Question from a reader: older and looking for work

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A reader whom I'll keep anonymous writes the following:

There is no work here to speak of in [state redacted for privacy] with the recession / depression and I have made up my mind to work overseas. I did it once before from 1990-1993. I tutored mostly adults English in Taiwan, Austria, Greece, and Spain. Loved the experience and did OK moneywise. Now I don't have much money which is needed for things like airfares and settling in until getting paid.....Do Korean schools still pay for inbound airfares?

Although technically illegal, even the Korean tourist office in Los Angeles told me private students are the way to go. Does eveyone teach privates?

I wanted to work in Busan because it would be a couple of degrees warmer than Seoul (I live in Hawaii after all) but recruiters said no schools in Busan hire teachers over 35. I am 48. Another recruiter ( forget who) said the same. What is up with that?!

I have a lot of corporate experience (hedge funds, hotel night audit, bookkeeping, taxes) so I want to teach adults. Sing songs and games are not my thing. I have a lot of experience with adults but cannot seem to find recruiters or schools in Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, or China to be on the same page as me. I do not want to teach children. Surely there are countless thousands of adults each day in Asia wanting to learn English for their careers. Why can't I connect? I don't want to compromise but I do need work.

Greetings my non-twentysomething reader,

For the sake of covering my rear, I cannot condone nor endorse the act of breaking the laws of the sovereign nation of South Korea. If you're in Korea on a tourist or E-2 visa, teaching private lessons without your employer's consent is illegal. Since most schools want you to teach for them and only them, it's a rare school that will give permission. Regardless of what we may think about the laws, they are the laws of the land. With that said, I've a lot more to say. I've actually answered a similar question before, so take a look here before continuing.

It is rather unfortunate that not being in your 20's or 30's means you're not considered good enough by the powers-that-be in Korea. A good friend of mine (R.P., if you're reading - here's to you) is well beyond his twentysomething quarter-life crisis, yet has the same passion for teaching and traveling as any among my own age group. To answer your questions however --

Yes, most legitimate Korean schools do pay for one's flight in - whether they set up the flight directly or reimburse you within a month's time is essentially up to the school. If you don't stay past the six-month mark, most schools will take the cost of the airfare out of your final paycheck. It's a shame, but few public school or hagwon jobs will accept an older teacher - they, like black teachers, have a harder time fighting the perception that they are somehow less able of a teacher. These subtle and non-subtle forms of discrimination are hard to overcome, regardless of your background and credentials. One must remember that the school is often held accountable to the parents, whose inaccurate perceptions often color what the school ends up doing.

To my knowledge, there are no official numbers on how many teachers have illegal private students (as you might imagine, people aren't typically willing to disclose such information). Anecdotally speaking, I would estimate perhaps 40%-70% have at one point had at least one private student. A small percentage of those (perhaps 5-10%) make more money from the privates than their official positions. You won't hear them bragging about it at the local bar or club, however - English teachers have been known to be snatched up for violating their visa, and being deported for the same. Smart teachers keep their earnings - and students - quiet.

For what it's worth, your experience should bear you out. Bypass the recruiters and look for companies willing to hire you for your experience, not despite your age. Your teaching / traveling experience may be older, but it's still useful. Corporate jobs are certainly an option - some of the larger chaebols keep English teachers busy full-time training their employees in the foreign language. Teaching at an university is also an option if you have an advanced degree.

Finally, consider that the economy has hit everyone hard - many expats currently living in Korea that once thought about leaving thought twice when they heard about the 10% unemployment rate in the U.S.. If coming to Korea on a tourist visa, consider that 90 days is enough time to be a tourist - and look for gainful employment on the side. Whether you've found a job or not, be sure to leave before the 90 days is up - anecdotally speaking, Korea has been getting tougher on those overstaying their official welcome.

It should also be worth mentioning - scores of other countries hire English teachers or other positions in the working world. Many of those place less emphasis on age and more emphasis on experience. Work your network, and rely less on the standard recruiters than your intuition and connections. You have a lot more to offer than the twentysomethings still dealing with student loans.

Readers: any advice for this question?

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe - 2009



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