Monday, September 16, 2013

English Teaching: A Sure Route To More English Teaching

As I've stated, I'm fine with the idea of English teaching abroad as an escape from adult responsibilities and a route to self-indulgence and degeneracy; I'm extremely wary of it as some kind of route to self-discovery and fulfillment, and even more wary of it as some kind of route to establishing yourself in business abroad.

Yet, that seems to be a battle-cry that I hear all too often these days; "I'm just going to teach English until I make enough local contacts to start my own business."  

There are a number of problems with that as a plan, and even a number of problems with it as a logical statement.

All right, first of all: your contacts will surely be your students, right? Sure, there will be some rich guys, some young entrepeneurs, young business people, etc. 

Here's what they're thinking, if you start pitching business ideas at them: 

If this guy knows so much about business, why is he teaching English? It means that he's either a half-assed businessman, or a half-assed English teacher.

 It's not going to inspire confidence, either way.

Also, English teaching tends to have very irregular hours -- evening and weekends -- that will very likely stop you from doing the kind of shmoozing and networking and legwork you'd probably need to do to start a business.

But yeah, these guys often will invite you out -- and I've seen dozens of cases of guys who THOUGHT they were on the verge of being offered some great job by a rich guy, or start some awesome business with some bright young students, or whatever. 

You know how many people I've known who ACTUALLY got a good job abroad from teaching English?


He got a job in the human resources department of a big pharma company, on the strength of his good Russian and a wife who worked there. (Basically, he got the kind of soul-sucking office job most people abroad say they're trying to flee from.) 

I know a couple guys who started semi-successful businesses -- based, of course, around English teaching and usually involving them teaching a fair bit of English. And I know a lot of other guys who lost their asses trying to get involved in businesses they knew nothing about, usually involving import /export, but also including (but certainly not limited to) restaurant / bar ownership and "consulting."

I don't particularly have any OTHER advice about what you SHOULD do if you want to start a business abroad, except maybe to contact some well-established local business consultants who've been there a long time and know the way things work. 

Anyway, why do you think it's easier to start a business abroad than in your own country, especially if you've never started one before? In a new country you have no fucking ideas about the culture, how the laws are applied, who to throw in with and who to avoid, etc. You think it's more of a free market out there, or the savages are waiting for you to bring them fire? In China and Russia and Brazil these days, its like the 80s in America or the UK were -- the streets are filled with ambitious MBAs who studied at the best universities, busting their asses while we were blogging about bagging drunk sluts ...

Anyway, though, I haven't met every single English teacher in the world. Maybe only a few hundred over the last twenty years or so. If you have any stories of English teachers who started successful businesses, leave a comment and tell us about it.


Anonymous said...

Knew a guy in Moscow who got a job with a major IT firm. He was never really sure what he was supposed to be doing there. I went back for a visit a year after leaving, and saw him there. Asked what he did. He said "play Solitaire, mostly."

Living the dream...

Anonymous said...

Can a non russian open a local chain of schools if he has enough capital? I think there's an American who 's running American Language Center in Ukraine but not sure how he's doing. What about the guy in Vberg who's teaching at the local uni and making it work through his private tutors?

You said you rubbed some shoulders with big mafia dons and oligarchs. Don't they need one english speaker on their teams?

brian said...

I believe ESL is a decent way to internationalize your life, with some limits. One, you have to at least like teaching. I do, to the extent I've done it. If I had my druthers, I'd teach English Stateside and if I felt the need to leave, I'd have a way to make enough money to support myself, depending on the country. After reading the article you posted on Twitter, I wondered how many of them were ESL teachers in Thailand at some point. Anyway, what's missing from the typical scenario described above is that most nations won't allow guest/temporary workers to stay in the country. Guess what English teachers are considered? There are some notable exceptions, like Chile, where you can get a work visa if someone offers you a work contract doing anything, even teaching ESL, which is in high demand. Work for a year, and you're granted a Chilean green card. 2-3 years later, you can get a passport. I'm oversimplfying for the sake of brevity, of course. The point is that you want to take all that Saudi/UAE/Japanese/Korean money and bring it to a country that grants visas based on money in the bank, like Belize. You can't work in Belize, but you can lounge on the beach, drink rum, screw backpackers, and be within a two hour flight of Miami while you're on break, then retire there when you're ready. You can earn big money while keeping it, and yourself, overseas.

English Teacher X said...

Well, I've known a few guys in Russia who started schools -- one complicated fail, and one moderate success for a while which then turned into a fail when they changed all the visa and tax regulations. Working as a self-employed English teacher is not exactly your own business. I've never met a rich guy who employed a full time English teacher, but you can make plenty of money teaching them if you can stand the glare off their watch.

Eccentric Expat blogged about an American running a school in Ukraine, don't know if it's the same guy you're talking about:

Anonymous said...

ETX will know who this is even if I post anonymously. Hi ETX! I made it to my new job after all!! More on that later in a private email to you. Got your phone with me from CRC, by the way.

I have always been critical of ELT, calling it a one-way ticket to poverty and unhappiness - and I still think it is true.

BUT what ELT allowed me to do was pocket some money while I worked in jobs in the MENA, enjoy life a bit (even if jobs/employers left a lot to be desired at times), and see the world that people in my home country will never see - the good and bad parts of it.

Would I recommend someone getting into ELT? NO.

Did ELT give me opportunities I would not have had otherwise? Yes.

Could I have done better? Absolutely, but this is the hand I dealt myself - and now I try to make the most of it.

What would I do differently? In college, I would have studied medicine or engineering. Then take a job in another profession.

As for now, change is possible - I realize that, but it is also painful changes, will involve sacrifices that I am not willing to make. And so I stay an English teacher. That is my choice, and I try to make the most of it.


English Teacher X said...

Oh, I should add -- I have known several people who went back to their home countries and got "normal" jobs after TEFL, with varying degrees of happiness and success.

Eccentric Expat said...

ETX, not the same guy. The guy I worked for only has one school, not a chain like ALC. I'd recommend any aspiring English Teachers / wannabe Ukrainian Slut-Bangers to avoid him like the plague.

Tony Pace said...

I know a few people who have made money on restaurants/bars. They work a shitton, of course. And if you think teaching is misanthropy inducing....