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EFL Advice

Hugh Fox III
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox


The Real Story? 3-5
Where Should I Teach? 5-8
Types of Schools 8-10
Language School Scams! 10
The Chinese Myth 11-13
Compensation is a Complicated Issue Abroad 13-18
Compensation versus Local Contacts 18-19
Making Friends Abroad 19-25
Should You Take the Plunge? 25-26

Crime does not pay abroad! 26-28

ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

The Real Story?

Lately I have been getting a lot of requests for advice from fellow Americans about teaching
English as a foreign language (EFL) and have come up with this response in the form of an
essay. Maybe this is the pessimistic view of being an American and teaching EFL abroad!
English as a second language (ESL) is when you teach English in a country in which English
is the dominant language. EFL is when you teach English in a country in which English is
not the dominant language. In day to day conversation, ESL is often used to refer to an EFL
situation and I generally do not bother to correct the speaker and even use the two terms
interchangeably in conversation myself. However, there are important pedagogical
implications in ESL versus EFL situations.

I think its a realistic essay but many would describe the views here as pessimistic. I do think
there is a lack of pessimism/realism on the internet about doing EFL abroad! People put a lot
of stuff on YouTube when they first go abroad and before even a year has passed. These
poor saps are in the Honeymoon phase of Culture Shock and have no context for their
experience! There is hardly anything on the Internet from people who have been in the
EFL/ESL biz for years and years like me. I have been in the biz for over 30 years. I was an
ESL teacher in the US for five years. I then did teacher training of ESL teachers as a
professor for six years. I spent six years getting my masters and doctorate but was doing
teacher training during this period as well. I have been in Asia teaching EFL for 18 years. I
have a tedious blow by blow description of where I have lived and worked at:


I have seen carloads of newbies crash and burn in Asia. I can just look at a newbie and tell
you how long they are going to last! I have seen well over a hundred colleagues from the
West come, screw up and go home! No one wants to talk about this! Why would they?
Negative stuff about EFL is bad for business and its a business!

First of all you have to recognize EFL is a big business. For your typical American its a
chance for adventure but for everyone else its a way to make money and you have to be
careful. There are people out there who want to rip you off period! They want your labor
and the profit associated with your labor and dont want to tell you the bad stuff.

Secondly, you have to realize you need ten years of work in the US to qualify for social
security. If you dont have the ten years then think twice. What you get from social security
may be a pittance in the US but it can actually support you for example outside of Bangkok in
Thailand. Also, when its all said and done you are not getting any sort of pension from
99.9% of the outfits you are working for outside of the US. In theory you can get some sort
of lump sum for working at a public institution in Taiwan but you have to put in at least 20
years. Japan also has a similar deal but its complicated and again you need to put in 20
years. Every year you teach abroad is a year that does not apply towards your retirement. I
try to make up for this by saving about a grand US a month but I promise you that I am one in
a hundred. I literally know guys that came to Asia in their twenties and due to ageism can no
longer get jobs back in the US and have absolutely no pension, no social security or savings.
Once you are abroad the experience is fun and addicting and you tend not to think long term.
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

Plus there is a limit to how long you can be an EFL teacher. The following site deals with
age restrictions on a school by school and country to country basis:

Age limits to teach overseas | International Schools Review

I would add that countries that do not enforce an age limit are generally countries that dont
enforce laws in general! There are disadvantages to working in countries that do not enforce
rule of law! There is generally a difference between being allowed to stay after 60 and
applying at 60. If you already have the job and good relations with administration in
countries where rule of law is lax then you might be allowed to stick around after 60 on a
year by year basis. Relationships are more important than rules in many countries. On the
other hand, applying at 60 and up is another matter! Even a school in a country where the
rule of law is lax will think twice about bending the rules for a stranger rather than a friend.

A lot of people write to me asking advice about placement companies. Placement companies
tend to only tell you the good stuff and never tell you the bad stuff. Once they get their
commission from the school then its not their problem! They will send candidates to the
same crappy school again and again knowing full well its a crappy school and everyone who
goes there gets ripped off. Placement companies do not mention blacklists of schools, social
security stuff, negative cultural stuff, negative location stuff and negative personal safety
stuff. They are there to sell the country and school and get their commission. If you get shot,
ripped off or culturally assaulted then thats your problem not theirs.

There is an eighty percent chance that you will know that you are in a dysfunctional situation
as soon as you start teaching but strangely you will put up with the crap for two or three
months because you figure its a foreign culture and it must be you not them. There are
hundreds of language schools that depend on little armies of newbies coming in, getting
ripped off, realizing what happened in three months or more and start with a whole new
bunch of newbies they can rip off all over again. If no one has been at your school more than
a year then you are probably at one of those schools. If you see giant turnover within the
first two weeks of your new job then you need to start thinking about an escape plan.

Maybe there is a good placement company out there somewhere but I have only heard horror
stories. I have never used a company. I would say pick a country, make a list of places you
want to work at in that country and go over there and do cold calls. The schools that
advertise in Dave's ESL Cafe are less than 1% of the schools out there. Most locals have
never heard of Daves ESL Cafe and have never thought of putting an ad there! Another site
similar to Daves ESL Caf but a little more professional is ESLemployment. Many
countries have a local version of Dave's ESL Cafe. Thailand has Japan has
something similar.

Dave's ESL Cafe is free and better than nothing but again its less than 1% of the jobs out
there. I would say the really good schools advertise and the really bad schools advertise. The
vast majority in the middle dont use Daves ESL Caf. If you see the same school with the
same ad for months and years then stay away since that is a signal that turnover is over the
top. A good school will advertise for a particular position and demand qualifications. A bad
school just wants an army of warm bodies they can hire and fire at will. Most schools treat
email like the garbage it is and don't mess with Daves ESL Cafe. There is a 99% chance
the person will punk out before they move abroad to take the job. A person in their
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

office is taken seriously. Email is considered a waste of time by most administrators

abroad. My boss in Taiwan just routinely deleted any email of that sort he got unopened. If
you actually went to the school then you would get an interview. You can use emails to set
up interviews. Tell the place you are going to be in the city at X time and would like to
interview during that period. Its easier to name good places than all the bad places. Below
is my list and if a country or region is not on the list then you dont want to go there.

Where Should I Teach?

Where you should teach is determined by your own cultural tastes, local conditions and
compensation. Gender and age do matter! What is a great country for a man may be a
terrible country for a woman and vice-versa. A great country for the twenty something crowd
may not fit the needs of an older teacher and vice-versa. I am going to discuss the European
Union (EU), Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

The European Union (EU) is out unless you have EU citizenship and most Americans don't.
Even if you have EU citizenship then you should be aware that competition is fierce for good
jobs. The good news is that Great Britain does a great job of producing highly qualified
teachers. Brits have been going to Europe to teach English forever and like all nationals,
Brits help Brits get jobs. This is great if you are British and not so great if you are an

Latin America is dangerous and the ratio of pay to cost of living is terrible but some people
love it. You will make enough to survive. Latin American might be a good choice for
someone who has a US paycheck coming in and can afford to live in the better and safer
neighborhoods that are out of the reach of most EFL teachers due to cost. You should not
ignore the personal security issue when thinking of teaching in Latin American and the
following Wikipedia entry gives you some idea as to how bad the problem really is:

Crime and violence in Latin America

However, even if you are not violently assaulted or kidnapped then you will have to deal with
petty thievery on a weekly basis and that gets really old, really fast. Eastern European
countries that are not part of the EU are similar to Latin America pay wise but in general
safer. You will be kind of broke but will have a great time. If having fun is the goal then
maybe Eastern Europe is the way to go. The cost of living is marginally higher than Latin
America so you do go through savings faster.

What about the Middle East? Do your research! Saudi Arabia pays the most but is
tough. Over the top salaries do exist in Saudi Arabia. Sometimes you will have your
passport locked up in the school safe and that gives the school some pretty basic power over
you. If you are new to living abroad then you may not realize that if you dont have a
passport then you cant leave the country! This is the only country in the world that does this
and this practice is more or less illegal according to international law but the Saudis do it
anyway. After your passport is locked up then things get even worse. The internet is replete
with horror stories about Saudi Arabia so there really is no need for me to go into this topic in
detail here. The situation in the Middle East is very, very different for men and women.
Gender is important in the Middle East. Older expats seem to do better than younger expats.
There does seem to be some reverse ageism in the Middle East. Older workers are often
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

preferred. If you still need TGIF every Friday at fifty then I salute you but I for one have
slowed down big time. However, if making a ton of money is your main concern then the
following site is useful for looking for a job in Saudi Arabia:

The UAE is a lot better than Saudi Arabia but less jobs than before. Bahrain was great but
now has revolutionary violence but maybe thats a good thing since less people will apply
and it might not affect you. The Middle East is an exception to the email rule. Many places
only hire via email, especially Saudi Arabia. The following site is good for looking for EFL
jobs in the Middle East in general:

NE Asia which includes Taiwan, South Korea and Japan is a good place to start. More
money in South Korea than Taiwan but Korea is cold. Taiwan is subtropical but a little less
money than Korea. Japan was great but kind of tough to get a job there right now. Japan is
awesome and makes Korea and Taiwan look like back waters. EFL newbies could start in
Taiwan and after a year take a trip during your vacation to Japan and hit the bricks. If you
get something great and if not it was a fun trip. Japan is super expensive. Kind of figure a
hundred bucks a day while job searching and again it might take a while in Japan. Taiwan is
at least half that and you will get a job in a week or two. Maybe you wont get a great job but
a job. I will warn you that many people have this plan but end up getting a really cute
Taiwanese girlfriend and never leave Taiwan. If you are in country then you are a hundred
times more likely to get a job in NE Asia. Do not mess with language schools in South
Korea. Public schools and university affiliated language centers are ok in Korea. Dont mess
with Berlitz anywhere!

SE Asia is fun, fun, fun but the pay sucks! Thailand is tough culturally. I have done very
well. Most people crash and burn. You do need to read up on Thai culture if you want to do
well in Thailand professionally. I would recommend at the very least:

Culture Shock! Thailand (Culture Shock! A Survival Guide to Customs & Etiquette)

Working With the Thais: A Guide to Managing in Thailand

Thais are very proud that Thailand was never colonized. The only other Asia country that
was never colonized was Japan. However, Japan was occupied by the US after WW II.
Thailand was invaded by Japan during WW II but I dont think you can really say that
Thailand was occupied by the Japanese. However, Japan is not a Western country anyway.
So Thailand is the only country in Asia that was not colonized or occupied by a Western
country. This special history makes Thailand special. Thailand seems Western enough on
the outside but on the inside Thais are very Thai! If you dont deal with the unique features
of Thai culture then you might lose your job via none renewal of your contract and generally
no cause is given. Why your contract was not renewed is often a mystery. This is unique to
Thailand in Asia. You will almost always know you are screwing up in NE Asia. You think
you are doing great in Thailand since everyone is smiling but suddenly you are out on the
streets without a clue and thats a little unnerving!
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

You can get adequate pay in Thailand but probably won't. Thailand pays the most for SE
Asia but nowhere near what NE Asia does. The salaries are even lower in other countries in
SE Asia. My buddy in Vietnam has a heart attack if he has to pay 20 bucks for a hotel in
Bangkok when he comes to Thailand but you will get a job in Vietnam for sure. I make
about 30 bucks an hour so a 20 buck hotel three star hotel in Bangkok, the most expensive
city in Thailand, is totally within my budget. Overall, pay in Vietnam is half what the same
position would be in Thailand and Vietnam is only marginally cheaper than Thailand.

If you are an American woman then I would warn you against Thailand! Loneliness is a
giant problem. Many Thai men find American women too assertive. Western men are
generally more interested in Thai women than Western women in Thailand. Of all the
women in Asia, I would say Thai women are the least friendly towards Western women. I
have heard Western women say that Thai women dont like them. I personally think Thai
women are more indifferent towards Western women than anything else.

I never heard an equivalent remark in NE Asia from Western women in NE Asia. After
several years in Thailand, I have seen several Western women who lived in NE Asia and
thrived but crashed and burned in Thailand. A Western woman will be able to make friends
with NE Asian women and even close friends in the case of Japanese women. Western
women have some of the same problems of being a bit too direct for NE Asian men but
Korean men can handle Western women. Japanese guys are pretty international. Thailand is
great place for Western women to visit but maybe not a great place to live. Visiting a place
and living in a place are radically different.

When visiting you dont have time to get lonely. Being lonely is a major problem for any
American abroad anywhere but it is magnified for Western women in Thailand. However,
there are so few Western women in Thailand, especially outside of Bangkok, that this can be
an advantage when it comes to looking for a job. Thai bosses often do want some semblance
of gender parity ratio wise that a Western woman will probably find it very easy to find a job
in Thailand! If an American woman really wants to live in Thailand then I would
recommend she live in Bangkok and she can join the American Womens Club of Thailand in
order to make some friends quickly.

In general, Thais do not have a Confucian outlook like NE Asians and that means their ideas
of right and wrong are more flexible than in NE Asia. If you are older and wiser and most
of all richer then you are in a better position to handle this flexible outlook on life! I would
say Thais use more situational ethics than Westerners or NE Asians.

Because of the greater use of situational ethics, NE Asia may be a better place to start than
SE Asia for younger Westerners. Thailand can be tough on young guys. Younger guys tend
to be more nave and romantic than older guys, not always, and seem to be more likely to fall
for scams. One aspect of situational ethics is relativism. Grey versus black and white is
easier to handle as you get older. If you are under 40 then I would say stick to NE Asia.

SE Asia definitely attracts older Americans than NE Asia. Why? You get one to two points
extra in the physical attractiveness scale if you are an American in NE Asia. If you were a 7
in American then you are an 8 in NE Asia. You generally lose physical attractiveness points
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

as you get older. I would say you get two extra points in SE Asia. So if you slide to 6 from 7
as you get older then you can still be an 8 in SE Asia! A 5 that was lonely in the US is a 6 in
NE Asia and probably still lonely after the move. Also the lower pay may be less relevant
when you are older since you saved some money when you were younger.

Types of Schools

The big three types of schools abroad are international schools, language schools and
university teaching jobs. If you are a certified teacher then you can go anywhere and make a
good salary since international schools pay more or less a US wage everywhere. This means
you can really hit the jack pot if you get a job with low taxation and low cost of living
compared to the US.

However, just because a school says its an international school does not mean it is an
international school. There are many local schools that have the word international in the
title but this is a scam. These faux international schools are pretty awful since you have all
the drawbacks of teaching children as opposed to adults without an international level salary.
These schools often cater to local elites and foreign students that come from poorer and less
developed countries. Salaries can be abysmal. Often, local school teachers in SE Asia are
paid incredibly low salaries. A foreigner will make a little more than the local teacher,
usually foreign teachers get a housing allowance, but you are still struggling financially. The
following list is fairly comprehensive:

List of international schools

If the school you are applying to is not on this list then the school is probably an
international school in name only. If you are not certified then you are probably not going
to get a job at an international school. If you work in an international school then you can
make a US wage, and even get some sort of pension while teaching abroad. If you are going
the international school route then check out the Council of International Schools (CIS).

Language schools are really the bottom of the EFL world. An example of a language school
would be something like the Berlitz schools. The Berlitz schools in particular are pretty
horrible and should be avoided at all costs. If you work at Berlitz school then the chances are
pretty much fifty percent that you will be ripped off. Oh and I am only writing about how
they treat the teachers. The clients i.e. the students are treated very well! This is often the

Many language schools treat the students well at the expense of the teachers. You might
consider that if the school charges lesser fees than everyone else then they need to make up
the short fall somewhere and thats usually in the salary area. Teachers that hang around tend
to want more money as they get more seniority. So if a school wants super low student fees
then seniority is generally a bad thing not a good thing. Again, EFL is a business! If you
have a masters in anything and are not certified then you should look at language centers in a

Language centers in a university generally have good pay and great working conditions. You
generally have one to three months of vacation vs. nothing at a language school. You work
20 hours a week and 4 days week! College students get a grade and are therefore motivated
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

unlike language schools that depend on intrinsic motivation that is sorely lacking in Asian
cultures. You will work far more hours and far more days a week at a language school and
students may or may not show up and you get blamed if they dont show up.

And the small stuff, language centers at the university level take care of your work visa and
you get medical insurance. Language schools generally do not take care of your visa and
pretty much never include medical insurance. Small stuff but not so small, if you get run
over by a car or arrested for a tourist visa over stay. You will probably need at least a
masters in NE Asia to work in a university language center. Bottom line, avoid language
schools. Try to get a job at a real international school or a university language center. If you
have a masters and certification then should you go with the international school or the
university language center?

I love teaching at the college level. I am a certified teacher with five years of teaching
experience at the high school level in the US. I was doing teacher training for ten years as a
professor of education in the US. I could double or even triple my salary if I worked at an
international school in Bangkok. No thank you! There are zero discipline problems at the
college level. Discipline is half the job at the k-12 level. At an international school, you
have to go five days a week and be there all day! Maybe you only actually teach half that
time but you still have to sign in at 8 am or whatever and sign out at 4 pm or whatever. Will
you have your own office in a high school? No way! That means doing your own thing on
your computer between classes is hard to do. Once you have gotten used to a 20 hour 4 day a
week university schedule, its hard to go back to 40 hours and 5 days a week international
school schedule!

However there is more money in international schools than in a university language center
but you will be working hard! You will have 2 to 3 months of vacation at an international
school and plenty of change in your pocket. Lets say you make 40 grand USD in an
international school in Bangkok, well you can save half of that even after traveling like raj all
over SE Asia! There will be some sort of system that is more or less the equivalent of a
pension plan for international schools and probably not something as good at the university
job if anything.

If you want great working conditions and ok money then get the masters in TESOL and work
in a language center as an instructor, not a professor, at the university level in NE Asia. You
are pretty much limited to NE Asia when it comes to good university language center jobs
since many universities in other countries pay taxi drivers more than professors much less
instructors. That the case in Eastern Europe and Latin America for example.

If you want longer hours, tough working conditions, discipline is not fun, and great money
and want to work anywhere then look at the CIS qualifications and aim to get them before
going abroad. If you want to have long hours and low pay and very limited job choices then
leave the US with just a bachelors and get a job at a language school. You should realize it
will be ten times harder to go back to school after you move abroad than right out of college.

I am going to skip a spiel about being a professor of English, actually foreign languages in a
non-English speaking country, because you really need a doctorate. A professor is not an
instructor. You are not attached to a language center but to a foreign language department.
Very few people have a doctorate. People with doctorates looking for jobs abroad are fewer
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

still. There is actually very, very little information online about being a bona fide faculty
member abroad probably because this is a fraction of the expats teaching abroad. If you are a
member of this small population then maybe you should contact me directly. The topic is

You probably owe a million dollars to the govt. right now due to college loans. Whats
another million? I am kidding of course but you probably do owe something like ten to
twenty grand, right? You will not be able to pay the loans back with the money you make at
a language school. Its better than being unemployed in the US but its still just
surviving. College kids teaching in language schools in Asia figure its better than Starbucks
in the US but its still the bottom of the EFL ladder. Thats what you get with just a

You could pay of the loans in 3-5 years with what you earn in a university language center in
NE Asia. You might be able to pay off the loan in two years or less at an international school
and the live like a king. However, you will dread the end of your vacation and the return to
the zoo at the international school. I actually love teaching my college students and look
forward to going back to class. I dreaded the end of summers when I was teaching at the high
school level in the US. If you are going to hit the bricks with just a bachelors then at least get

Actually you might get a language center job at the university level in NE Asia with just the
CELTA and a bachelors. You can always get the masters online once you have a job. You
do have tons of free time if you go the university language center route. The CELTA and a
masters is golden! You can pretty much pick and choose what university language center
you want to work at with both. CELTA only and no masters means for example that the
capital cities like Seoul (South Korea) and Taipei (Taiwan) are out for language center work
and you have to go to second tier cities like Daejeon (South Korea) and Taichung (Taiwan)!

The following sites should be read for country specific information but also to give you an
idea how bad it can get in general. To some extent the same scams are played in every
country but to a greater or lesser extent.

Language School Scams!

I advise against language schools altogether but if you dont have a masters and/or
certification and working abroad is some sort of gap year then at least try to avoid being the
victim of a language school scam. While Korea is the worst when it comes to language
school scams, called hagwons in Korea, all countries play the same games to a lesser or
greater extent. The following is a black list of schools in Korea that will rip you off for sure:

Korea is kind of the smash a grab crook land of EFL. Japan is more a long con kind of place.
In many ways harder to deal with since the con is so good you dont know you are being
conned. Japan is the champ when it comes to very civilized and very intricate scams. You
think you are safe and sound and going to get a pension and then you get screwed royally
after many years of loyal service. There is also a green list and Japan can also be the best of
worlds. The following is the Japanese blacklist:
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The Chinese Myth

I am going to single out China because China has a giant machine built to attract newbies
over there, rip them off and make profits from the difference. China is one of the great myths
of the EFL world. There are scams in other Asian countries but I have to say in many ways
the whole Chinese EFL world is just one giant scam! I have seen more newbies get
destroyed by China than all other countries in Asia put together and feel an ethical obligation
to let potential EFL teachers know what they might be getting into.

China has very, very low salaries even compared to other developing countries. China is not
that cheap anymore and salaries that were low way back when have not kept up. The
problem is that you might be able to eke out an existence in China but you will be broke if
you leave China to travel during your vacations. What you make in a month will not even
pay for a holiday weekend in Japan!!!! There are numerous other issues.

There is massive air pollution so if you have any sort of respiratory problems then think
twice. Water quality is a problem. There are all sorts of problems with fake goods, fake rice,
fake medicines and on and on.

Anyone thinking of going to China should read this article:

11,000 RMB is 1,732.93 USD this is the link to the calculation:

The following articles detail China's quality of life:

China is not cheap! China used to be cheap but not anymore. Maybe it takes a while for a
change in cost of living to register on the internet. The following article compares Xian and
Boston. Xian is one of the cheapest cities in China and Boston is one of the most expensive
cities in the US:

As the article points out, alcohol is the same price! Western style pubs and restaurants are
more expensive in the China than in the US and far, far more expensive than SE Asia. If
night life is important to you then will be broke on 11,000 RMB, Chinese currency, a month.
11,000 RMB is considered a good wage in China. China has special burdens. No YouTube,
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no Wikipedia intermittently, I can't access my blog in China. No Facebook. More about the
internet at:'s_Republic_of_China

Anti-foreign feeling is on the rise:

The RMB is not fully convertible and this causes all sorts of problems when you travel
abroad with your Chinese money. Your Chinese ATM card often does not work outside of
China. This is fine when your US bank has plenty of money so you can use that card but at
some point most of your money is in RMB and what do you do then! The official rate is a rip
off so you will need to convert your RMB using the black market but the Chinese police do
sting operations and you can get into serious trouble. You are literally getting paid in funny

You cannot mention the three T's in your class. The three Ts are Tibet, Taiwan and
Tiananmen. What you can say or not say in a classroom in China is a huge grey area beyond
the three Ts. What you can say changes from month to month and no clear guidelines are
actually available. You will probably at least one student whose job is to report what you say
and do to the school. This spying is not a big deal at first but later it gets old. Your Chinese
friends can suffer for your own big mouth! Chinese often skip punishing the foreigner who
can make trouble but punish those around the foreigner. I am not talking anything dramatic
like jail but maybe promotion gets harder to get for that Chinese friend. Maybe the boss talks
to your Chinese friend and scares the crap out of that person. I dont want to exaggerate
since the stuff you see in the movies almost never happens to Westerners but little stuff
happens all the time. A lot of foreigners go nuts in Asia anyway but I would say your chances
of becoming paranoid are five times higher in China than anywhere else in Asia. You will
run into teachers that have taught in Japan, Korea or Taiwan for over twenty years all the
time. This is very, very, very rare in China!

Strictly speaking your contract at a public university in China is limited by law for one year
period with the possibility of two and only two one year extensions period! The law is
widely ignored but the law is there and China is the only place in Asia that has that sort of
law! You will run into teachers that have had to start all over again every three years. In all
honesty, Japan and Korea often only allow you to work at their university for five years as a
matter of university policy but this is not government policy! Five years is also a lot longer
than three years!

China is near the bottom of the globe in so many areas: (1) quality of life, (2) pollution, (3)
cost of night life, (4) internet censorship, (5) censorship in class, (6) personal privacy, (7)
anti-foreign feeling and last but not least (8) currency convenience! This is nonsense you just
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dont have to deal with in almost any other country in the world. China is special but not in
a good way.

China is not a normal country. The vast majority of Chinese know that China is not a normal
country and will tell you this if you get to know them but of course they are leery of the state
listening in especially right now. Many Chinese want to go to immigrate to the West were
they can enjoy more personal freedom and economic opportunity and have no idea why
stupid waygoren are working for peanuts in China!

If you are not qualified to teach EFL anywhere else in the world and the choice is China or
unemployment or Starbucks in the US then maybe just maybe, China might be better but in
my opinion probably not. Get some qualifications in the US and skip China altogether. I
have been teaching in Asia for over 15 years and I have not run into a single person who is a
long term professional EFL teacher in Asia who thinks China is a good idea. China is a place
you go when you dont know any better or lack proper qualifications! Thats what China is
known for in EFL circles in Asia.

I love the Chinese! Some of the best students I have ever had have been Chinese students. I
have nothing but admiration for the scholarly diligence of Chinese faculty. I made life-long
friends in China that I am still in contact with! As I often say, I love the Chinese. I just
dont love China. The Chinese know exactly what I am talking about. The Chinese are a
great people with a great culture but maybe 1.3 billion people is a billion too many! Given
this insane level of overpopulation the fact that China has accomplished so much is mind

Compensation is a Complicated Issue Abroad

Compensation abroad is a combination of your 1) salary, 2) cost of living, 3) taxes and 4)

your housing allowance/subsidy or a lack of one. Within the US, there are relatively minor
differences between cities in the cost of living area. State taxes do vary but federal taxes stay
the same no matter where you live in the US. Housing is rarely if ever part of the
compensation package of a teacher. When living abroad both cost of living and taxes can
vary dramatically. Housing is often part of the package. Only looking at salary is not
enough. However, most people do have some concept that cost of living needs to be looked
at when living abroad. First of all there are a lot of myths about cost of living. The best
place to get information about cost of living is at:

Now lets do a little experiment. Using the above site lets compare the cost of living of
Bangkok which is supposed to be cheap with New York City which is supposed to be
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

Bangkok is more or less fifty percent cheaper than New York City. However, you should
realize that many expats make less than 20,000 USD teaching when in Bangkok while they
would be making 40,000 USD plus in New York for the same job. You make at least a 100%
more in the US and this offsets the cost of living advantage. We will come back to Bangkok
later in this section.

Cost of living is less relevant than before. I have been living abroad the last 15 years plus
and what I have noticed is that capital cities like Bangkok now respond to international
housing demand not just local housing demand. Globalization means that cost of living
differences have narrowed between international cities. The cost of living difference
between Bangkok and New York City is about as great as you are going to find. In general
the cost of living difference will be 50% or less and rarely more than that.

If you are willing to forego living in the capital city of a country then the cost of living might
be a lot lower and your ability to get a job with better work conditions might also be higher.
There is generally a tradeoff between work conditions and living conditions when you go the
provincial route. Some international amenities are not available in the second tier cities but
your employer is often more grateful to have a foreigner. Often, the locals in the capital city
are kind of sick of foreigners and you are not as different and/or special. If you dont like the
work conditions in the capital city, then there is probably another foreigner in line willing to
take your job. Its simple supply and demand. There are about ten times more foreigners in
the capital city than in the second tier cities and demand is about equal. However, this doesnt
mean you get paid ten times more since the capital city also has more money to play around
with. You will probably get treated better in the second tier cities than the capital and thats
worth something.

For example, in Taiwan you could get a job in Taichung or Kaoshung in a week as opposed
to a month in the capital city, Taipei but once you work outside the capital city you are really
going local. However, Kaoshung wants you so they might toss in a house as opposed to an
apartment when it comes to university housing and a house can be really nice especially
when you have children. Good luck getting a house in Taipei or any of the capitals of Asia!

90% of the expats in any country are in the capital city of any country. Kaoshung is the
second largest city in Taiwan but has almost no expat scene which may or may not be a good
thing depending who you are. Most Americans do appreciate the expat scene that is there
when you need it so not living in the capital city of country is actually a big deal. Again, this
is something you only learn when you live in other countries.

In most of the world the capital city is international and even the second largest city is
hopelessly provincial and when you want food, books, company and diversions from your
country then you are out of luck outside of the capital. I arrived in Asia in 1999. The second
tier cities were provincial to the point of this being painful. The internet has changed what
provincial really means somewhat. Because of high speed internet all over the world, you
can still watch your American TV shows and movies even in the middle of nowhere. Food is
still a big problem. You never really think about comfort food except when you dont have
any! The capital city is going to be a lot more international when it comes to food. On the
other hand, globalization means even that is changing. Supermarkets all over the world are
offering more options due to the globalization of the food industry. The one you still have to
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

deal with is fellow expats. There will be far fewer fellow expats in the second tier cities so
good luck with that.

Taxation further complicates the compensation issue. For example, taxes in Thailand are
much, much lower than in the US and this is not reflected in the cost of living figures. The
following site has international tax information:

If the cost of living if 50% less in Bangkok but you are only making half of what you made
back home then the two cancel each other out. Thats actually what happens exactly in most
cases! However, Thai taxes are more or less 5% and thats a lot better than a tax rate of 30%
or more for most middle class Americans. So because of taxes and not just cost of living, you
come out ahead in Bangkok. You have to figure in taxes when figuring out compensation
abroad! The third piece of the compensation abroad puzzle is housing.

Many places abroad offer a housing allowance or housing and that also makes a big
difference. In the case of a housing allowance you get money for housing but how you spend
that money is generally up to you. The housing allowance is kind of a foreigner bonus.
Foreign language teachers are harder to get than local language teachers and some sort of
bonus is needed to get foreign language teachers and thats the function the housing
allowance serves. The housing allowance may be a pittance or substantial. The local
teachers are generally not big fans of the housing allowance so if the allowance is substantial
then you might want to keep that information to yourself.

Housing allowances in SE Asia either are none existent or not very impressive but there are
notable exceptions to this rule. SE Asian school housing is generally designed for the locals
and not up to the standards of most Americans. Squalor is a word that is often applied to
school housing in SE Asia. Once again, visiting a place and living in a place are not the
same! Putting up with squalid conditions for a week or less as a backpacker is one thing.
Living in squalid conditions for months at a time can break you down. Culture shock is
depressing. Culture shock and squalid living conditions can mean you just go home after a
month or two. Even if the housing looks good then there are other wild kingdom issues you
may find out about later!

More specifically mosquitoes and other six legged friends are often your friends in university
housing in SE Asia. I am going to focus on this problem because a lot of Americans that
come to live in SE Asia try to ignore the problem and that approach just doesnt work. I have
known at least five Americans that went home in large part because of the insect life of SE
Asia. I grew up in Latin American and learned some skills over there. I then lived in Taiwan
which is subtropical and augmented those skills further. I think I have some expertise on the
subject that is not readily available. Overall, mosquitoes are part of the urban landscape in
SE Asia in a way that they are not part of the urban landscape almost anywhere in the US.
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

If you are getting bit all night then you cant sleep. If you cant sleep then the culture shock
stuff really gets to you. If the culture shock stuff really gets to you then you lash out which
just makes the culture shock stuff worse. Mosquito netting around your bed helps
tremendously. Thats step one but getting bit all day is also no fun. Mosquito coils can clear
out a huge area quickly but most Americans cant handle the smell and this is a temporary
solution. If a place is really infested then screw it and just use the coils, stay out of the
apartment afterwards and then move on to other lesser solutions. You can get the biggest,
baddest outdoor bug zapper you can find and just plant it in the middle of the living room and
that does work and kind of keeps the population down big time after the coils have done the
heavy lifting! You can also plant that baby in the bed room about an hour before you go to
bed and then move it to the living room but move quickly before the mosquitoes get in.
Spraying mosquito repellant right on crevices that the mosquitoes get into also works and
even works after the smell has gone. However, these are all tactical solutions and the
problem is best solved strategically.

Some cities and areas have lots of mosquitoes and some dont. Try to live and work in an
area that doesnt have a lot of mosquitoes in the first place. If a city is mosquitoes ridden
pretty much everywhere then that place is off my list in the first place. In most cities, some
areas within a city can be mosquitoes free and some areas are thick with them. You need to
do your research ahead of time. All the locals know which cities and areas have mosquitoes
and which dont. This is one time that just talking to locals can be a lot better than the
internet. Mosquitoes are just one type of insect you need to deal with in SE Asia.

In a tropical environment you really need to take the garbage out every day or every other
day or you will attract bugs. Americans are used to big garbage cans and taking out the
garbage out once a week. Have a little garbage can. Use the small 7-11 store bags and make
tossing that bag into the dumpster on your way to work part of your daily routine. You can
have separate large garbage can for the recyclables and give that one to the maids once a
month. Plastic bottles are money to them as is most cardboard and plastic. The large glass
beer bottles are serious money for the maids! Be ecological and help your neighborhood in
one action by letting them have the glass bottles. If you buy your beer from a mom and pop
store then you can turn in the bottles and get a discount at the same time. 7-11 doesnt give
you the discount so walk that extra two blocks and help out the mom and pop stores and get
some needed exercise at the same time.

The problem is that if you do this small garbage bag thing and your neighbor doesnt do this
then the bugs next door literally use the drain system to give you a visit. Fellow Americans
are actually worse culprits when it comes to the trash than the locals who know better. I live
in Thailand but most of this stuff will apply to any country in SE Asia.

SE Asians do keep the snake population in check. SE Asians dont like snakes any more than
we do. You wont even see that many snakes outdoors in most cities in SE Asia. I would say
in most cities in Thailand you would maybe see a snake once every three months. Tall grass
in the middle of nowhere is another matter! Get a stick and rattle the tall grass in front of you
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

to flush out creepy crawlies as you walk or better yet just dont walk in tall grass in the
middle of nowhere in tropical countries! The locals arent walking in the tall grass with or
without a stick thats for sure. There are worse hobbies abroad than watching the locals and
trying to figure out why they do things a certain way. Often their way is better because its
adapted to local conditions. A SE Asian local is often living on ten bucks a day or less and a
lot of what they do saves money and doesnt lower your standard of living in the least.
Nowadays, watching some dumb American toss a big beer bottle, basically money, into the
dumpster almost makes me mad.

However, if you dont like geckos then dont live in SE Asia. Geckos are harmless but also
impossible to keep out of your apartment. I just say hi to them and go about my business.
Big geckos do eat little geckos so if you are lucky then you might have some wild kingdom
action right in your own apartment! The big gecko more or less gulps the little gecko and the
whole procedure is pretty fast. By the time I get my camera, I think it would look great on
YouTube, only the tip of the tail sticking out of the mouth is there. Good luck catching a
gecko and releasing one into the wild. They frigging crawl on the ceiling, are really fast and
go straight for a crevice you cant get at! Well at least you wont be lonely. SE Asian
housing benefits are not impressive in general. NE Asia is another story.

Universities in Japan and South Korea often toss in university housing for a nominal fee.
Housing is very expensive in NE Asia so this is a very important part of your compensation
package. In the case of university housing, your university is your landlord and that can be a
problem. As your landlord, the university potentially has more power over you and more
over sight of your behavior. In theory you could lose your job and your housing on the same
day! All things being equal I prefer a substantial housing allowance to housing. You
sometimes have a choice between a housing allowance and housing.

The university housing in NE Asia may be great or crap. You want to visit the university
housing before signing your contract! Incredibly many expats dont do this. In a worst
case scenario the university housing is horrible and not a place you would even want your
dog to live in. That was what happened to me in South Korea. The university housing in
Korea did not have a functioning heating system! South Korea is cold in the winter. The
foreign teachers had to use space heaters! I am surprised no one just froze to death.
Furthermore, the showers lacked any hot water. Needless to say many of the foreign teachers
elected to shower every other day. The location of the housing was literally the back forty of
the campus and you had to walk a good half an hour in the snow to get to the front gate and
the city. No way! I opted to pay for my apartment out of my own pocket and didnt even get
a housing allowance as a substitute.

In a best case scenario, the university housing may in fact be a pretty swanky apartment
complex owned by the university in a fashionable area downtown! That was the case with of
an American friend of mine in Seoul. Living off campus is great if you want more autonomy
from your work place and thats what most people generally want. Apartment fees can be
really high in NE Asia so university housing can make a big, big difference!
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

This is why the Middle East is the perfect combination when it comes to compensation. The
cost of living in the Middle East is generally similar to the cost of living in the US or even
higher. However, heavily subsidized housing and absolutely no taxes means the
compensation is higher than you might think based on cost of living figures. In an extreme
case someone making a 100,000 USD more or less pays half of this to the US government in
the form of taxes. A 100,000 USD magically becomes 50,000 USD a year before you even
get your paycheck in the US!

A 100,000 USD a year in the Middle East is generally not taxed at all! Housing in a big city
is generally your biggest expense but if you pay a nominal fee, or no fee, for housing in the
Middle East then even more money goes straight into the bank account.

In conclusion, cost of living is over rated because cost of living between international cities is
not as relevant as before and cost of living is often seen out of context. Other benefits such as
housing and low or no taxes need to be part of your calculations and may actually be more
important than cost of living. Overall, compensation is a complex issue when living abroad!

Compensation versus Local Contacts

I have noticed that people often move to a country because they have a friend over there. I
think this is a terrible idea! In the long run compensation far outweighs the advantage of
having a friend in country because a friend in a foreign country is a very iffy affair. Moving
to a country without visiting is always a bad idea and the friend in the country doesnt make it
less of a bad idea. Your friend may actually be a loser and their situation is actually terrible
but they dont realize this. Or the friend does realize their situation is terrible but they are
bragging via email and Facebook to feel better about their decision. Overall, people
exaggerate how good their situation is abroad. Visiting a friend in a foreign country for
reconnaissance purposes is a great idea! If you visit then you will quickly ascertain the real
situation. Your friend may be in the honeymoon stage of culture shock and will leave twenty
minutes after you arrive and end up leaving you high and dry.

On the other hand, I think following a beautiful girl back to her country after her stay in the
US is not a bad idea at all. A local gal is going to be a lot more useful than a fellow
American in a foreign country. She can help you get a job, an apartment, learn the language
and if following her, a very romantic move, leads to marriage and happily ever after then so
much the better. Sometimes you run into a gal that is a good three points higher or more than
you in the looks department back in the US. For some unexplainable reason she loves you
despite the attractiveness gap. If this happens to you every day due to some mutant power or
pheromones or whatever, back home then disregard my advice but for the rest of us mere
mortals that over the top foreign beauty that has never shown up in your life before may
never show up again and if changing zip codes means you can clinch the deal then you
should consider this move!

There is of course the very real chance that you will look a lot less attractive in her country
than back in the US. In the US, you may have been her teacher of the ways of America. In
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

her country you may be a fish out of water and a fish flailing on the ground is not a very
romantic sight. Still, even if she dumps you then she will probably feel guilty and help you
adjust to her country in a manner similar to how you helped her adjust to the US. The bad
news is that if you dont have a local contact then you will need to make friends quickly.

Making Friends Abroad

Loneliness is a big problem when you are abroad. You need to be preemptive about
loneliness. Being alone in a crowd happens to just about everyone living abroad. You are
surrounded by locals who speak their own language and have their own family and friends
and dont really need a new friend that doesnt speak their language and is from some strange
country they know from the movies but not much else. Dont wait until you are lonely and
desperate. You make poor decisions when you are desperate. Lonely and desperate makes
making the wrong sort of friends more likely. You need to proactively start meeting and
greeting people almost as soon as you arrive for info, for help, for fun and just to have
someone to talk to. Extroverts do have some advantages over introverts abroad in the short
run. This is easy for extroverts but not for introverts.

You probably have big support network of friends and family in your native country that you
dont miss until they are gone! This network was largely created unconsciously over a long
period of time. Maybe the whole idea of actively networking is new to you. Do realize that
most of your friends abroad will probably be expats that speak English. I do say hello to
fellow Westerners in Asia that I run into in the street. I wouldnt do this back in the US but
we arent in the US! Language and to a lesser extent, cultural barriers mean that making
friends with the locals will be much more difficult. On the other hand, just because someone
is a fellow American that doesnt mean you have a lot in common. However, I will at least
have a cup of coffee or a beer with a fellow American before deciding we just dont have a
lot in common. As mentioned, I am American but a lot of my friends abroad have been
British. I had a British friend for several years in Taiwan. He turned out to be a giant comic
book fan and liked to read serious novels i.e. literature. None of the Americans I knew in
Taipei had those two interests so the British officemate ended up being my best friend in
Taipei. One place to make friends is obviously in an expat bar.

Generally a capital city will have at least five types of expat bars: English speaking, German
speaking, French Speaking, Japanese speaking and Chinese speaking. The key is language
not necessarily nationality! People want to speak their own language after work in a bar.
Thats not hard to understand. If you speak German then you will be accepted in the German
bar. If you speak French then you will be accepted in the French bar. The idea that Japanese
dont want to associate with gaijin (Japanese for foreigner) is exaggerated. You might need a
Japanese friend to take you to the Japanese bar the first time around but if you are fluent in
Japanese then you are probably in and can come on your own in the future! If the place is too
provincial to support a Japanese pub then the Japanese will find a Japanese restaurant and
make that their hangout. The Chinese will find a Chinese restaurant and do the same and
since food is a big part of Chinese socializing are less likely to have what we would call a
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

pub. Again, its about the language not your nationality. The English speaking bar will have
Americans, Australians, Brits and Canadians in varying ratios.

Invariably expats whose second language is English have pretty good English and can
communicate fluently in English but do they want to speak English when they are trying to
relax? Probably not. The good and bad news is that the cities other than the capital city will
only have one expat bar and the English speakers, French speakers, German speakers,
Westerners in general, are to some extent forced to associate at that one bar. A city like
Bangkok that has tons of expats compared to lets say Taipei does have British as opposed to
American hangouts but an American is certainly going to feel welcome at the British pub and
vice versa.

If the city you are thinking of moving to truly does not even have one expat bar then this is
an indicator of provincialism you should take into account. You can survive in an extremely
provincial setting, I have done it, but such setting can also be very tough! I did add the
caveat truly. I have run into expats who have lived in a city for over a year and could not
find the local expat bar and they were just wrong. I lived in Taichung and there were two
expat bars at the time. It turned out there was one right around the corner from my apartment
that was kind of a secret. Fortunately the internet has exploded since then and finding expat
places is a lot easier than back then.

Beware of making friends at work! There is a tendency to make friends at work anywhere
but this tendency is greater abroad. You are often a newbie among newbies and have a lot of
common goals like figuring out basic A to Z stuff of the country you are in. The problem is
that aside from being newbies, you might actually not have a lot in common and later this
becomes apparent and you still have to work with your fellow newbie. Kind of like an office
romance gone bad but on a smaller scale. Also, you are the blind leading the blind.

The expat veterans at work will often be more standoffish than the fellow expat newbies.
The veterans may have seen a lot of newbies come and go and might see you as a transient
that will be gone soon and not worth a lot of investment in terms of time and energy. The
veterans have also survived to some extent by distancing themselves from the cultural
mistakes newbies invariably make. Guilt by association is unfair but part of human
psychology and more especially in collectivist societies like those in Asia. People will judge
you by your company, again especially in Asia. Locals may especially judge you by your
company. Newbies might also be surprised that a veteran has more loyalty to the
organization than a fellow countryman and this is one of the reason they are veterans!

The ugly side of collectivism in Asia is that if you are on good terms with the locals who run
the show then to some extent you will be expected to shun expats who insult that group.
Yes, Asians do their own low key version of shunning! They say hello and smile politely but
thats it! No more chit chat! When you chit chat then you get the silent treatment.
Americans often dont catch on because the person is smiling but after you live in Asia for a
while then you can read the none verbal signs loud and clear! Maybe the Asians are even too
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

polite which is officially hyper-politeness. Asian locals will do this as a group and if you
want to be on good terms with the group then you might be expected to conform to a lesser
extent than a fellow Asian but to survive in an Asian organization long term then you will
have to conform to some extent. Polite but distant communication in public might be the way
to go with a newbie who is about to be fired. Should you do this? Ethically this may be a
quandary but pragmatically if the expat has really caused the locals to lose face or whatever
then that person is not going to be around for long anyway and there really isnt much you
can do about it and if you like the job then some level of cultural adaptation is necessary.

The newbie probably doesnt even catch on to the fact they are being shunned and mistake
the hyper-politeness for actual concern rather than indirect communication that they have
screwed up. You can pretend you dont have to pick sides during a divorce but actually you
often have to or risk being only friends with the wrong side. Pragmatically the side that pays
your bills is the right side. A veteran learns the hard way to be friendly with newbies but
keep newbies at arms length until they have proven that they can get through the semester or
even the year without making a cultural faux pas that gets them fired. Newbies are rarely
fired over one cultural faux pas but because of a pattern of cultural faux pas. Asians are not
as comfortable with direct confrontation as Westerners in order to change the behavior of the
expat newbie and will hint around and the newbie may not even realize a message is being
communicated. This is actually a difficult stage for the veteran since the veteran probably
does know what the problem is, could communicate what the problem is but is also aware
due to experience that many newbies cannot or will not adapt and getting involved is often a
waste of time.

I could give countless examples of cultural faux pas but will stick to one that is especially
important. In highly hierarchical societies that have high power distance (Hofstede) then
criticism of the boss in faculty meetings is generally not a good idea. I am not sure if
criticizing the boss anywhere is a great idea but in Asia this can lead to none renewal of your
contract. As a Westerner you will be given more latitude and be forgiven for being less
respectful to the boss than you should be from an Asian point of view but eventually your
egalitarian mind set can get you into trouble.

Newbies do need some veteran expat friends who can explain the basics to you but meeting
them in a neutral setting like a pub means they are more likely to befriend you since your
screw ups are less likely to affect them professionally. There are several types of expat
veterans that have picked a career that allows for travel.

The most obvious one is the language teacher like myself. If you are a language teacher there
are obvious advantages to this sort of veteran since this person can give your career advice
and in a best case scenario even help you upgrade your professional situation. As mentioned
earlier, your first job in a new country is almost always never the job you keep. The veteran
can help you get a better job in many cases. There are other expat types including diplomats,
business executives, and fellow Christians.
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

The diplomats tend to move from country to country more than the language teachers and
will have a lot more information about different countries and their economic and political
conditions. Your knowledge of the local scene will be a lot more micro because of the sort of
locals you are interacting with but as a teacher you are dealing with an awful lot of the real
people than a person in an Embassy. A lot of their knowledge comes from written sources
and interactions with local elites in the host country. Local elites do filter the information
they give American diplomats! Local elites will be careful about what they say to an
American diplomats. Your students might have a lot less inside political knowledge than
local elites but are much less unfiltered in their speech with you. In many cases local elites
themselves are very isolated from the vast majority of the population. Students represent a
more honest cross section of the country compared to the opinions of local elites shared with
American diplomats.

The US government has a policy of moving diplomats around and this has pros and cons. On
the con side American diplomats often dont have a chance to learn the local language and by
the time they know up from down are posted elsewhere. An American teacher that has been
teaching at the same university for 20 years and is fluent in the local language and even has a
wife from the host country probably has an idiographic, subjective and contextualized,
knowledge of the host country that is more useful than the very different nomothetic,
objective, generalizable and decontextualized, approach to knowledge of the diplomat.
Diplomats also tend to have a more global perspective that comes from being posted in many
countries compared to a teacher who has lived in one foreign country most of their time
abroad. You both have something to contribute in a discussion about what is really going on
in your host country. A smart diplomat should probably invite an American professor who
has lived in the host country for a long time now and then to dinner in order to have a more
rounded view of the local situation.

I feel terrible writing this because I have known some diplomats in my time and I know they
hate getting phone calls from American friends but if you are an American and know
someone in the US Embassy then that might be a very good thing if you get into a tight spot.
Officially the US Embassy takes a hands off approach to almost all problems an American
has abroad but unofficially a phone call from the right diplomat can make some problems
disappear! When the US Embassy should get involved in the affairs of the host country when
an American is involved is often a very grey area anyway. A good American is more likely
to get help than an American that is perceived as marginal.

As a citizen of the US, you are automatically welcome to celebrate the 4th of July at the US
Embassy in the capital city and its a pretty good party based on my very limited experience.
I am almost always working not in the capital but in the second tier city for reasons I go into
in another section of this document. However, July 4th is a terrible time to network! The
embassy staff is busy, busy so just enjoy the hot dogs and have a good time!

There are the multinational executives and they mix uneasily at the same expat bars as the
language teachers. We really dont have a lot in common. The US is supposed to be
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

egalitarian but in reality we do divide along class lines and the executives are making several
times more money than the language teachers. There are of course exceptions to this rule. I
did become pretty good friends with an American who worked for Coca Cola in Suzhou,
China but this experience made me realize we lived in the same host country but in many
ways we lived in two different countries!

The Coca Cola guy didnt know about Confucius, yes he had heard the name but wasnt sure
what he did or did not do, but Coca Cola guy could and did give me a very detailed lecture
about the relative pros and cons of live in help around the world! I guess in some countries
the live in help has a reputation for stealing and you are better off having someone come over
twice a week but you want to make sure to keep an eye on them. Well thats the part I
remember. The lecture was a lot more detailed than that and I regret not taking notes because
actually I think the guy did know what he was talking about and this is probably useful
information for someone just not me.

You do have the option of joining AmCham in the country you live in! Just type in AmCham
and the name of your host country into Google and details of events and membership are
available. You can just go to selected events which is what I did in Taipei or pay the
relatively high, for language teachers, membership fees. Heres little tip, generally the men
are overworked and have never even had a chance to do anything in terms of local tourism.
The men go to the meetings to network. Almost every language teacher has some brilliant
ideas of businesses in American that would make a fortune if transplanted to their host
country. There are invariably a hundred reasons this is a terrible idea but your fellow
language teachers are generally useless in this area. If you want business advice then talk to
businessmen! AmCham is a great place to have a world class American executive explain
why your idea is terrible or maybe your idea is actually not so bad.

My impression is that business guys do like talking about business a lot more than EFL so
you are boring the guy less than if you talked about your teaching experiences. Many
language teachers do end up becoming business guys abroad and this probably would not
have happened if they had stayed home. You become a lot more pragmatic, worldly, tougher
and confident after a couple of years abroad and handling the challenge of working abroad
often leads people ready to handle even greater challenges professionally.

You may be a JP Morgan in sheeps clothing and not realize this fact and find the AmCham
guys are more your type than the language teachers after a couple of years abroad. Language
teachers are about five times more likely to learn the local language than business executives
abroad. The reason is simple, time! The language teacher has time to take lessons in the
local language. American executives abroad often are overworked to the point of exhaustion.
They would like to learn more local cultural stuff but just dont have the time. If you know
the local language then you do have something to offer an American company in a host
country. There are business situations in which the company needs someone with super high
English skills and so-so local language skills.
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

The wives of the American executives are a lot more bored, generally are not working,
generally have a lot of time and money on their hands and want to do tourist stuff. There
must be an American woman working abroad with a house husband but frankly I have never
met such a couple. I have met several, yes several, female language teachers with an
unemployed bum for a husband but I dont think that is quite the same thing. However, do
you really want to do tourist stuff with a bunch of wives? If you are female language teacher
then maybe! Language teachers abroad tend to be men and sometimes female language
teachers need female friends. The female language teacher will probably know a lot more
than the wives because she is dealing with local students every day on a professional basis in
class and picks up a lot of local knowledge that way. Again you are more likely to have
picked up the language and what you consider a pathetic level of fluency may very well elicit
oohs from relatively isolated housewives. You have something to offer and the housewives
often, yes often, have access to a company car with a local chauffeur so its a win-win for all

Language teachers take taxis and the smart ones take the bus to save money! We do not have
cars with chauffeurs, well if there are such language teachers then I have never met them.
Actually dangerous language teaching jobs may include a van or even chauffeur from your
well-guarded expat compound to the international school. This is the case in some countries
in Africa and Latin America or so I have heard.

Finally, ambitious local women who want to do business in America and/or Americans will
attend AmCham events and a lowly language teacher might have a chance with this sort of
gal because she might want to improve her English with an American friend or maybe she
just likes the shade of your eyes. Are our eyes green or blue? I want to thank my parents
here and now for giving me eyes of an ambiguous color. They have served me well over the
years. For some reason this topic interests her. Moving from the friend category to the
boyfriend category with this generally high SES type of gal is hard but not impossible.

You can meet fellow Christians in an interdenominational church which advertises English
services in the English newspaper of the host country in the capital city but probably not
outside the capital city. There will probably also be a Catholic Church in many large cities in
Asia except of course China and North Korea. Actually there is a Chinese Catholic church
with a hierarchy that is approved by the Chinese government and not the pope. I went to one
of these churches in Suzhou and found the experience interesting. I dont know that many
capital cities that have so many expats that they can support many different denominations.
Sooner or later you will meet missionaries and Mormon missionaries in particular.

Missionaries are a paradoxical group. On the one hand they are generally true believers. The
clergy that wasnt sure probably stayed home or went home shortly after arriving. On the
other hand missionaries often see things that the clergy that stayed home would never see so
they are worldly about human suffering. Missionaries are a strange mixture of idealism and
realism. If you are a missionary in a third world country then you have probably seen human
misery most Americans back home cannot even imagine. Missionaries are not nave like
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

many idealists but have elected to stick with their ideal despite and perhaps because of their
experience with the gutters of human existence.

Missionaries in Asia also use a soft approach to proselytize because a hard approach means
locals just wont come to church at all. I think the missionary approach in Asia is like a small
stream of water that eventually creates a Grand Canyon. Slow and steady conversion seems
to work a lot better in Asia than the fire and brimstone approach. I am officially a Buddhist.
Missionaries in Asia generally know an awful lot about Buddhism compared to clergy in the
US for obvious reasons and again will use a very soft informed approach to get you to rethink
your thoughts about Christianity.

Maybe you never went to church back home but going to church abroad because you want to
talk English and meet some fellow Americans is not wrong and the clergy abroad are used to
this sort of attendee. The clergy want you to attend church and if your motives are a little less
than pure then thats ok with them. If you get approached by an inordinately cute South
Korean girl at the supermarket, be warned, she is probably a Christian that wants you to
attend her church! Interestingly, South Korean Christians have no interest in discussing
Buddhism at all unlike Western clergy in Asia. I am not sure why this is so. Never had a
cute Buddhist girl approach me in a similar manner in South Korea. I have also had the
experience of having a cute Christian girl in the US not be too happy about finding out I am a
Buddhist. I have missed potential dates due to Buddhism and never gotten a date due to
Buddhism. Maybe I should switch religions, just kidding!

Be careful, I have heard that if you attend the church too often then a request to teach a small
English class for the locals can follow and compensation, well material compensation, I am
sure the spiritual compensation is eternal, may be a little less than market rates. Again, at the
risk of seeming Machiavellian, missionaries often know locals that are fellow Christians that
can be very helpful if you find yourself in a jam.

Language teachers are kind of low on the totem pole compared to almost any other type of
professional expat abroad when it comes to compensation but you have your own relative
strengths and weaknesses that members of the other groups can find useful. There are win-
wins for the different groups associating. Just because you are a language teacher, doesnt
mean you have to hang around language teachers and unfortunately language teachers often
limit their network to other language teachers.

Should You Take the Plunge?

What makes a candidate more likely to survive abroad?

1) Flexible is good.
2) Street smarts are good.
3) Multicultural experience is good.
4) International experience is good.
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

5) Cockiness about international travel is not good!

Again, visiting countries is totally different than living in countries! Maybe you have
traveled all over the world but its strangely useless if you have never lived in other countries.
Paranoia is also good! If you think you are being ripped off then you probably are. You
dont know the culture or the language when you get to a new country and there are people
who prey on this day in and day out. Maybe your life sucks in the US but realize teaching
abroad may just create more problems.

If you owe a bunch of money for your college education then realize no payments to Uncle
Sam over time can soon double this bill. I have literally watched a bunch of kids do this in
the last five years I have been in Thailand. Going to a country like Korea in order to pay off
your college loans is a very viable idea. Coming to Thailand that has low wages that barely
keep you afloat when you owe money is a very bad idea!

You can literally get trapped abroad. Make sure you always have enough in your bank
account to go home. If you cannot save at least a little money in a situation abroad after a
couple of months then take a pass no matter what the school tells you about how great the
situation is from a none monetary point of view.

You absolutely do not want to go through savings and be forced to borrow money to survive.
However, if you are trapped abroad then please leave your friends abroad alone and borrow
from your family. Thats what family is for. Conversely never ever lend money abroad if
you cant afford to see it disappear. I was 39 when I moved to NE Asia for a period of ten
years and in all that time I only had two people ask me to lend them money. I am in Thailand
now and at least once a year a fellow foreigner tries to borrow money from me and they are
considerable funds. I havent said yes once so far and probably never will. If your salary
doesnt pay the bills and savings are running out then its time to go home.

Crime does not pay abroad!

More and more I read in the local newspapers stories about Westerners that become desperate
and commit crimes in Pattaya, Thailand. Maybe crime pays back home but being a criminal
abroad is a really bad, bad idea! You probably dont have the cross cultural street smarts to
figure who is a good guy versus a bad guy in a foreign culture. You literally cant spot the
cops. All countries use undercover agents and some countries do a really good job! On the
other hand, very, very few foreign countries use foreigners for undercover work. A
Westerner in Asia is probably not working for the police in any capacity. Then again there
are crooks that prey on their own kind. Many Americans in Bangkok use the American
fellowship thing as a tool for scams on other Americans. At best they borrow money they
have no intention of paying back. At worst they set you up as a patsy. Finally, you stick out
like a sore thumb as a foreigner before the crime, during the crime and after the crime and
this is not something that helps with most crimes. Being noticed is good when being chased
by girls. Being noticed is not good when being chased by the police.

Being in prison in your own country is bad. Being in prison abroad is much worse. The rice
in Thai jails does have six legged visitors and if you dont eat the rice then you just dont eat!
And Thai jails are Hiltons compared to Laos and Cambodia! The level of English in prisons
around the world is abysmal. The English level in prisons tends to low since criminals in
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

most countries are relatively uneducated. This is bad news when you want to communicate
anything to anyone. The good news is that your local language skills will probably become
excellent very quickly since the need to survive will act as a motivation. Of all the things I
have written in this essay, by far the most important is that you should leave before you
dont even have enough money for a ticket back home!

How much money do you need to go abroad? Arrive with at least 1,500 USD in SE Asia.
Arrive with at least 3,000 USD in Taiwan or Korea. Arrive with at least 5,000 USD in Japan.
Do not arrive in a foreign country without any money, well duh! But I think I should mention
this since many do actually arrive in Asia minus money or something like 500 USD. If you
only have 500 USD then stay home and save some money! If you arrive in Thailand with
lets say 3,000 USD then your life will be so much easier! Excess funds means you can be a
lot pickier about your first job and if your gut says the potential job is a disaster then you can
follow your gut and move on.

However, your first job will almost be a short term job in a new country because frankly you
dont know what is going on no matter how much you read and you should see your first job
as a getting your feet wet experience rather than the place you will stay for months and
months much less years and years. Dont get too sentimental about your first job in a new
country unless you are incredibly lucky because there is probably something much better out
there once you figure up from down.

Round trip tickets are a lot cheaper overall than one way tickets and in general the
immigration people treat people with round trip tickets very differently than people with one
way tickets. Most airlines allow you to bump the return date of your ticket to a later date for a
relatively small fee. As an American you have the best passport in the world when it comes
to tourist visas. You can stay for anything to 30-90 days almost anywhere on a tourist visa
and you should be able to find something that pays bills almost anywhere within a month and
if that isnt happening then another month isnt going to help anyway. If you dont get a job
with a tourist visa within a month then there is something dramatically wrong with your job
seeking strategy and you dont need more time but a new strategy. Immigration is paying
attention to whether or not your return ticket is at least a day before the date your tourist visa
expires. Make your life easy and get a round trip ticket that takes you back home just before
the tourist visa expires and bump the date in country if you get a job in the country and cant
go back that date.

What to Bring from Home

I have saved the best for last! There is a lot of paper work fraud in the world of EFL. Some
expats do use fake transcripts to get jobs. You can buy a pretty good fake diploma online and
a slightly lower quality one on the spot at Khaosan Road in Bangkok, Thailand. The
response by Asian employers has been to ask for original diplomas with embossed seals and
water marks! Copies of your diplomas no longer do the job for many countries. I would
suggest you take all your diplomas, even your high school diploma and pack them into a
folder that you take with you on the plane and guard with your life.
Getting original diplomas replaced is a tedious and expensive project in most cases! My
diplomas were nicely framed for use in the US since transcripts with seals work in the US but
it was bye, bye frames and hello diploma folder when I went abroad. Some EFL schools
dont really care if your diplomas are fake or real but then your pay and conditions will be
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

much lower. Good schools want real diplomas and proof that your diploma is real! Some
countries, such as South Korea, require a criminal record check and paper work associated
with this check in order to teach EFL. This is easier done in the US than long distance!

Your passport photo is actually very important! I would suggest wearing your best suit and
getting a good passport photo that can double as your job application photo. Most Asian
countries require a photo with the resume and a bad photo means no job. A photo of you
without a tie is a bad photo. A photo of you with a tie and suit coat is a good photo in Asia
which is more conservative than the US. No one seems to care if the photo is a little out of
date. A photo that makes you look like a backpacker will cause you problems both with
your job hunt and with immigration!

A photo that makes you look like a hippie is probably not a good idea. You can get a job in
Asia with long hair and a beard but you will have a harder time. My Japanese students all got
a haircut and had their brown, orange, red or even green hair dyed black just before they
started job hunting. I would also add once you get the job then growing your long hair and
beard back is generally not a problem. Overall, Asia is much more conservative when it
comes to appearance than the US! Thats just the way it is.

You will go through tons and tons of photos for immigration and job hunting purposes. What
you need is tons and tons of small photos in various sizes. Getting photos processed is
cheaper almost everywhere than in the US. If you have the photo on a flash drive then you
can get it processed quickly and conveniently at almost any photo shop in Asia.

The flash drive in the wallet is not a bad idea. I would also store a copy of my passport,
resume, transcript and diploma on the same flash drive. Asia is actually more modern in
some respects than the US and copy shops can make copies of whatever you need if you hand
them a flash drive. And if you want to be really OC about the whole process then email all of
the documents just listed to yourself! After all flash drives in wallets dont last forever!

I just want to add that probably the best place to get your photo taken from a quality point of
view is probably Japan. I have had my photos taken in many different countries and the
Japanese are the perfectionists of the world! Even the photographer in a department store
will do a better job than most portrait photographers back in the US! The Japanese photo
portrait aesthetic also works better in Asia than the US photo portrait aesthetic. Specifically,
a big toothed smile is not what you want in NE Asia. A half smile works better in most
places in NE Asia. You want to look professional not charismatic in NE Asia, there is a

If you are going to teach at the college level then bringing your academic dress (graduation
robes) might be a good idea. This is especially true if you have a doctorate. New academic
dress is very expensive in the US but used academic dress is generally under a hundred
dollars. Many Asian colleges like to show off their foreign faculty at graduation ceremonies.
You do get big brownie points for participating in such ceremonies. The local faculty does
participate and you will only not be asked because they assume, correctly in many cases, that
a) you do not have the appropriate academic dress and b) you feel superior to the whole
process. Asian culture is generally more collectivist than US culture and not being part of the
team will cost you in the long run. If you do not have academic dress stored in the US and
this issue comes up then you can order online and have it shipped.
ESL Advice from Dr. Fox

Thailand is absolutely the place in Asia to have custom made clothing but having academic
dress made in Thailand is actually very tricky. Even good tailors in Thailand are just not set
up to handle the specialized tailoring of academic dress. There are Thai tailor shops that
specialize in academic dress and do a good job but they are not online and not really geared
towards farang. They are geared towards Thais who have gotten a degree abroad and want to
save some money. I am not sure if its the sort of thing you want to mess with if you are
visiting Thailand for a week or less. If you do get academic dress made rather than ordered
then I would suggest some pockets! Pockets are a great place to put your camera, gum,
whatever. Hiking up your gown to get at your pants pockets is not the most dignified move a
professor can make!

This document is a work in progress and I welcome suggestions as to how to improve the