Paid To Travel: Teaching English Around the World

Many of us harbor dreams of traveling the world in search of new experiences and adventures but Chris a 28 year old from Australia has made it his mission in life.

In his own words, "I've made it my mission in life to drink, love, explore, and fumble my way around the world in my quest to avoid ever having to lead an ordinary existence." His quest has lead to many adventures which Chris describes in his blog, Aussie on the Road.

Facing down a bear in Yosemite Park, USA (or at least not breaking a leg running away), writing and acting in a Chinese sitcom, climbing a glacier in New Zealand, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, and standing on the border between South and North Korea with North Korean military guard pointing a high powered rifle at him, are a few of Chris’s adventures. As a working traveler, Chris has taught English in South Korea and China, worked in a call center in Australia, and is a freelance writer. In addition, he finds time to occasionally offer a helping hand doing volunteer work.

Although Chris is an adventure junkie and his adventures are fit for the big screen, he remains a down to earth writer who comes across as a guy telling his buddies a story over a beer. His zeal for life is apparent in everything he does. With a published bucket list of 295 dreams, Chris is never likely to “lead an ordinary existence"...

Enjoy!

 

1.Chris, you had never been on plane until 5 or 6 years ago. Did you travel much in Australia before that? How old were you when you first started daydreaming about seeing the world beyond Australia?

I don’t know that I’d call it ‘travel’, but my family moved around a lot when I was younger. My father was a principal and was often transferred to different places around my state – so I grew up never having spent more than a year or two in a given spot. It meant not having many close friends, but getting to see everything from the NSW outback to the coast to the colder highlands.

Despite all of that travel, or maybe because of it, I never really had any great desire to travel until much later in life. I’d graduated from a university less than an hour’s drive from the town I’d been living in since I was 12 and didn’t really know what to do next. I spent a few years working retail and bouncing from share house to share house, but could never find my niche. That’s when I decided to head abroad in search of it.

2.In a recent blog you talked about one of your travel daydreams of going to Egypt. How do you go about making the daydream reality?

I’ve been quite lucky because I’ve not had to work terribly hard to make those daydreams come true. That’s the beauty of ESL teaching – you’re earning money and you’re traveling, but you’ve also got the stability of a home base. It means that every day feels like an adventure, but you’re not spending a small fortune.

So far the only big daydream I’ve checked off has been the United States, and I’ve been lucky enough on both visits to have been dating an American girl at the time. That saved a fortune on accommodation because we’d either share the cost or we’d stay with friends there. Having a local guide is always good too.

The next big one for me is Europe. My girlfriend and I are aiming to spend a month there during the Chinese New Year holiday next year.

As for how to make them happen – it’s really a matter of budget (which I am not good at) and networking (which I am). If you’ve got friends on the ground in a place – even if they’re ones you only know online – it makes things a lot easier. They’ll know the cheap places to stay, the good places to visit, and will usually show you around as well.

3.Tell me about the reaction of your family to your adventures. Are your parents and siblings supportive of your journey?

My family has always been a wonderfully supportive one. My mother, in particular, has encouraged me for my entire life to go after the things that make me happy. In a way, that might be why I’ll never be satisfied with 9 to 5 and a routine job. She never really got that message about living ‘in the real world’ across to me. She’s an idealist like that, and I’ve followed her in that.

The rest of my family… we’re just good friends. They’ll always have my back and I’ll always have theirs. While they aren’t over the moon at never getting to see me (especially my thirteen year old brother), they understand that I’m rarely happy for long periods in Australia and they’d rather me be happy and far away than nearby and sad.

4.Leaving home to live a country where you do not know the language can be overwhelming to think about and some of the situations you have been in have to have been downright scary. How do you confront your fears in order to do what you want to do?

It was definitely scary. I remember being all alone in my Korean apartment, clutching a loaf of bread in one hand and a carton of milk in the other, and being utterly terrified as the door closed behind my new employer. It was a Saturday afternoon and somehow I was supposed to survive the next 36 hours until I’d meet my other foreign co-worker.
I tackled it in baby steps. I’d go for a walk to the end of my block and then walk back to my apartment. I gradually explored a one block radius of my apartment and I found the places I needed to know. Stuff like the supermarket, the bakery, the ice cream place, and the place that sold something resembling western food. Finding those points of familiarity did a lot to allay my fears.

I didn’t have a laptop or a way to call home at first, so I latched onto my fellow foreign teacher and we spent a lot of time hanging out together. He was dating a local girl, so we had her on hand for any difficult translation issues.
And really, expat life is made so much easier by that brotherhood you form with others in your shoes. We expats say that there are friends and there are expat friends – the ones who you are close with for however long you share a city, but soon lose track of. You’ll find yourself in friendships you’d never have pictured yourself being in back home.

Surviving that first weekend in South Korea, however tearful it might have been at times, has become my rallying cry. Whenever I am confronted by a scary new experience, I just remind myself that I survived that. When I look back at the wonderful two years I spent in Gwangju, the friends I made, the girls I loved, and the experiences I had – that temporary terror was entirely worth it. Knowing that it will get better makes anything seem achievable.

5.Your first foreign job was teaching English in South Korea. Please tell us about the journey that landed you there. How did you find out about the job? What was the application and hiring process like? Did you need extra schooling or training ?

To be completely honest, it was also my first full time job period.

I’d only ever worked casual retail in Australia. It all came about quite suddenly. The older brother of a good friend saw I’d said something on Facebook about being bored and he had a friend who was looking to recruit a teacher to work in South Korea. He pitched it to me one night when I was drunk and had just wrapped up a bad day at work, so I jumped at it.

When sobriety and common sense kicked in, I tried to back out – but the wheels were already rolling. All told, there was maybe six weeks between accepting the job and moving halfway around the world. I might still have backed out if my mother and a few of my close friends hadn’t been so vehement that I follow through. God, when I imagine what my life might have been like if I hadn’t left and still worked retail… I shudder to think.

The process was all quite confusing to me, but my Canadian recruiter was there every step of the way. The paperwork side of things wasn’t so bad, but needing to visit the Korean embassy meant two eight hour train rides to and from Sydney and a few nights of couch-surfing before it was cool.

I didn’t do any training to make it happen, but in my recent move to China a TEFL certification was necessary. I started doing it via correspondence about six months before I’d even accepted a job in China because I’d originally planned to head to Thailand or Japan.

6.You are currently teaching English in China. How is teaching in China different from teaching in South Korea?

There are quite a few similarities – both culturally and educationally. There is still this insistence on adhering to the outdated ROTE learning (repetition) that was prevalent in western schools fifty or so years ago. The new wave is slowly sweeping over China now, but I’m not sure where South Korea stands on that front.

Kids in Korea are definitely more exposed to western culture. Without the censorship that the Chinese media has to work under, they have a very broad base of pop culture to work from and that makes relating to them quite easy.
It also meant they had very little respect for you as a teacher, since they knew you’d probably be out of their lives within a year and that the hierarchy really didn’t value you educationally. In a lot of Korean schools, you’re more there for show than for any real reason.

Conversely, a lot of Chinese students have only ever met one or two foreigners, so you’re still something of a novelty here. The newness makes it easy to control a class at first, but it’s a constant struggle to maintain the line between ‘fun teacher’ and ‘walkover’.

Chinese schools – or at least the two I’ve worked in – tend to value your input a little more. It’s a rare week that I haven’t had to pitch in a little extra to help out, and that’s fine. I like feeling like a part of things.

7.You teach English. What have you learned from your students?

Most of the Korean I picked up in my 2.5 years there came from students, to be honest. They were always very happy to teach me a few words or phrases here and there, and they got a kick out of hearing me speak their language for a change.

I’ve also learned a hell of a lot about teaching from them. Not because they’re experts, but because I’ve had to constantly adapt to their wants and needs. All of the book study in the world doesn’t prepare you for the differences that exist not just between classes – but even between individual students. A lesson that works for one class may bomb horribly with another.

8.How did you decide to make your adventures public by writing a blog?

The girl I was dating at the time had just started a healthy living blog (long since gone) and I was eager to have that shared interest with her. I’d dabbled in making websites in my college years, but had never really committed to anything. I thought blogging would be a fun way for me to practice writing and occupy my free time.

Funnily enough, the idea to do a travel blog wasn’t my first. I toyed with doing a nerdy blog and a sports blog, but realized I had a lot of travel stories to share and thought it would be ‘easier’.

Almost two years on and I’ve learned that it’s not easy and it’s very addictive. I find myself searching out new experiences and in the back of my mind thinking: ‘This will make a good blog entry’.

9.You are a busy and energetic person. How do you manage to find time to write? Is the motivation more economic or an internal processing of your life?

I’m actually not as busy as I might make it sound. My teaching load is usually only 2-4 hours a day, and lately that’s dropped to forty minutes a day while I’m out on assignment in a smaller city. Even with socializing and travel and my other interests, it’s rare that I don’t have a few hours a day to kill.

I go through patches where all I want to do is write, but lately it’s been a bit more of an obligation. Between commitments I made to post content with third parties and my own desire to get my recent US adventures up to date – I basically have to tie myself to the desk, turn off the internet, and just write.

10.How long have you been blogging? How much freelance writing experience did you have before you started?

I started Aussie on the Road in October 2010. I had done some freelance stuff for local papers in the past, but that was about the extent of it. A few poems and a short story had been published, but I’d certainly never considered writing as a viable career path. I’m still not sure that I do, haha.

11.You frequently host guess bloggers. How did you decide what kinds of topics you want to include in your blog? Where do you find the guess writers? Are the writers paid?

I get approached regularly by people wanting to submit guest posts. A lot of the time, these are obvious advertising attempts and I send them on their way. I don’t like to host bad content – so even if I do accept a less than stellar article, I’ll usually spend a few hours rewriting it to suit my site’s tone.

I like to cover as broad a base as possible when it comes to topics, so anything travel related generally makes the cut. If it’s interesting and informative, I’m happy to look at it.

12.Marketing a blog can be very frustrating and time consuming. What have you discovered along the way? Have there been particular people, companies, and or resources that have been helpful?

I learned a lot about marketing my blog from Travel Blog Success and from reading guides put together by other bloggers. A real inspiration to me had been Caz and Craig from yTravel blog – who have really embraced social media and used it to great effect. I’m not ashamed to say I borrow a lot of how I conduct myself on Facebook from their page.

Link building – the process of contacting other sites and asking them to link to you – is an exhausting and not entirely fun process, but it’s a necessary evil if you want the Google Page Rank needed to boost you up the search pages.

I’ve discovered that, more than anything, being yourself in your writing is going to bring people back. All of the fancy widgets, social media presence, and pretty photos in the world don’t mean squat if people aren’t coming back to read about you. I try and make sure there’s a little of me in everything I write.

13.You have put a lot of time and effort into your blog. It has a professional appearance and is easy and fun to read. Has it started to bring a profit? Would you mind describing the financial history of the blog?

The blog has been profitable for the last 6-8 months now, but that’s really jumped up in the past few months on the back of some partnerships with other sites. I’ve been putting stuff together for the Malaysian Tourism Department, for example. It’s probably never going to be enough to just quit my job and travel on, but it’s a nice supplement to my teaching income.

14.Other than financial, are there returns or benefits that you enjoy from blogging?

I love the travel blogging community. I love these friends I’ve made but never met, and I love knowing that most (if not all) of them would happily put me up for a night or show me their town if I were to breeze into their neck of the woods.

I’ve hosted or guided a fair few travel bloggers in my time and found them to be wonderfully open and personable people. It just seems to go with the territory.

My recent US trip also saw me get a few freebies along the way including accommodation, tours, and even car rentals. Not bad, eh?

15.Where would you like to see your blog in two years?

I’d be really impressed if it were still doing the rounds. I read somewhere that the average life expectancy of a travel blog is only two years – but if I’m still traveling, I daresay it’ll still be there.

The long term dream is to get to a point where I can just travel and write – but that might be a way off yet. Very few bloggers have managed to do that without first saving a small fortune to use as their base.

16.One final question. When you are away from home, what is the one food or drink you long for the most?

Oh, that’s a tough one! I’ve been lucky in most of my ‘home cities’ that there’s been some western food options around – so I’m never completely isolated. But when I am cut off – like now, for example – a good old fashioned sandwich is what I find myself craving most often. Bread in most of Asia is intolerably sweet, cheese and butter are expense, and lunch meat is hard to find. It’s heart-breaking!

Thank God for Subway…

🙂 Thank You

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Chris is an Australian travel addict and a blogger at www.aussieontheroad.com. You can also visit him on twitter at @aussieontheroad

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