Teaching EFL Overseas
I highly recommend teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language) at an overseas school. There are literally tens of thousands of jobs to be had, in private academies, universities, and public schools all around the world.
(This works for people looking for a mid-career adventure, as well, or for those who have finished a graduate degree and want some excitement.)
If your bills are not too pressing, you could teach in Thailand, Ecuador, or Indonesia. If you need a bit more income than such places can offer, try Eastern Europe, Turkey, or Taiwan. Then again, if your finances are fairly troubling, there is good money to be made teaching English in South Korea or Japan. Finally, for those who need serious income and aren't afraid of searing desert heat, the absolute best-paying jobs are usually found in the Middle East.
I assure you, I am speaking from experience when I recommend this course of action.
In 2003, I found myself the proud owner of a law degree that I had no intention of using, plus tens of thousands of dollars in education debt. While browsing Monster.com one day, looking for non-profit work (ahem - ever practical!), I saw an ad for English teaching opportunities in South Korea.
I faxed over copies of my passport and diplomas, and two weeks later I was on a plane to Seoul.
EFL Teaching Credentials
All that is required to teach in many countries is a bachelor's degree in any subject, a valid passport, and a clean criminal record. It really can be that simple, but I would recommend putting a bit more time and preparation into your job choice than I did.
Here are the questions you need to ask, before you commit to a contract:
1) How many actual contact hours will I be teaching per day, and per week? Is it a straight shift, or split shift? Weekend hours, or weekdays only?
2) Is housing provided? What about utilities? How far is the commute to campus?
3) Does the company provide medical insurance coverage? Is there a pension plan? Severance pay?
and most importantly,
4) Can I have contact information for several of your current and former teachers?
If the school director, principal, or owner hems and haws about the last question, then run for the hills and don't look back. There are plenty of jobs out there, so don't be afraid to turn one down if it seems "fishy."
You might be wondering how my experience in Korea went. I ended up staying for a total of four years. (That's an encouraging sign, right?)
On the Job as an EFL Teacher
My first job was rather terrible. We worked 7 straight hours of teaching time plus one preparation period, from 1 pm to 9 pm. The school owner was in it for the money; he didn't particularly care for kids or foreigners. He was very abusive of the Korean teachers, forcing them to work without pay for several months at a time if he had cash-flow problems. Nobody got a real vacation; national holidays were the only days off, and you don't get to make them up if they fall on a weekend. About half of the foreign staff "did a runner" during the year that I was there; that is, they just left the country without telling anyone, partway through their contracts.
This is why it is vitally important to talk to former and current teachers, more than one of them, before accepting a position!
I swore I would never go back after that first year, but I was offered a job at a school with a better reputation, on the sub-tropical island of Jeju. It turned out to be much nicer; the hours were still grueling, but the work environment was much more pleasant. None of the teachers disappeared during the night, never to be seen again.
Teaching at a University
After two years of working in private academies, I was able to get a job teaching at a university. If you have a graduate degree, particularly in English, ESL, EFL, etc., then university jobs are the way to go.
Working at the university, my income almost doubled to the mid-30,000s US. (That's a very comfortable living wage in Korea, even with law school bills to pay.) We had a minimum of 13 hours of classroom time, rather than 30, and got overtime pay for extra hours. The school-provided housing was much nicer, too. Oh, and then there were the four months of paid vacation each year!
You can also increase your chances of landing a university-teaching gig by completing a certified TEFL course. These are usually 6-week courses, and many guarantee a job placement to all the graduates at the end.
In my four years in Korea, I was able to pay down tens of thousands of dollars of debt, experience life in a completely different culture, take trips to five new countries, and make friends from around the world.
It was hard sometimes, being far away from my old friends and family. It can also be very frustrating when you don't have the language skills to communicate that your faucet is leaking and needs to be fixed! Still, I would do it again in a heartbeat. If you would like to look for overseas EFL teaching jobs, the best resource is Dave's ESL Cafe. The site lists current openings around the world, helpful teaching hints, and TEFL training courses.
Go ahead, get out there and have an adventure! Just make sure you do your homework first.