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Teaching in...South & Southeast Asia
These countries, once as poor as Africa, have developed rapidly over the last 30 years yet have still managed to retain a lot of their charm. I was once told not to live anywhere you wouldn’t want to visit as a tourist, and if that were your mantra then Southeast Asia would be high on your list of places to find a job. From the beautiful beaches of Thailand and the Philippines to the modern cities of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, from the jungles of Malaysia and Cambodia to the night life of Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, South East Asia really does have it all. And with living costs relatively low and the local people surprisingly warm and friendly, the pressures of work and life are much less than they are in other parts of the world.
You will find unqualified teachers working in Southeast Asia due to the high demand for ESL, but unqualified teachers earn as little as $500 a month, which makes living difficult. CELTA qualified teachers earn between $1,000 to $1,500 a month, and maybe more in big cities like Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Tax is low (or non-existent) but expect to pay your own way with housing, health insurance and travel to and from the country. Costs are generally very low in South East Asia which means salaries go a long way and most qualified teachers live a very comfortable life there. There is a vibrant nightlife throughout South East Asia and even where restrictions exist it is not too hard to find somewhere to socialize whatever the hour.
People, Culture and Politics
Many people find Southeast Asia a paradise and you’ll meet many a foreigner who has turned a year-long visit into a lifelong stay. The people are wonderful and many find the Buddhist way of life very welcoming and open. Culturally, most Southeast Asians are laid-back and avoid confrontation. Some countries have been through turmoil (most notably Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) but on the whole this is a relatively peaceful part of the world. Some people can find Singapore a little sterile (it’s been referred to as one large shopping mall) and cities like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh a little too congested and polluted. Most countries, with the exception of Vietnam and Laos, have a form of democracy.
- Thais do not like being patted on the head unless by someone senior to them as a sign of affection. Equally, avoid showing Thais the soles of your feet for any reason.
- Southeast Asians are modest by nature, and do not appreciate aggressive or excessive behavior.
- In Indonesia it is customary to shake the hands of both men and women upon arriving and leaving. It is also polite when served a drink to wait for your host to gesture before you start drinking.
- In most Southeast Asian countries, people are reluctant to do or say anything that could affect their dignity. This can cause frustration among foreigners because people avoid admitting openly when they are wrong or don’t understand something.
- The kings of Cambodia and Thailand are very much revered and you should avoid insulting them in public at all costs.
- In Singapore, you should always remove your shoes before you enter someone’s house.
- Drivers in a number of countries in Southeast Asia totally disregard all driving restrictions (especially to do with speed) and those most keen to break the rules invariably end up driving buses.
Recruitment & Positions
Whilst there are agencies that will organize teaching work in Southeast Asia, all the best positions (especially best-paidpositions) go to applicants who apply directly or who are applying locally. Teachers can take up a position through an agency and then move on to another better position once they are there, but life can be difficult if your are in an isolated region or badly paid. Schools do advertise online, but these are mostly for positions that schools (probably for obvious reasons) can’t fill. This is a wonderful part of the world and if you can find the right teaching position, you will be sure to have a great experience there. Teachers mostly work in private language schools in the afternoons and evenings. A teacher can occasionally find a position at a university but these are not the norm. Virtually every ESL teacher in Southeast Asia teaches children for part of their schedule. Recruitment is all-year-round.
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