Posts Tagged ‘Teaching Abroad’

Don’t laugh. He might be my neighbor. Chinese dreamin’.

 

Things are moving. That’s really all I can say. I’ve done everything necessary. I am waiting on my Z-work Visa to come back. I used a visa/passport expeditor service with offices in Houston, the regional Chinese consulate for many southern states. I have already contacted them three times. I had questions on the application and lastly I asked if they had received my documents. The staff was helpful and I don’t anticipate any problems so far. All in all it cost around $260 for the service, shipping included. I hope to be on a plane in the next week or so to Mudanjiang. I’m still not allowing myself to get too high on the journey. I had a hiccup, when I discovered my drivers license had expired on Feb. 5. I took care of it the same day with no problems. I don’t want to jinx the ease of my process just yet. I want to quietly, get my visa/passport back, purchase a plane ticket and board unceremoniously. In the next week or so, I will revisit some grammar modules from my online TESOL course. I will continue to listen to chinesepod and struggle through beginner’s Mandarin. One of my imminent goals is to learn the language. Of course, teaching is the priority, considering it is my first time in an academic setting with children. I will adapt. I have been in contact with my school sporadically since my interview. My school manager emailed me once to confirm I’d received my work permit and letter of invitation. I replied after I sent all of my documents to the passport/visa expeditor. AND now I WAIT. Man, I’m almost there. I’m about to do something no one in my family has done. I remember thinking something similar when I traveled to Belgium and all over the Netherlands, then Paris and Germany. I’m ready to eat with chopsticks, have long conversations about Wu Shu, visit the Shaolin temple and drink the strongest drink they serve with some smiling model featured ladies in tight clothes. Not to sound superficial, but I’m looking forward to enjoying myself in the nightlife. I’m also looking forward to becoming a professional ESL teacher. With that said for balance, I work hard and play hard. I always have. Life is about the story you can tell when it’s over. I will try to write a little something once my visa comes and I get a ticket. …Man, I’m almost there.

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Mudanjiang Railstation. Mudanjiang, soon to be my city.

I am only a few weeks out from living, working and arriving in China to teach English. The process has been long and is still not 100 percent certain. I started this journey several months ago. My first choice was to teach in Korea, but I was denied the opportunity. I chose Korea as a starting point for my new career as an ESL teacher mainly because I could teach and save money. South Korea has a low cost of living and pays new ESL teachers some of the highest base salaries in Asia. Once I was denied my opportunity and dealt with several teacher recruiters, agencies and shady individuals, I changed my focus to other countries. Chinese schools were very quick to respond to my resume on the numerous ESL job sites where I posted. Over the past two weeks or so, I’ve been dealing with a school in Heilongjiang Province, Mudanjiang and a second school located in Yinchuan, the capital of Ningxia Province.

MY CHOICE: The school in Mudanjiang seems to be the smaller company. I spoke directly (Skype) with two of three of the school managers and felt good about our interactions. There are three foreigners (one American manager from Arizona and two Canadian teachers) and I would join a staff in an area that is not as Westernized as other school locations. The selling points for me are the small staff, high salary (9,000RMB) per month, and getting my own apartment. I’m 36 and too old and too set in my ways to break in any potential roommate.

The staff in Mudanjiang seemed laid back and easy going. I know I will learn the profession without immediate pressure to perform. The pay is extremely high for anywhere in China and most forums and blogs warn against schools that offer more than 6,000 to 7,000 RMB. I am going with my gut feeling on this one. The city is not one of the popular destination cities like a Beijing, Shanghai or Dalian, so English schools are fewer in this much colder climate.

The city borders Vladistovok, Russia. However, it has a few colleges and several public schools. I will work 25 hours per week with two days off. I was updated by my school manager that my initial application had been submitted and that I would receive the requisite paperwork for my work visa in the next couple of weeks. Even though I signed the contract, this thing won’t feel real until I put together my package for a work visa. I will drink in celebration only at that time. Call me an alcoholic, but I must have a few victory beers before I leave this side of the planet.

MY DISMISSAL: The school in Yinchuan was different from the school in Mudanjiang in every aspect. Lower pay (6,000RMB), although fewer hours and a much larger city. I would have been one of 19 foreign staff with the potential of more newbies arriving just like me. The company is a reputable one, with schools everywhere in China with large student populations.

The recruiter was really good. He explained that he and most of the teachers he knew started out in Yinchuan and moved on to other schools. He sold me on the friendliness of the people, Western amenities and the ability to enjoy outdoor activities. These were all appealing to me. Mind you, there was another recruiter from the same company, pitching me my first choice Dalian, as well. So we agreed that the Yinchuan recruiter would pitch my application to schools contingent on my not being hired at a school in Dalian. The company’s schools in Dalian were tallying there overall need numbers and the recruiter was uncertain whether I could get a spot there. I made the executive decision to only deal with the one recruiter and forgo any offers from Dalian, so the Yinchuan recruiter could present my application to schools in a more favorable light. (I edited out previous comments. I realized I made a dick move and will surely face karmic repercussions. I don’t want others to follow my shrewd treatment of a particular recruiter. I removed an email detailing how I committed then reneged on signing a contract he emailed to me. I realize I was in the wrong and had to correct it with this long drawn out explanation days after my original post.)

The bottom line is: I have found a school that I like, people I like and a place I like. For a salary and hours, I like. I look forward to continuing this blog by highlighting my adventures once I reach China with video uploads and regular posts. Hopefully, I chose the right school. If not, I’ll make it mine.

Finally: I want to thank everyone who has “liked” my entries. I really do appreciate you taking time out of your life to read about mine.

I have decided to take my teaching skills to China. No, I don’t know how to speak Mandarin. No, I don’t know how to use chopsticks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have LeBron James-sed it for about a month. I have been courted by a few schools in China over the past few weeks. I whittled the choice to two schools, which I spoke about in my last blog post. I received a contract and told my recruiter that I could be in China by February 24. The school is well established and the recruiter was professional. The school has a Facebook page and teacher testimonial videos.

All these things make it the safest pick. However, my gut/instincts/Spidey Sense has been tingling. I am not sure if I’ve made the right decision with this school. I still favor the smaller kindergarten that is in the process of revising their contract to meet my specifications. The difference in pay is about 3,000 rmb (6000 rmb and 9,000 rmb) and I have been speaking directly with the manager/head teacher and co-managers. After agreeing to sign a contract with the more established school (I have not signed a contract.), I felt like a number and not an employee. The school has 19 foreign teachers and who knows how many will join me as new teachers in a much larger school.

The kindergarten would consist of myself two Canadians, two Chinese managers and the guy I’ve been dealing with Keith, who’s an American from Arizona. I know it’s a small operation because I was asked to change my arrival date because it was after opening day. He said it would be hectic and “logistics would be difficult”. I’m fully expecting one of the managers to pick me up from the airport. I have no fear of arriving in China and experiencing culture shock. However, I would like the singular attention of a close knit group willing to show me the way. Half of my reasoning for signing with the more established school, is their ability to outline specifics in the contract and their web presence. But I don’t think that necessarily makes them better. I went to a smaller high school and still have that underdog mentality. I played football and basketball locally. My best friend and I always had to prove ourselves to the bigger local schools on the field of play.

But that’s besides the point. I try to follow my instincts (sometimes to my detriment, especially when it comes to the opposite sex) and something didn’t feel/sit right with me after I received my welcome email from the recruiter. I’m going to think it over one more day and make a choice. I don’t take this life-changing move to China lightly. Ultimately, I’m beholden to no recruiter, school or manager. I have to make the best choice for myself. It’s been a long journey. I recognize my anxieties and warranted and unwarranted concerns. In my Army leadership training,  you’re taught to gather the necessary facts and opinions of experts in the field. You then outline three courses of action. One possible, another possible and an alternate course of action should be presented when planning any movement.

I have done exactly that. As of this writing, I have weighed the characteristics of each school, walked through possible scenarios involving payment of salary, industries in the area and exit strategies. My brain is wired like this unfortunately. I could give presentations on both cities to include population, weather and culture, forum comments on the school and comparable teacher salaries in the area. I’m anal like that. But back to my gut, I get about 85 percent from “gut feelings” and I usually make choices based on that feeling. I’ll use today to weigh the two schools one final time and make a solid decision. I’m almost there, literally less than six to seven weeks away. Let’s do it.

Lantau-China. Buddha.

 

This blog will be about positivity. That is the promise I’ve made to myself. I realize I ranted and spewed venom in my last post. I have had to take a step back in my judgement of recruiters. In the four to five months that I’ve been dealing with recruiters, I have experienced the entire spectrum as far as quality services. But before I get into my experiences since my last posting, let me give a quick update as far as my status. I am still waiting on my FBI background check. Hopefully, I will have an idea of where it stands after the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s it. Once I get it back and apostilled, I will be qualified to teach English as a Secondary language at most schools worldwide. Now that the housekeeping has been done, I must talk about one really good experience with a recruiter. I would say the best experience I’ve had with a recruiter so far. I liken it to meeting a future multi-year girlfriend. You know you’re going to get caught up, but you like it for however long it lasts. STC Consortium Limited, a U.K./British recruiting agency, has been the most thorough and accommodating recruiting agency, I’ve dealt with to this point. How so? First, like most recruiters, there is a website/job board where I uploaded my CV/resume. I was contacted within a few days by email, asking for the usual picture, passport, letters of reference, etc. After sending the requisite documents, I was immediately contacted to set up a Skype interview. Actually, I just finished the interview and this blog post may be prematurely lauding services yet to be rendered. However, I have a feeling about this one. I spent about an hour speaking with, not the recruiter, but the CEO of STC Consortium.

Maybe it was her warm British accent or her motherly affectations to my questions. I don’t know what it was exactly, but it felt right. I did my usual interview spiel, why I want to teach in China, the history, culture, the food, teaching any age, blah blah blah. But it wasn’t really blah blah blah afterwards. I was told STC Consortium was given the task of recruiting up to one hundred teachers, ten were already there in country and exactly what STC’s role would be in the process of my placement as a teacher with them. I was also assured that even if I didn’t decide on a placement in China, STC would be in contact with me, as they look to expand into other countries, specifically Malaysia. I think of myself as a good judge of character and I felt good when speaking with Susan of STC. She’s a former educator. And more importantly, taught ESL in a classroom. When we ended the interview, I felt good and thought she genuinely, in my words, “gave a shit”. Every recruiter I’ve dealt with up to this point has treated me like a number. You email them and they get back to you a week later. You interview with them and have to email them to prompt further actions. These are symptoms of a recruiter with more than one client that demand their time. Hey, it is what it is. However, I’ve worked in customer service related positions and I always treated each customer like they were the only person I had spoken with during the workday. It can be done. STC Consortium, so far, has done just that. It was almost familial. She told me a STC representative based in China would contact me next week about opportunities. I feel good about this one. After breaking out my voodoo doll and needles for the last Teaching in Asia entry, I am lighting the incense and rubbing the little fat dude’s stomach on this one. It’s almost karmic. A true Happy Thanksgiving.

Recruiter Kate Upton has probably been to Korea. If she hasn’t, she would at least have the decency to lie to me. NO, this picture is the right size. My blog is just small.

Let me preface this entry by saying “These blogs are my opinion. Everyone has one these days. And like so many others I make mistakes by assuming when all of the facts are not present. And I jump to conclusions erroneously occasionally if a particular subject makes me angry, sad or joyous.” Such has been the case when I have personally (through Skype and international phone calls) spoken with recruiters. I like so many others before me, who have entered this journey to “Teach Abroad”, walked into the jungle without a guidebook. But once you get into the jungle, you begin to find your way. Not a ‘GPS get you right to the spot’ kinda navigation, but the simple navigation that allows you to avoid danger and know where to look for food. The reason I’m getting all Rudyard Kipling on you is this realization: If you are applying to EPIK, you don’t need a recruiter. If you want to teach in the Korean Public School System, you don’t need to go through a recruiter. After speaking to a few recruiters last week, I realized I had done all the legwork in my OWN journey. And like I prefaced, I may have come to this conclusion from assumptions about the recruiters that I spoke with last week. In my last post, I mentioned working with a particular agency and how helpful they had been with my application to the EPIK program. The recruiter had me expand on my lesson plan and recommended I lengthen one of my letters of recommendation. AND it was really helpful. I assumed recruiters, all recruiters, either had experience as a teacher OR had experience dealing with the school system that would prove to be valuable as the process moved along. I also erroneously thought the recruiter did a little bit of the legwork as far as getting a work visa and reviewing contracts. Let me put this into context by paraphrasing the conversation I had with a recruiter via Skype. Young 20-something, sexy in a librarian kinda way, doe eyed recruiter: Well, tell me why you want to teach in Korea? Me: I blah blah rewarding blah blah experiencing blah blah beautiful culture and history. Doe Eyed Recruiter looks down at her cheat sheet and fires off about four to five “typical job interview questions” and asks “Do you have any questions for me?” Me: Well, what can you tell me about the process? What are my next steps? Before she could answer, I explained to her the status of the required documents (passport, apostille bachelors degree, apostilled FBI background check, letters of rec and my EPIK application) and asked what her experience had been. Doe Eyed Recruiter: Oh, I’ve never been to Korea. Me: Um, I didn’t hear you. Can you say that again?Needless to say, I concluded my “interview” and began to rethink my need for a recruiter. Well, that’s not exactly when I ended it. I did manage to ask if their service would assist with my work visa and was told they would not be assisting. So I asked myself, what exactly are these companies doing for me? Here’s my assumption. The recruiter identifies a prospective teaching candidate (not really, they email them photos and resumes daily) and walks them through the paperwork process prior to an actual interview. The recruiter conducts their own interview, determines how flaky the candidate is and attaches their company name to that teacher’s application to the EPIK program. A recruiting agency gets “gold stars” for teachers who excel and some kinda monetary compensation per head from schools or the government. The recruiter may prove useful once a teacher reaches Korea. I have seen plenty of recruiter sponsored get togethers on their websites, proving the familial atmosphere that awaits a potential prospect. I mean, I get it. But I’m not a young person looking to find myself overseas. I’m almost 36 years old and kind of chewed up. I don’t have to meet new people to feel comfortable around foreign language speakers. I lived in Germany for two years and my college roommate was Japanese. My junior and senior year was spent hanging (mostly getting drunk) with international students from Brazil, Korea, China, Mexico, Guatemala and Canada. I’ve been to sake parties and Quienceneras. But I digress. Here’s what I learned over the past two weeks. I as a teaching candidate have specific needs. For instance,  I want to teach at a school that offers prepaid airfare. Hagwons or Korean private schools seem to be the only schools that offer this kind of accommodation. I was told by an EPIK school teacher, currently teaching in Korea that EPIK usually doesn’t prepay airfare, but reimburses within thirty days in their case. EPIK is gearing up for a school year and hiring process that begins in February. Bottomline, I can submit my documents to EPIK and foot the bill for a flight to the school. OR I can find a recruiter (In this case, use of a recruiter is essential because they are in contact with the private schools) and always be upfront about my financial need for a plane ticket. Also, this personal prerequisite, makes other countries that offer prepaid airfare a selling point an option in my search. These journal entries might become Teaching in the Middle East, if they pay for my flight. Here’s where I stand in the journey to teach in Asia: I received another letter of recommendation from a college source over the weekend. (Letter of Recommendation count stands at five, now.) I am waiting on my FBI records check. I have apostilled bachelors degrees, a passport, extra passport pictures for the visa, TESOL certificate that came with a letter of recommendation verifying it’s over 100 hours of coursework, and a completed EPIK application. I’m only missing a job offer, contract, plane ticket and a useless doe eyed 20-something librarian like recruiter to hold my hand and tell me that I’m going to make it after all.

I’m not killing it, but I’m definitely in the hunt.

This is my fifth installment of my quest to Asia. I am no longer frustrated with the process. I didn’t meditate, drop a tab or swim Lake Minnetonka to reach my calmer disposition. I’m simply taking a more pragmatic approach. I can only get documents when they come on the agency’s time line. If that document’s arrival exceeds the agency’s expected delivery date, only then can I raise Hell, legitimately. Surprisingly, I have not had to do much Hell raising lately. I’ve been actively in contact with Greenheart Travel, a recruiting agency for Korean schools. I submitted digitized documents and an application for the EPIK program Spring semester. I will interview with a recruiter on Tuesday of this coming week. Greenheart has been really helpful as far as sending document checklists and next steps for the teacher type of documents. One thing that impressed me and made me feel much more comfortable about the application process was the feedback my recruiter gave me. She recommended I submit another letter of recommendation because it was too short, lengthen the lesson plan required for the application and I saw that I mistakenly left an item incomplete. Sara is definitely the most professional recruiter that I’ve come across since I began submitting applications to recruiting agencies a few months ago. I am leaning toward Korea, now more than ever, even though I’ve received a solid inquiry from a recruiter in China. I received a sample contract of $6,000 yuan, shared housing and a few other amenities. I like the idea of working in China, as I know a few people who have made the trip, but one of my deciding factors is prepaid airfare. Most Korean schools have prepaid flights and/or flight reimbursement. EPIK provides prepaid flights to Korea. Chinese schools usually offer partial payment or a set price for reimbursement, but none I’ve come across have offered full prepaid flights to China. If I can keep $1,200+ bucks in my bank account, that’s more money that can be spent on food, clothes and gaining some lucky Asian woman’s attentions. On another note, my quest for apostilled documentation is nearing completion. I’m happy to report I received two copies of state apostilled bachelor’s degrees as requested a few weeks ago. (See my sarcastic big bass pose with apostille in hand above) I am currently waiting on my FBI background investigation for the second time. When I have that in hand, I will mail it off to the U.S. State Department for their apostille. AND WAIT, this time patiently. I’m hoping to have that big bass pose by mid-November at the latest. If that happens, I will have done all that needs to be done here, short of getting and signing a contract from a school and attaining a work visa and foreign identification card in Korea. Well, that’s how it’s supposed to happen. I will get there when I get there, all in all. Oh, another resource I can recommend for newbies is youtube. There are several teachers currently in Korea that have posted and continually update videos outlining anything from the application process to the price of toothpaste and milk in country. I have found this guy’s videos really helpful and he responds fairly quickly to comments and questions about content.

I’ve also joined Korean teacher and Expat forums, submitted my resume to several ESL job sites, recruiter sites and expanded my search to less favorable destinations to see what other locales have to offer. Early in this journey, I found myself latching on to only applying for positions with the Big Three (Korea, Japan and China) in the beginning of my search. Now, I have been in contact with recruiters for schools in Mexico, Thailand, Colombia (yeah, I know, thrill seeker here.) and Chile. I wish I could say I had a system and there was a method to the madness. But honestly, I’m sure I’ve sent my picture, resume and academic documents to over seventy different recruiters over the past few months. I’ve joined, by entering my resume electronically, over seven or eight recruiting agency websites. I have searched old blog posts for outdated job openings, copied the contact info and cold contacted the recruiters. I am taking a break playing tag now and focusing on EPIK as my main choice. The Korean government and their department of education have money to spend and seem to be a stable place for me to start my ESL teaching career. And I will get to Asia, God willing.

Hurrying Up to Wait

Well, I’m about three weeks into this journey. I am working hard to satisfy all of the prerequisites to become a teacher in Asia. I have completed numerous applications and posted my resume on several reputable ESL websites. I’ve received a mixed bag of responses, but most said the same thing: do you have TEFL/TESOL certification? Background check? Passport?  I, recently, purchased an online TESOL course for $190 from International TEFL and TESOL Corporation. The course is 100 hours and most forums give it a decent rating for securing a job. I began the course modules on Thursday and am already about halfway through the entire thing. It is not light work by any means. I’ve never created a lesson plan or taught in a classroom. My only saving grace is I can eyeball errors and can dissect a sentence fairly easily. Proofreading is almost a gift and a curse. I’m that dude who notices your and you’re. And the use of s’s when they should be the American z’s. I am moving through this coursework fairly quickly and hope to complete it by week’s end. Two weeks ago, I submitted for a FBI background investigation and passport renewal. The process for both is in the four to six week range, so hopefully, I will get them back withing the coming week or three. I’m in a holding pattern, but my goal is to continue to put everything together while the various agencies peruse my sh*t. I’ve updated my resume and CV to reflect the course and plan on making further updates as I acquire more qualifications. The latest being my application to Arizona State University online graduate program. I have educational benefits remaining on my GI Bill and plan to use it to get a Masters in ESL. I have already contacted the Veteran representative and am going to begin in October. I want to do this regardless of whether, I’m hired by then or not. First, a Master’s degree makes me more attractive as a potential hire and I can occupy my time while I “hurry up and wait” for my documents to arrive. I’m really surprised with how quickly this has come together. I have started a HUGE life change in less than a month and it feels really good. It is totally one thought to the next thought to fruition for this. Like I’ve repeated, I don’t believe in preordained movement, but this is getting eerie. I’ve narrowed my choices of places I want to go to Korea, China and Spain. Korea is my main choice. I’ve found a wealth of information on teaching jobs there. Korea is also one of the countries with a lower cost of living and above the economy means teacher pay. It seems a long way away right now, but soon…soon.