Kathryn Smith: From The Peace Corps To Teaching English Online
Once upon a time we offered the readers of the Jobs Abroad Bulletin the opportunity to make a roving living teaching English online to children in China through VIPKID. Part of the reason we did so was thanks to Kathryn Smith, our guest writer today. Though she has found a number of interesting roles to finance her travels, from teaching in Korea to working on a private yacht, she describes working for VIPKID as “hitting the jackpot.”
I’m not here to give you hard and fast rules about working and traveling. I’m not going to feed you lines and tell you anybody can do it because I actually don’t believe this lifestyle is right for everyone. I’ve found my life in traveling. I get the warm and fuzzy feeling when touching down in a new country. I have a love/hate relationship with the confusion from trying to buy things at a market when I don’t know a word of the language. I find joy in discovering the similarities between countries separated by an ocean but in also seeing everywhere is so distinct in one way or another. I’m just here to tell you a story. My story as a travel junkie always looking to fund the next move. Maybe I’ll motivate a few, I’ll probably give anxiety to a lot more.
I’ve moved around a lot the last decade. I caught the travel bug during my first solo trip to Guatemala when I was 18. After three months and depleting my savings, I went home knowing this was only the beginning off my newfound passion. After graduating university, I joined the Peace Corps and set off to a hot, dusty banana town in Ecuador teaching English. The two and a half years just went by too fast. I somehow managed to save enough money on my volunteer salary to allow me to explore more, but not much.
That’s when I found Workaway. Workaway connects volunteers with work opportunities all over the world. A friend and I set off on a three-day journey through the network of rivers in the Amazon jungle to exchange work for free accommodation and food for two months. What more did I need? At this point, electricity and wifi weren’t high on my list of necessities. I did Workaway again, this time on a private island in Panama for a month. By this time though, my money was really running low. Thanks to talking to the right people and having nothing but time and a passport in my hands, I started tour guiding on the incredible San Blas Islands. Eight months later, my body was exhausted but I had saved enough for another plane ticket.
So what does any rational person do? Go to France and work on a private yacht. This one was more of a gamble than I was use to taking. I invested most of my money getting trained and certified and spent a lot of time walking the docks handing out my “Yachting CV.” Getting a job is tough but I managed to get lucky. Spending your summer in the South of France and Monaco is dreamy but working in this environment isn’t for the weak. Long hours on your feet, serving billionaires who expect only the finest. It wasn’t for me but what did it give me? Money. Keeping the dream alive! I spent the next few months with my boyfriend wandering around Western Europe and Turkey until- you guessed it- I needed money.
This was a vicious cycle I was living in. Go somewhere new, work, save money, go somewhere new, spend said money…. I needed to stay put and save some serious cash. So, I called it quits and moved back home. Just kidding! We moved to South Korea and I signed a year contract with benefits (wow!) teaching at a Hagwon, a Korean private school. I found the job on Dave’s ESL Cafe, an incredibly outdated but useful site. While doing the 10-6 life, they really like to sleep in there, I found a website, VIPKID. I usually ignore ads but for some reason this one sucked me in.
VIPKID is a teaching platform working with children in China. To be qualified as a teacher you must be from North America, have a Bachelor’s degree in any subject and some sort of experience with kids. It pays between $8-12 per 25-minute class and your schedule is completely flexible, keeping in mind Beijing time. I had hit the jackpot. I just needed a stable internet connection and my computer and I could make my own schedule and work from geographically anywhere. I immediately started the application process: one basic interview and two mock classes. They give you all the materials with plenty of time to prepare but it is a bit strange teaching a 45-year old from Arizona the letter “P.” It was a tough process but I got through it with some laughs and was in! A teacher, not making lesson plans or grading homework, just following pre-made slides and making kids giggle with a homemade puppet.
My year in Korea ended and my now fiancé and I were itching to get back on the road. We spent the past month working our way through Vietnam and now are doing the same in Thailand. The only difference is now I’m not thinking, “Where will I be when the money runs out?” VIPKID has kept me on my feet and has paid for all my travels thus far, keeping my savings saved. I have a few classroom supplies: a sarong for a backdrop, a roll of tape, a headset with mic, a small fold-up lamp, hand-made ABC flashcards, a stuffed animal and a small dry erase board. They all fit neatly between my clothes and knickknacks in my backpack. In each country, I buy a data card and use hot spot to ensure a solid internet connection from my computer and have a classroom ready to go from wherever. We almost always stay in AirBnBs to give both of us a quiet environment to work from. The flexibility allows me to change my schedule on a day-to-day basis giving me plenty of time to still be a tourist and explore our new environment. Knowing I have VIPKID makes me feel way more prepared for years of travel to come, I just wish I would have found it sooner.
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