I’ve lived in Asia for 10 years and taught for seven of those years in Thailand. During all that time, I’ve never had more than minor problems with any teaching job I’ve taken but that doesn’t mean everyone’s experience is like that. Sometimes jobs don’t work out like you expect them to, bosses are terrible, salaries aren’t being paid, no-one is friendly to you and the overall experience is awful. Here’s what to do when things go wrong while teaching English in Asia, so you come out of it happier, wiser and, of course, safely.
Is it the job or the country? – The first thing you need to do is be honest with yourself. Is it the job itself that’s causing you problems, or is it the country you’re living in?
Some people, for whatever reason, are just not able to acclimatize to living in a different culture and, believe me when I tell you all Asian cultures are extremely different than what you’ll experience in the west. It could just be culture shock you’re experiencing and not the job that’s making you miserable, and that’s what you need to figure out first.
Culture shock – If it is culture shock that’s making you so unhappy, you then must decide can you work through it and get to the point where most of us do, where you enjoy living in Asia and love all the weird, bizarre and strange things about it? Or, is there no way you are ever going to adapt and you need to go home sooner rather than later?
I went through horrendous culture shock when I first moved to Thailand. So much so, if someone had offered me an airline ticket back to America during my first three months in the country, I would have been on the plane faster than you could have said “Get me out of here”. Needless to say, as I’ve been living in Thailand now for 10 years and love almost every aspect of it, my culture shock didn’t last and yours probably won’t either.
My job is terrible – If you are one of the few unlucky ones, and do end up in a miserable teaching job in Asia, don’t worry. It happens. But this is when you need to figure out if there is any way of fixing the situation and, if there isn’t, if you leave and take a different job still in the same Asian country will you be happier?
Fixing the situation can often be as easy as finding out how a native (ie: a Korean, a Thai, a Chinese) would deal with the problem, as many problems teaching in schools in Asia are simply due to the way westerners react to situations compared to how a native Asian would. Remember, you are teaching in someone else’s country so having the mindset of “We’d never do it this way in America” will get you nowhere. Adapt, and you could end up loving the job.
If, however, the situation is not fixable, then it’s time to decide one of two things. Do you quit the job and get on the next plane back to your home country? Or, do you resign from the position and find a job at a better school?
Both decisions are entirely up to you, but do let me just stress, if it is the job that’s causing you problems, getting a new one can be like getting a new life and can make you go from hating everything about Korea/Thailand/Japan/China to absolutely loving the country. Besides, you’ve flown all that way to experience living in a new culture. Why give up so soon?
Quitting your teaching job – If you do decide to quit your teaching job, although it may seem unfair to the school, I would resign as soon as you have received your last paycheck. That’s because, in many schools in Asia, if you give them several weeks notice they will allow you to work out that notice but then refuse to pay you for the classes taught. Take your money and, don’t run, but do at least inform the school that you won’t be coming back.
Remember too, there may be consequences for your actions.
If you’ve accepted a job through your own efforts and without a recruiter or without signing up for a specific program, you may just be able to walk away.
If, however, you have signed a contract saying you will reimburse the school for the cost of your airfare and expenses and you break the contract early, then you could be liable for several thousand dollars of payments. Weigh this up carefully before you quit, and particularly if you want to remain in the same Asian country and teach, as dealing with this badly could come back and haunt you.
Getting another teaching job – Once you are in country, even if you’ve had to resign from your current job, new teaching jobs are very easy to find. You can even start putting out feelers before you resign from your last job just to get the ball rolling.
Whatever you do, though, don’t gauge your new job on your last one as, most of the time, the bad teaching jobs really are not the norm. Send out resumes, go for interviews, and peruse the job boards of websites set up for teachers in the Asian country you’re in, and you should easily find yourself in another job within a week.
Having a bad experience isn’t the end of the world, and having a good one can make your time in any Asian country a really fun thing to do. The most important thing to do when things go wrong while teaching English in Asia is to calmly assess what’s causing your problems and taking appropriate steps to fix them.