Teaching English and Studying Martial Arts Abroad

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Do you have friends or classmates who have taught English abroad and wondered whether you too could get paid to live abroad and follow your passion for adventure travel and Martial Arts?”  If so, this guide to teaching English and studying martial arts abroad is for you.

With millions of people learning English in Asia, the demand for native English-speaking teachers is insatiable and virtually any native or fluent English speaker can gain employment teaching English abroad. But like any great endeavor in life, moving to a foreign country to teach English and follow your passions for martial arts and travel requires research, planning and initiative. To help my clients I have put together this guide for teaching English and studying martial arts abroad.

Below are 12 crucial tips and pointers for teaching English and studying martial arts abroad to help you get started.

Guide to Teaching English

teach-english-in-china1. Virtually anybody can teach English abroad

With approximately 1 billion people learning English worldwide, the demand for native English-speaking teachers is remains high however, things are changing, regulations are tightening and it is not as easy as it was in the past to get good English teaching jobs. Nevertheless:

  • A background in education or professional teaching experience is still not required to teach English abroad.
  • You don’t need to speak a foreign language to teach English abroad.
  • Prior international travel experience is not a prerequisite to teach English abroad.
  • A college degree is not required to teach English abroad. But it certainly will help. As more and more people take the English teaching route to discover Asia the market is becoming increasingly flooded with job seekers. With this increase tighter controls and restrictions on employment requirements are being applied. Visas may require applicants to have relevant experience and so a TEFL certificate is becoming more essential. Ultimately, the more qualified and well connected you are the better employment opportunities you will get. If you are determined to combining teaching and study kung fu this is even more important because the last thing you will need, is to be stuck in a job that requires too much travel, provides too little work or requires too many to make ends meet.

Remember hiring standards will vary from country to country, it is therefore wise to consider in advance what countries you are qualified to teach in.

2. Research your tail off

If you plan to move halfway around the world to teach English and Study Martial Arts, you owe it to yourself to research all aspects of your adventure to make it as rewarding and successful as possible. To start, focus on the martial aspect. Where is that Shifu you have dreamed of learning from? What styles are you interested in?

Check out this country chart which compares salaries, hiring requirements, interview procedures and visa information for teaching English abroad in more than 50 countries around the world. Also, check out some of these other articles which focus solely teaching English abroad. When you’re ready to start diving into program options, be sure to read reviews and weigh all of the possibilities. Salary, livability, conditions, benefits, time commitments, and the potential for an incredible and positive experience. If you’d like to learn more you can arrange a free consultation with with my by emailing david@studymartialarts.org.

05.brucelee3. Getting your TEFL certification

Even though you don’t need a degree or professional teaching experience, if you want to teach English abroad professionally, you need to take an accredited Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification course, especially if you have no background in teaching English as a foreign language (this guide to TEFL will help lay this all out for you). An accredited TEFL certification course will provide you with the skills you need to competently run 4-6 classes a day, and will outline the best ESL teaching tools. TEFL certification will also provide you with a recognized qualification that most schools and language schools around the world seek when hiring new teachers.

Remember, most schools around the world will not hire you off the street to teach English professionally simply because you are a native or fluent English speaker! One of the biggest difficulties that new teachers face is the challenge of creating fun, engaging lessons and activities for the English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom. TEFL courses will give you insight on the types of games and lessons that are successful with different age groups. Get a head start by reading these tips for lesson planning or take notes on the 10 best games for ESL teachers.

4. Consider whether to go with an organized program or independently

Many TEFL training schools also provide job placement and assistance so it’s definitely something to check for when researching your options. Such assistance can help insure that you don’t have to pay for a job placement. The trade off is that these companies instead may take a cut from your potential earnings as part of the service they provide. While others may provide it for free with the course tuition.

Teaching abroad through an organized program is a great option for first-time travelers to a new region, especially if the local language is one you’re less-than-absolutely-fluent-in. For most people looking to go abroad, there are enough jobs and plenty of resources in the way of free job boards, recruiters, and other resources, that there really should not be any need to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a placement. You should be aware that, programs that guarantee or receive payment for placements will limit you to job options offered by the program, which are a drop in the ocean to the thousands of job opportunities worldwide that you may be qualified for.

If you are looking to teach English in Asia, Russia or the Middle East, you may consider working with recruiters that interview and hire English teachers from the U.S., Canada and elsewhere on behalf of schools in these countries. Typically you should not pay such recruiters for placement. Working with recruiters can make the process of interviewing and lining up a position abroad easier though as they can provide assistance and guidance with matters like interviews, arranging documents and visas. The important thing is to do your research and work with reputable, well-established recruitment firm.

5. Remember: hiring and interview procedures vary from country to country

Be flexible and open to new experiences. Demand is high in Asia so schools hire all year-around, nevertheless elementary and high schools recruit primarily during the spring, summer and winter for positions beginning in Jan/Feb and September. Many Asian schools will hire new teachers directly from their home country, this is good for a number of reasons one being securing that all important visa and having the right papers from day one. This means that if you want the security of having a job waiting for you when you arrive at your destination, you should concentrate your efforts here.

6. Plan to break even

This means that even as a first-time English teacher teaching you can expect to earn enough to pay your bills – rent, food, daily transportation, etc. – and live comfortably, though modestly. This means that you’ll be able to travel and go out on the weekends and engage in other personal pursuits like taking language lessons and martial arts. However, this will often be very dependent on luck, your (colour/ nationality) and whether you are a native speaker. You shouldn’t expect, at least at first, to be making enough salary to put money in the bank at the end of every month. This can take time and it is often 6-12 months before you start earning back on your initial investment. You will have to spend some money on settling in, securing accommodation and finding the right kung fu master.

640x450_thai_boxing7. If you want to make more money, this is possible but dependent on your qualifications and experience

Most people don’t go into teaching for the money, but if you’re looking to make enough to save for extra travel it is possible with the right qualifications and connections. English teachers can typically make enough to save 30%-50% of their income after expenses, and often receive benefits like free airfare and housing. Monthly savings typically range from about $200 a month in a nation like Thailand up to $500 or more in South Korea. However, be realistic. More and more of these opportunities are limited to those with experience, the right papers and longer term commitment.

Studying Martial Arts Abroad

8. Consider using a Martial Arts School as a springboard

The growing number of martial arts schools in both China and Thailand offer a great opportunity for the savvy martial arts adventurer to use the schools as a base from which to explore teaching opportunities and of course training with other masters outside the international kung fu school system. To make the most out of these opportunities your current school location or planned school’s location will be the key.

Rural schools in China, or Thailand will not be the most suitable for this purpose. The good news is that I’m here to help. And can easily advise you on potential schools, masters near that all important teaching job or employment contact. This could be either simply part-time in order to earn some cash at the weekends or full-time depending on the current opportunities.

9. Set a realistic timeline and plan ahead

Getting a job and moving half-way around the world to teach English or Study is not like choosing which parties you’re going to hit this weekend or selecting what you’re going to wear to the gym – it shouldn’t be a spur of the moment decision. While hiring cycles and procedures vary worldwide, you should usually plan on taking 3-6 months from the point when you begin your TEFL certification and begin job searching to actually getting on a plane. In some cases, as when applying for government public school programs like JET in Japan. Remember the process of applying, interviewing and making travel arrangements may take 6-9 months or even longer.

10. Be prepared for start-up costs

Teaching English abroad may be the most cost-effective way to live and travel overseas for an extended period, but like most major undertakings in life, it requires a degree of financial planning. Major start-up costs typically include:

  • TEFL Certification: $300 – $2,500 for a fully accredited online or in-person class – trust me, it’s worth it.
  • Transportation to your destination country: typically $300-$1000 with a return flight or open ticket being a great option for safety.
  • Support in your new country until you start getting paid: even if you have a job waiting for you when you arrive, you won’t typically get paid on your first day of work. These expenses can range from $500, if your housing is provided and your job is pre-arranged, to even higher while you interview for a position, wait for the right job, rent an apartment or find a conveniently placed master that you want to study with.

Although start-up costs for teaching English abroad in Asia are typically lower because in many cases you can line up your job in advance, and many schools, particularly in South Korea and China, cover airfare and housing costs. But more than often these are not paid until a trial period has been complete or certain part of your contract. In addition to this as your purpose is not just to teach but also to study kung fu extra complications and fewer choices may be available. This is why some managed programs with initial costs are worth considering.

When I first came to China I did everything on my own. A huge amount of luck was involved in terms of first selecting a suitable kung fu school. Then mid way through my training I found a weekend job through various connections. As my network grew I continued to improve my situation gaining more experience until a full-time job presented itself. Once it did I returned home to prepare my documents.

11. Engage your friends and family

You will need their love and support, and in some cases, their advice and financial assistance. At the same time, don’t let their fear of losing you stop you from going abroad – Mom will just have to understand that you’re going on an epic adventure. The good news is that thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch from all corners of the globe. Email, Facebook and other social media make conversing and sharing photos easy, and with Skype, FaceTime, WeChat etc, you can enjoy video calls with friends and family as often as you like, for free.

Guilin12. Be open-minded and flexible

If you won’t even consider teaching anywhere, but places that are just like home, you’re cheating yourself. The fact is, you are unlikely to get a job just like at home. This should not stop you from experiencing an adventure of lifetime and traveling abroad, whether its in China, Thailand, Japan or anywhere else. Also, bear in mind that you are not limited to one destination. You can teach in one country or region, then move on to another and as in any field, the more experience you gain, the more opportunities will come your way.


Essentially the only way that you can’t teach English abroad is if you don’t have the initiative to make it happen – so let’s go! Contact me now for further details david@studymartialarts.org.

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Passionate about martial arts and travel. I am happy to share my experiences with you and other martial arts adventure travellers.

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