Despite the UK economy recently coming out of a double-dip recession, the graduate job market is still lagging behind its heyday of the mid-noughties. With 52 applications on average for every graduate vacancy, teaching English abroad is fast becoming a serious option for many university leavers. In fact, a recent poll by Populus for the British Council found that over half of under-25s believed they would have a better job if they lived or studied abroad.
Just a degree and a British passport can be a recent graduate’s gateway to a comfortable living in an exotic country. Being a native English speaker is a skill that has an enormous and growing demand, especially in Asia where no teaching experience and even no TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) qualifications are not a barrier to a job due to such high demand. In many TEFL hotspots, especially Korea and China, demand for teachers far outstrips supply, meaning finding a job is more of a question of when rather than if.
For Economics graduate Raeesah Haque, a perceived poor job market made the decision to get on a plane and leave the UK that much easier: “I decided to teach abroad straight after graduation as teaching English as a second language gives you the freedom to travel and properly immerse yourself into another culture, which is something I really wanted to do. As the job market isn't great in England I didn't feel like I was missing any opportunities, and felt starting a career at home could wait.
“Southeast Asia has a high demand for native English speakers to teach and it took me less than two weeks in country to land a great job. There are also the advantages of living somewhere completely new and beautiful and making a new place home. The disadvantages are that employee rights are not what they are in England, often you have to just do something and accept that's the way it is as Thai culture doesn't question authority. For example when I read over my contract I had a lot of questions and the manager said that she hadn't employed a foreigner at the school so far in her time and nobody ever asks any questions!”
Three important factors graduates cite as considerations before deciding which country to live and work in are salary and benefits, the cost of living and general quality of life. For some there is scope to fulfil all three but often ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers may find themselves having to prioritise. Southeast Asia and particularly Thailand is a very large market.
At around £10,000 per year, pay is considerably lower than the average graduate salary. However taxes for foreign teachers are virtually nil and you’ll still be earning several times more than the average local in a country with one of the lowest costs of living in the entire world. For a foreigner, eating out is cheaper than going to the supermarket and you can rent a comfortable flat in Bangkok for as little as £50 per month.
It is estimated that there are currently 100,000 native English-speaking teachers in China. One of them is Oliver Wessely, who recently graduated from the University of York and has been teaching in Shanghai for six weeks: “You are hugely in demand being English and educated and each day you wake up with a bit of a buzz being in a different city. There are a million new things you can try on your way to work, so no day is the same. There can be communication barrier in the classrooms. It can also be easy to be distracted from what you are actually here for and you spend your wage packet a lot quicker than I would back home.”
Does he see teaching as a long term career? “No chance. But there are enough transferable skills for me to be happy that I am doing something worthwhile.”