How to Teach English and Travel the World

This is a post on how to teach English and travel the world.  Traveling around the world had always been a dream of mine since I was a young girl.  I studied French in junior high and high school and dreamed of one day eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower.  I also dreamed of seeing tango dancers in the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina and also seeing the beautiful islands in the Pacific Ocean.  But with all these dreams, I wasn’t quite sure how to make them come true, until one fateful day in 2005.  If you are interested in a way you can see the world, read my story on how to teach English and travel the world. 

The conversation that changed my life

View of San Francisco Painted Ladies
View of the Painted Ladies in Hayes Valley, San Francisco

In 2005, I was working and living in San Francisco as a clinical dietitian.  One day over some happy hour drinks, a good friend and colleague of mine, Erika, approached me with her amazing idea.  She asked if I would like to teach English and travel the world with her.  Now, you would think a huge thing like this would take some time to ponder.  I mean, I would be quitting my job, leaving my great apartment in Hayes Valley, and saying goodbye to my amazing friends.

I was 29 years old at the time.  Is this something that a 29-year-old should do?  Shouldn’t I be settling down, building my career?  Maybe? But I felt it was an opportunity of a lifetime.  And I did not hesitate and said “Yes!”.  I had been waiting for an opportunity to do some traveling abroad.  And this came at a great time because although I loved San Francisco, I was ready to move back home to Chicago soon.  So, I thought this would be a great time to travel and explore the world, then I could head back to Chicago afterward.


Deciding where to go

Now, I didn’t just quit my job and pack up and leave the next day.  This took some time, research, and preparation.  First, there were the countless discussions about where we wanted to go, when to go, and what we needed, and so on.  Initially, we thought it would be great to go to Spain or South America so we could learn to speak Spanish.  Spanish comes in handy when you work in a hospital.  Being immersed in a Spanish speaking country is a great way to learn Spanish.

Well, Spain was ruled out because it is difficult for Americans to get work in the European Union (EU) legally.  Many of the English teachers are from the United Kingdom and can teach legally being a part of the EU.  I guess that might change after Brexit?  Anyways, we looked at teaching in Central and South America in countries like Costa Rica or Argentina.  However, we were hoping to be able to save quite a bit of money while teaching so we could fund our traveling around the world.  And the pay in those regions was not as impressive as the countries in Asia.

Finally, deciding on a country

So, our research and goals took us from Spain to Central and South America, and now to Asia.  Erika had heard amazing things about Vietnam.  Not only is it a beautiful country, steeped in history.  But the economy was growing and had become a part of the World Trade Organization in January 2007.  The pay for native English speakers to teach English in Vietnam was great compared to the cost of living.  It would be an amazing adventure and we could save money while working and living in the country.  Vietnam!  Our new destination!

Deciding on what country to teach in took some time, a few months of researching and discussing it over together.  We had really thought we would go to a Spanish speaking country so I decided I would get started on learning Spanish.  So, I signed up for a Spanish class at one of the community colleges in San Francisco. About halfway through the semester, I realized we were going to Vietnam.  I was teased so much by my friends because I was now learning Spanish and going to Vietnam where no one speaks Spanish!  Oh well, it would become useful at another time!

Learning to teach English

After deciding on what country to teach in, we decided to take a course to become certified to teach English.  We found a TESOL course in San Francisco.  TESOL stands for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.  There are tons of other options and schools to become certified to teach English and travel the world.  There are schools in the country you are interested in teaching in. And the programs all vary in length as well.   But we decided to become certified before moving.  The program was provided in the evenings and over the weekend, which made sense for us since we were still full-time clinical dietitians.  And the TESOL program helps you find schools to teach in before you leave.  So, it was the best decision for us so we would be ready to go when we got to Vietnam.

We completed our TESOL program and they sent off our resumes to schools in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  Some of the schools reached out to us and said they were interested in meeting us.  We didn’t have an actual placement at a school before we left.  We were reassured by the schools and the TESOL school we did our certificate program through that we would secure jobs when we got there.  Seemed a little daunting to go halfway across the world without an official job.  But we had saved up money during this over 1-year preparation to move and travel abroad.  So worst-case scenario, we travel around Southeast Asia and attempt to get jobs.  If we didn’t get jobs, then at least we got to visit that part of the world and I could go back home to Chicago.

The time has finally come

Fast forward to January 2007, I sublet my apartment, sold my furniture, got all my vaccinations and anti-malaria medication, quit my full-time job as a clinical dietitian, had an amazing going away party from my fantastic friends, and set off for an amazing adventure around the world with Erika.  Wow!  I’m getting chills just writing that last part.  I’m still amazed at myself for doing something like this.  Of course, our families were a little stunned and worried about us.  But at least we were going together and not doing this alone.  Although, I know a lot of people that do this on their own and manage just fine.

After seeing our families and friends in our respective home towns, we set off for Asia to teach English and travel the world!  Our first plan was to travel around Southeast Asia for about 3 weeks before settling in Vietnam.  We flew from Chicago to Bangkok, Thailand, with a layover in Tokyo, Japan.

Arriving in Southeast Asia, the first stop Thailand

Street in Bangkok
On the streets of Bangkok, tuk-tuk whizzing by

After arriving in Thailand, we found a hotel in the Backpacker District in Bangkok.  Bangkok is a huge, bustling city.  Arriving at night, we walked around the Backpackers District, marveling at the sights and smells.  Street vendors selling all sorts of tourist souvenirs and street food, the sound of tuk-tuks and motorbikes whizzing by.  It was overwhelming and exciting.  Our first few nights in Bangkok, we met some other travelers, a couple of them planning to teach English in Southeast Asia as well.  One of them named Adam, from London, became a good friend.  He was going to Chiang Mai, Thailand to do a 1-month long TESOL course.

Fly south to the beaches

View of the beach from Koh Phi Phi
Beautiful view of the water from Koh Phi Phi

A few days in the super chaotic Bangkok, we were ready for some relaxation and flew south to see some of the infamous Thailand islands.  From Phuket Town, we took a ferry to Koh Phi Phi.  This was a good place to get over jet lag.  We almost seem to move in slow motion as everyone else on the island.  No rushing around, no getting up early to get to work.  Our most difficult task became deciding where to eat.  It was great!  We had Thai massages.  We also snorkeled and saw some of the most amazing and colorful fish I have ever seen next to the same location the movie The Beach was filmed.   At night, we ate fresh fish at a restaurant on the beach.

Trekking in Northern Thailand

From the islands, we flew back north to Chiang Mai.  We had exchanged email addresses with Adam, so we wrote to tell him we would be there.  Chiang Mai is another busy city, but not as huge as Bangkok.  We had the chance to do some trekking with a tour guide, ride elephants and feed them bananas, visit small villages with local tribes, float on a bamboo raft down a river, and see beautiful Buddhist temples.  On our last night in Chiang Mai, we went out with Adam and some of his friends he met at the TESOL course.  He loved to poke fun at us for taking a 4-day TESOL course and his being a month long.

Freedom in traveling

So, I didn’t mention it before, but we had a loose plan on our trip itinerary.  A friend had given us some tips on where to go before we left.  But as far as when we would go to each place, that was up to how we were feeling each day and when we were ready to go to the next place.  We would book our flights in the city we were in for our next destination.  It felt so freeing to just live in each moment and not know exactly when and where we would be next.

All we had was in our backpacks, including our clothes, guidebooks, some pictures of our families, Uno cards to pass the time, and my computer.  Keep in mind this was in 2007, before smartphones.  We didn’t have any cell phones at this time.  We didn’t buy cell phones until we got to Vietnam.  In order to keep in touch with our families, we would go to internet cafes to email or purchase calling cards. Yes, Skype existed.  But no one in my family did that yet.   I would also keep my friends and family up to date on our whereabouts by writing a little blog on my MySpace page.  Yes, MySpace!  Haha!  My first experiences with travel writing, which did inspire me all these years later to make this blogging thing for real!

On to Laos…

Temple and monk in Laos
A Buddhist monk in front of a temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

After Chiang Mai, we flew to Luang Prabang, Laos.  A quiet little town on the Mekong River.  At one point in time, Laos was a province of France, which was evident by the French colonial architecture.  While everywhere we had been so far was completely amazing, there was something about this town in Laos.  It felt like a relaxing sanctuary.  The room in the guesthouse we stayed in was right by the Mekong River.  We would see locals fishing in the river and Buddhist monks walking the streets.  We visited a couple of Buddhist temples during the day and borrowed bikes from our guesthouse to take in the sights around town.  It was a nice change of pace from bustling Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Next, Cambodia…

Angkor Wat
The ruins of Angkor Wat

On to Vientiane, then Siem Reap, Cambodia.  In Siem Reap is the famous Angkor Wat.  Built in the 12th century, this temple complex is massive!  We bought the 3-day tour with a private guide.  He drove us from our guesthouse in town to the temple grounds each day, then took us from temple to temple.  And it even included lunch.  It was an amazing place and I felt a little like I would run into Indiana Jones!  The temperature was stifling, so you need to drink lots of water and take breaks.  It is a very popular tourist destination too, so be aware of busloads of people.  The Cambodian people are so friendly and helpful and we would run into little kids around the temple grounds showing us where to go and to sell us jewelry.

After Siem Reap, it was on to our new home for the next several months, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam!  I’m going to end this post here, but I will follow up on another post to continue the story, how to teach English and travel the world soon!

If you like this post, please check out some of my other posts, such as 7 Things to Do in Germany!

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