have a plan now and I’m working closely with Fox Valley Technical College. It took me over six months to get my Individual Technical Studies degree approved. For the first time, I had to work hard to get into college and it’s paying off.

I’m now a member of Phi Theta Kappa and I’m on the Dean’s list. I’m a tutor at the Tech and my tutoring business is growing.

And for the first time, I’ve gone overseas to teach English. I’m didn’t go alone and yes, I had the money to go and I was being safe. I worked with the non-profit called CHI (Cultural Homestay International). My roommate and I traveled to China from May 21 to June 23, 2018, to teach English to our host families. Also, I helped with my host sister’s International School.  
With my host sister on a field trip.

And my dad is supportive. “The experience may be a wake-up call for you and open a door you’ve never thought of. The experience will only advance your skills and knowledge in the field and help you become a better tutor.”

You see, traveling abroad and teaching English are popular topics online. It seems like there is an endless supply of ESL jobs in Japan, China, and South Korea. Yet, these jobs aren’t always legit.

There are risks foreigners take when accepting jobs overseas. Recently, South Korean officials have been cracking down on cram schools who illegally hire English teachers and employ them under V-2 visas, which is only for teaching Conversational English. Many of the English teachers need to have V-7 visas to legally work in South Korea. Some teachers who’ve worked in the country for a decade are being evicted from their jobs and sent back home.

Many times, companies and organizations want English teachers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Be wary of online job postings that state “only need to be a native English speaker.” Many of my friends who are current ESL teachers have shared some of the horror stories these kinds of jobs offer.

Teaching English as a second language isn’t easy. Never allow someone to tell you that teaching is easy. I know that in the United States, we have a distorted view of teachers, especially in Wisconsin when Governor Scott Walker passed Act 10. Teachers struggle worldwide with wages and rights. Not every country is the same and has the same problems. Just never let someone who isn’t a teacher and hasn’t taught a day in their life tell you how hard or how little a teacher works.

Teaching English abroad isn’t for everyone. I’ve tried for years to travel abroad, but I wasn’t doing it the right way. I was spending now and paying back later. Not a good philosophy to have when I’m trying to stick to the model of the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) community.

Even though there is a demand for English teachers, especially in Asian countries, it doesn’t mean there is a demand for you. I’ve learned that even with an education and experience, I’m not as appealing to the foreign teaching market as others. Many ESL programs look for a specific set of features in their teachers, including age, ethnicity, home country, education, experience, if you’re married or single, and so forth. If you don’t meet all the requirements, you may not get the job.

Now, I’m excited about my sharing more of my trip from when I was in China. I got to experience a new culture and learn a bit about the language. I’m also excited to be part of the FIRE community with my dad who owns the financial blog The Wealthy Accountant that won a Plutus Award at FinCon.

Everything we do is to raise awareness to the rising number of students in special education who drop out of high school. We believe in helping our students become autonomous learners and to find simple and effective ways to help every student learn in the highly competitive education system. The way we do this is by offering personalized tutoring services in numerous academic subjects. The future of our country lies in the hands of the children in primary and secondary school. It’s important to allow these children to be creative and to reach their fullest potential. 

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