82 - Teaching Abroad with Jash Cooper - Teacher Career Coach
Teaching Abroad with Jash Cooper: The Teacher Career Coach Podcast

82 – Teaching Abroad with Jash Cooper

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After completing undergrad, Jash has been traveling the world as an international teacher teaching abroad. She’s since taught in Italy, Senegal, South Korea, and Haiti. She shares all of her insight into teaching abroad and her personal transition into being a full time digital nomad.

Listen to the episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

Daphne Gomez:
Welcome to The Teacher Career Coach Podcast, I’m your host Daphne Gomez. After completing her undergrad in a different subject, Jash actually has been traveling the world for years as an international teacher. Since she started working as a teacher overseas, she’s taught in Italy and South Korea and in Haiti and other places, as well. In this episode, I wanted her to come on and just share all of her insight into how to get into teaching abroad, the pros and cons of teaching abroad. And also just hear more about her personal transition into being a full-time digital nomad.

Daphne Gomez:
Hi Jash. Thank you so much for being here today.

Jash Cooper:
Hi, happy to be here.

Jash’s Experience in Education

Daphne Gomez:
I would love to like hear a little bit about your history and education, and then even just what made you consider traveling abroad or teaching abroad for the first time?

Jash Cooper:
My story is very different. I went to school for mechanical engineering, I finished my degree, I graduated a semester early. And I decided I have some free time, I don’t really want to go to work immediately. And studying abroad was something I wanted to do, but didn’t really have time for it because engineering is hard. So I decided to take my last semester to go abroad and volunteer as a English teacher. And I literally loved it. I loved being abroad, I loved teaching, I loved working with the students, I loved having a host family. So I was like, “Okay, I’m going to keep doing this.” So I just kept applying for programs and it turned into three months abroad, turned into three years. So it was a long way of finding the path I wanted to get to, but I love teaching abroad, I love living abroad and I plan to continue living abroad.

Living Abroad and Teaching

Daphne Gomez:
Where are the locations that you found yourself teaching in those three years that you were actually in the classroom?

Jash Cooper:
So I taught in Italy, that was where I started, in Turin for three months. Then I applied to another program in Senegal and I was there for five months. Those are both volunteer positions. And then I was like, “Maybe I should get paid for this.” I can’t volunteer forever. So I decided to go to South Korea and South Korea is one of the highest paying places for teachers abroad. And so I taught there for a year at a Hagwon, which is basically like somewhere where students go after they go to their regular school. So it’s no secret that education is very important, it’s very first … the top priority for a lot of students in Asian countries.

Jash Cooper:
And so in Korea, students go to regular school, like you would think in the states or anywhere like that. And then after school they go to Hagwons. So it’s like an academy, they have them for English, math, art. When I say kids are in school from the sun up to the sun down, like it’s so serious. But I taught there for one year, teaching kindergarten all the way through high school. And then I moved to Haiti and I taught there for maybe eight months. I went as a permanent sub or a long term sub at first. And then I taught fourth grade there.

Daphne Gomez:
Let’s go back a couple steps. When you say that you volunteered, is a completely unpaid position teaching the role that you had in Italy.

Jash Cooper:
As far as getting money in your hand, yes, it’s unpaid. But I went through a program through API and so I paid a fee for them to place me, find a school, find a host family. And so once you pay that initial fee and I had to pay for my flight. When you get there, you don’t have to pay for anything. So I had a host family that took me in, they were literally the highlight of my experience. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Like they really considered me as like their child. And we still keep in touch today. So it’s just really out of the kindness of their heart, they decided to host somebody.

Jash Cooper:
And then my school took care of a lot of things, as well. They gave me a bus pass that I could use on all the public transportation. So really, if I wanted to buy something, it was really on my own. Like, I don’t feel like eating at home today, so I’m going to go out and get a pizza or something. But other than that, everything was taken care of aside from that initial fee.

Jash Cooper:
In Senegal, it was the same situation. I didn’t have to pay a fee, but I had to pay for my flight. But again, once I arrived, everything was taken care of. I had a host family, I worked at a boarding school, so I stayed on campus, all the meals were provided. I literally could wake up one minute before work, brush my teeth, put on my clothes and walk to my classroom because I lived on campus. So, that was great. The smallest commute I ever had. And so I didn’t make money, but I gained experience because, like I said, I was an engineering student. So I didn’t have any real hands on in the classroom experience. And then everything else was taken care of for me.

Making a Career Pivot to Teach Abroad

Daphne Gomez:
So do you think that someone who is already credentialed to teach in the United States would have an easier pivot? Because I do know that I have an audience that many of them are credentialed, but I also have an audience of people who are thinking of going into teaching or who are still working on their credentials right now. But are starting to look at the opportunities and say, “I’m not 100% sure that in classroom teaching is the right fit for me.” Would they have to take an internship or a volunteer role? Or do you think that they could also try and go for some of the paying positions as well?

Jash Cooper:
I think definitely … if you already have any type of experience, if you’re credentialed, especially, go for the money. I would not recommend volunteering at all because you’re a hot commodity. A lot of English teachers abroad are doing a gap year or they’re just taking some time off. So if you are already in education, this is what you do. You’re going to be already on a top level compared to somebody like me that has no background and I’m just like, “I want to live in Korea.”

Jash Cooper:
So they’re going to already look at your resume and say like, “Okay, this is the person that we want to hire because we know they have a track record. They have those classroom skills.” And you can also go for positions that some people can’t. So for example, in Korea, if you already have credentials, you can go for a university program. And those jobs are like the cream of the corn. Like everybody tries to get in a university because they’re kind of like a shore fire deal. They pay the highest, they have the best benefits. So you can go for positions that somebody that doesn’t have credentials or doesn’t have any experience can go for and you’ll probably get them because you’re competing with somebody like me. So I would definitely say, go straight for the paid positions.

Daphne Gomez:
There are a couple different programs that people can look into just to help with placement, that I know that you have some experience finding roles on your own. And then also some experience kind of like navigating these programs. Do you mind speaking a little bit about where teachers who are thinking of getting started should start looking for these types of opportunities?

Jash Cooper:
So there are a lot of programs. Learning English is like big thing all around the world. You can look at country programs, a lot of countries have programs specifically for people that are from native countries or that have English as a native language, to come to their country and teach. Because obviously a native speaker is the best way to learn another language.

Jash Cooper:
So for example, in Japan, they have the JET Program, in South Korea they have EPIK and [inaudible 00:08:13], Chile they have English Opens Doors. There’s literally programs all over the world. And for me, I didn’t want to go through the long process of applying and interviewing for a lot of these programs. So I decided to go a different route. You can look at recruiters and they can help you. Or you can look on your own. I kind looked at recruiters a little bit, but I was like, “Oh, you guys, aren’t really helping me. It’s not moving fast enough. I can do this on my own.”

Jash Cooper:
So there’s a lot of websites you can go to like Dave’s ESL cafe. And that is a good way to start because they have literally postings all over the world. It’s like line by line, like English teacher wanted in Poland, live in a beautiful country and teach English in Thailand. So it’s literally line by line. It’s like, I didn’t even know I could go there. I’ve never heard of this country. Let look up this. It can be overwhelming, but it’s a good way to see like how many opportunities there are and how endless the opportunities are. And you can often reach out to a school directly and bypass the middle man altogether. And there’s other websites like Serious Teachers, you can look on Teaching Nomad, you look at Teach Away. There’s plenty of resources out there.

Daphne Gomez:
Yeah. It sounds like there are so many different opportunities. I remember when I was in the middle of … in between year one of teaching and year three of teaching, when I was like, ugh, probably in the middle of my meltdown phase, but not like full meltdown. Third year was full meltdown, second year was like, “I’m not quite sure this is it, but I’ll give changing districts a try.” So I think in between school districts, I started to explore … well, I know I want to move out of my hometown and I know I saw a couple of teaching abroad. Maybe they had those ads that were somehow geared towards me or maybe I went straight to Google and was like, “I want to teach in Spain.” I don’t know why I always go back to Spain in my head. But definitely was at the point of my life, I hadn’t been in a committed relationship, we hadn’t settled down. Where that was a romantic kind of idea in my head of moving somewhere, starting fresh.

Teaching Abroad with Jash Cooper: The Teacher Career Coach Podcast

Teaching Abroad with a Family

Daphne Gomez:
Do you see teachers who actually have established families moving abroad very often and their families coming, as well? Because I know that’s going to be a huge roadblock for many people if they have already established a home in one position. It’s going to be a lot harder for them to take up these types of opportunities.

Jash Cooper:
I think it’s definitely something to think about. But again, a lot of the positions are open to that. Especially if you have credentials, if you have that experience. A lot of the public schools and like private schools, schools that are not just like for entry level. They have packages for that. So they say like, “Do you have a family? Your kid can go to the school for free. Or you’ll get an extra stipend for your spouse.” So there’s a lot of things in place.

Jash Cooper:
And even if you just have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, a lot of companies and a lot of schools will say, “We’re open for couples.” So even when I worked in South Korea, there was a couple that was working there and they came together. They had worked together in China for, I think, three years. And then they got a position in South Korea. So they travel as a pair. So even if you have somebody in a relationship with you, or if you have a family, there are still options. And then there’s even options to find somebody when you get there. So like even I worked for somebody that originally came to spend one year. And then ended up getting married to somebody that was from that country and then has been living there for like 10 years now. So whether you’re bringing them or you’re looking for them when you get there, there are options for if you’re a relationship or looking to start or already a family.

Daphne Gomez:
Oh, wow. That’s so great to know. And I know that my husband who actually edits this podcast is probably like squirming, like, “Oh great. Now she has a new thing she wants to do.” Like, we’re going to … sorry, podcast is over fans. We are moving to Spain. I am going back into the classroom because it sounds lovely. Especially after being stuck in the same location for the last few years due to the pandemic, which is what I want to talk a little bit more about right now.

Jash Cooper:
Okay.

Teaching Abroad during the Pandemic

Daphne Gomez:
Because I know this hopefully is going to end soon, but it has to be something that’s addressed on the podcast. As we’re actually recording this in January of 2022, we are still in the middle of the pandemic and I know many people may be wondering whether or not this would be the year to even look into this. Or if there are a lot of restrictions in place for anyone who’s potentially trying to move to a new country.

Jash Cooper:
I would definitely say it’s not off the table completely. When I first moved to South Korea, it was like, literally the pandemic had just started, South Korea was like number two in the world with cases following China. And my family was like, “You see what’s going on?” And I was like, “Yeah, I see.” And I was like doing all this research to figure out like, what is South Korea doing to kind of fight the pandemic? And they were doing a lot. And I was like, “I feel safe about it.” I talked to my boss about it and I was like, “I see this is happening. What’s being done?” And they were kind of explaining to me the safety measures that were going on. And honestly, I’m in the states right now and I felt way safer in South Korea. Just overall the fact that everybody has a mask, I barely saw anybody’s face, really, when I was in South Korea. Like it wasn’t a debate, it wasn’t a big political thing. Everybody just knew we need to wear a mask. That’s what it is.

Jash Cooper:
So there’s a lot of things with other countries that we just here don’t do or refuse to do, I don’t really know. But when I’m abroad, I definitely feel safer. Same situation in Haiti, Haiti never really had a lot of COVID cases. And when I got there, I was like, “Everybody’s kind of normal here.” And you didn’t hear about like people are so sick or people are dying. Like there were certain places where you needed to wear a mask, but there’s a lot of natural remedies and natural health things that people do. And also just the fact that when it first happened, everybody put on a mask, everybody was social distanced. And so they were able to flatten the curve and now it’s kind of … it’s still a thing, but not really in the forefront compared to when you’re in a state it’s like, everywhere you go, you’re like, “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.”

Daphne Gomez:
And they haven’t shut down the programs altogether, is what I’m also hearing. Is they haven’t shut down the opportunity to teach abroad and said, “This is something that’s not going to continue for the next few years.”

Differences in Education around the World

Daphne Gomez:
I heard you talk a little bit about working in South Korea and especially how long the work days are. I know that … or not the work days, but the school days for the students. Because I know when I was researching common core, there was all these studies that you do about all the different learning styles and how everyone approaches school differently. And there is a lot of talk about how China and South Korea, and I think Japan, as well, how much emphasis they put on schooling. How does that feel from a teacher’s perspective? Because one of the reasons that many teachers are thinking of leaving the classroom is because of the work life balance. And so the assumption that one may make is going into an environment that has a lot of strong opinions about the rigor that the students might have to have in order to succeed, might put a lot of expectations and wait on the teacher’s shoulders, as well.

Jash Cooper:
I think working at a Hagwon on is definitely different than a public or private school. Because we’re something after school, the kids usually come for an hour. So there are expectations, but definitely nothing compared to what the public school and private school teachers have. But even for us, it was kind of at the mercy of the parents. So if a parent said, “My child doesn’t have enough homework.” Then it was on us like, “Okay, this parent wants more homework, you need to give them more homework.”

Jash Cooper:
So I think with academies and Hagwons, there’s a lot of emphasis on pleasing the parents and giving them what they want. Because they’re paying this extra money to send their kid. There’s Hagwons everywhere, so you really are in that competitive space and you have to prove that my Hagwon is better than one the next block over and better than one on the other block. So there’s a lot of competition with that. But I also feel like with the students being so motivated, it wasn’t so much like pulling teeth to get them to do their work or participate and stuff like that.

Jash Cooper:
But on the other hand, it was kind of sad because even when I’m trying to do something fun or I’m asking them a question about them personally, it was very, this has to relate to academics in some way. So I’m asking like, am I getting grading on this? Do I need to write an essay? All right, we’re just a relaxing day, we’re going to about something fun. We’re going to about Korean food or K-pop or something interesting. And it was still like, “Am I being graded? What I need to write? I need to do this?” Just relax.And even when I’m talking to them about their personal things, sometimes they didn’t have an answer. Like if it wasn’t directly related to the content or material, it was like their brain couldn’t comprehend.

Jash Cooper:
Like even if I were to ask, “What do you like to do? What’s your favorite hobby?” They’re like, “Well, I’m best at math at school.” “That’s not really a hobby, that’s more like a fact. Like, what do you like to do for fun?” Well I go to this Hagwon at the end of the day and then I do another … and I’m like, “Where’s the childhood? Like, where’s the fun?” A lot of them, like this is their lives. They go to school, they go to Hagwons, they go home, do their homework and they go to bed.

Jash Cooper:
So there isn’t a lot of time for them to really have that childhood, go out and play, go ride a bike and stuff like that. So it’s very sporadic for them to have those childhood moments for a lot of the students. And that was kind of heartbreaking when I’m asking like a fun question about you personally, and you can’t think of anything fun you like to do or any hobbies. And I have to pull that out of you. But if I ask a grammar question, it’s so quick, like, “Oh, I know this, I know this. I’m excited.”

Daphne Gomez:
So that has to be a little bit of like a culture shock coming from-

Jash Cooper:
Yeah.

Daphne Gomez:
What children in the United States played like, I don’t know if that’s the right way to say that. And then moving somewhere else and seeing the difference in how the students behave, how they interact with one another, how they socialize with one another at different ages. I’d also love to hear a little bit because it sounds like you really thrive in this environment. You’ve made it your own, you’ve started to love it. What types of personalities do you see that help people actually thrive as a teacher who teaches abroad?

Jash Cooper:
I think definitely being open-minded, thinking outside of the box. Because a lot of places, the focus is so much on rope memorization and not having the kids have fun. So a lot of my classroom time was listening to songs, we’re going to do a dance, we’re going to do charades, we’re going to do bingo. And that really got the kids excited. It wasn’t just, “I’m going to say this and you need to write it. And then I’m going to give you a test at the end of the week.” So it was the same thing in Italy when people are learning languages, it was a lot of the teachers telling you about this grammar rule and the kids were just writing. They’re not speaking, they’re not engaging.

Jash Cooper:
And so when I came to class and I was like, “Okay, this is a song. Can you tell me what it means? Can you do a dance to it?” Like getting them engaged and finding things that they’re actually interested in and relating to the students. Because there is going to be the language barrier, there is going to be cultural differences. So a lot of times my students were teaching me. Like if there was something in their native language that I was teaching now, I was like, “Okay, now you teach me how to say it in your language.” And then I butcher it, they laugh. And they’re like, “Okay, if she can’t do it, I can still try because we’re both failing.” Like it’s hard to learn another language, it’s hard to kind of step out of your comfort zone. And so a lot of ways that I built rapport with students is just being an example.

Jash Cooper:
At the end of my classes in Italy, there was terms or phrases from the lesson and I would have them translate it and then teach me. And then when I messed up the pronunciation or I said it wrong, it was just a way for them to kind of see, okay, learning a language is not the easiest thing, even my teacher can’t do it. This is easy for me, but she’s struggling. So I think just being open minded and being okay with embarrassing yourself, because you probably will say something wrong, write a character wrong. Like it’s fine. The students will appreciate that. And you’ll be able to kind of relax more when you’re in the classroom.

Thriving in a New Teaching Environment

Daphne Gomez:
It also sounds like a lot of those will roll over into helping you be successful just in a new environment and living in a new country. Because a lot of people may struggle with just the shock of throwing themselves into a new environment. It might not be a great fit for every single type of person. And there also is always going to be a level of imposter syndrome with whatever change you end up making. What types of people have you seen not necessarily thrive in this environment? Like what would be clear indicators and not in a negative way, but just, I know personally that I struggle with change and I love my home base. And if that is something that like gives you panic feelings, this probably wouldn’t be a great adventure for you.

Jash Cooper:
I think definitely if you’re not open to learning, not open to accepting a different way of life, not open to trying new things. It’s definitely going to be very difficult. And you’re probably going to feel very isolated because if you’re stuck in your mindset of, “This is the way things are done. This is the way I do them. This is correct.” Then you’re not going to be able to fully immerse yourself and really learn about your new country, your new culture, the new language, and relate to people. I’ve seen a lot of people come and then go right back home because it wasn’t a good fit. But too many times it was because they were so stuck in the way that they were already living, they weren’t willing to kind of come out of that and say, “Okay, this is different from me, but that doesn’t automatically make it wrong.”

Daphne Gomez:
That is an interesting point that you made, though. And I feel like it’s hard to acknowledge where your limitations are until you’re thrown into the middle of it and realize, “I’m really struggling with accepting this, or I’m really struggling with it.” And I think some people naturally are drawn to traveling in general and they love immersing themselves in these types of environments. And that could be a really good indicator that they would be the type of person who would thrive if they felt like, “Oh, I could live here. I’d love to stay here for three months or six months.”

Do teachers have summers off around the world?

Daphne Gomez:
One question I know a lot of teachers probably are wondering if they’ve made it to this far in the podcast episode, they’re really excited, but they may be wondering, do you still get summers off though?

Jash Cooper:
Well, it depends on where you’re going. So if you’re in South Korea and you’re working at an academy, no. You get standard is one week in the winter and one week in the summer. But in Haiti I was working at an international school, it was an American school. We got summers off, you got American holidays, some Haitian holidays. So it really depends on where you’re going. But again, if you have those credentials, you can kind of weed out those jobs that don’t have all the vacation time and say, “I want to still have my summers off. I want to go home for Christmas.” And you have those options, but it really depends on the school itself. And also sometimes the country.

Jash’s Future Plans & Teaching Abroad

Daphne Gomez:
And I know you and I started to talk a little bit before the interview. And you are focusing more on traveling and less on necessarily teaching abroad. I’d love to just hear a little bit about what you’re doing and what you plan to do next.

Jash Cooper:
So last year I made the decision that I want to be completely location independent. I want to be a digital nomad. I want to be able to work from my computer. I’m tired of seeing people all the time because I just felt like I love being in the classroom, I love that time with my students. But it was the outside time. Like dealing with administration and having to kind of fake it with people around the office. Like I just felt like that was taken away from all the positives in the classroom.

Jash Cooper:
And so I decided to start looking for remote jobs, literally everywhere. And last year, I think I had maybe 10 different jobs over the course of the year. Some in person, some remote. And I tried doing web design, I did some social media management, I did graphic design, I did some freelance random jobs for people online. And then I did virtual assistance and I really, really love being virtual assistant. Like I thrive in that environment of an executive or somebody higher up that doesn’t have time to do all these little tiny things. And I’m like, okay, don’t forget this and then I’m going to tell you this. And I’m going to remind you three more times. So I really enjoy that multitasking environment, always on the move, on the go and I can do it from anywhere.

Jash Cooper:
So right now that’s my main job is doing some virtual assistant work. And I literally am loving being able to wake up without an alarm, make my breakfast, do my yoga, take a nap, and then do my work in between. And it’s just giving me a lot more control over my time and control over where I’m at. Because I have worked in the car, I have worked at the house, worked in my bed. And I just really love this environment and now I can travel even more and really slow travel to more places without being tied to a building, tied to a desk. So I love it.

Daphne Gomez:
I am jealous of that. I definitely have some friends that I’ve had a little bit of like FOMO, one who was teaching abroad in Japan. And I remember watching her stories and her taking time off and traveling to different countries nearby. And that was exciting. And then I also have some digital nomad friends who are taking their RV that they purchased and working wherever throughout the United States. And kudos to you for just being flexible and following your passion.

Daphne Gomez:
Not everyone is able to do that, but it sounds like you’ve done so in a way that you’ve weighed the risks, the pros and the cons. And you’ve been able to do something that’s sustainable, still putting money in the bank. And you are happy and thriving, which I always like to be super cautious and make sure everyone knows, this is not an overnight success story. You did not move to Italy and say, “I’ll figure it out when I get there.” You definitely have put a lot of work into it, but it paid off. And I was just so excited when I was able to connect with you and see that you were able to come on here and even just share your story. Because I know so many people are looking for non-traditional roles, as well. I want to make sure everybody knows that you also have a Guide to Teaching Abroad on your website. It’s IamJashley.com. Do you want to just share a little bit about that as well?

Jash Cooper:
For sure. I think a lot of people have an interest or have that burning question in the back of my head. Like, can I live abroad? Can I teach abroad? And there wasn’t really a lot of resources out there. Like there was a place to find a recruiter, there was a place to find a government program. But there wasn’t a place to have everything kind of spelled out for you and take you step by step through the process.

Jash Cooper:
So I’ve been doing this for three years and I kind of just picked my own brain, put everything I had into like this long Google Doc. And then I had my friend who was also a graphic designer, kind of put it into a nice guide, make it look nice because I didn’t know what I was going to do with that Google Doc. And then I put together the guide for anybody that’s interested in working abroad and anybody that specifically wants to teach abroad because it is an option. And it’s kind of like on the hush, like you really don’t know about it unless you see somebody else doing it. Like it’s not advertised as much.

Jash Cooper:
So I really just wanted to provide a resource and somewhere to start and say, “Okay, this is what I need to do first. Then this, then this, these are my options. These countries require this, this one doesn’t.” So just having a place to get a bunch of information at one place instead of having to go to 20 different websites and then read a blog and then go somewhere else and watch a YouTube. So just providing that was important for me. And that’s why I made it.

Daphne Gomez:
Well, thank you so much. We will have that linked in today’s show notes, the website, where they can find it. And we’ll make sure that anyone who reaches out who’s interested in traveling abroad is able to find this podcast because you came on and you just shared all the best stuffs. And this has been so helpful. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to this audience, Jash. I know so many people are-

Jash Cooper:
Thank you for reaching out.

Daphne Gomez:
Excited. Where can my audience actually find you on Instagram to connect with you if they’re looking?

Jash Cooper:
So my handle is @iamjashley.

Daphne Gomez:
Thank you so much.

Daphne Gomez:
I want to give a huge thank you to Jash for coming on and sharing her experience as an international teacher. Fun fact, we’ve had this podcast actually recorded for a while, but we are releasing it one week before Jonathan and I finally go on our honeymoon to Europe. We will be in Italy and France and Berlin, and we are so excited to finally get to go do this after we got married in 2021. We’ll still have team members working on Teacher Career Coach to answer your questions and to help continue to push out some new content for you. But you may catch some of my travel stories on Instagram, if you’re following us @TeacherCareerCoach. So thank you again for being a listener. We’ll see you on the very next episode of The Teacher Career Coach Podcast.

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