By: Kiran Bhat
To choose to travel the world was not a decision lightly made. My parents had placed a strong emphasis on education for my entire life, and to tell them that I would rather write novels and travel the globe than continue on to a Master’s Degree was akin to throwing out all of the hundreds of thousands of dollars onto a flame. Still, I had a very particular vision I felt was my duty to pursue. I had to create a type of novel that made people think globally, place into language the effect of 7 billion people being attached not to particular nations but to a greater planet via the Internet. In order to have the experience I needed to carry out my vision, I not only needed to travel, I needed to travel in a way that could allow me to know the maximum amount of countries as possible.
I did not choose at first to teach online, but teaching online chose me. I had originally tried to move to Portugal (one of my favorite countries), but couldn’t find work due to visa issues and the lack of experience. I then decided to try Argentina, didn’t end up liking Buenos Aires, travel to Brazil, couldn’t find myself wanting to live in Sao Paulo or Rio either. It was around the time that my Couchsurfing host told me to try Florianopolis, in his mind one of the most beautiful cities of Brazil, that I also ended up searching, merely out of curiosity, “teaching English online.”
I found a handful of websites that allowed one, if they had a TEFL, had graduated from a college, and most importantly, had experience speaking certain languages (Russian for Russian websites, Mandarin for Chinese websites, etc), they were looking for people who could connect to their students online and teach them. I spoke Spanish fluently and Portuguese to an Intermediate level at the time, and so I sent out an application to Open English. I landed an interview, made a good impression, and began working with them the moment I moved into my island apartment in Floripa.
The structure of online classes are quite different from physical ones, and depends on the learning curriculum of the school (which I assume is the case for physical schools as well). Open English divided its students into their native language (Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, etc), and then by their level of English (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced). Somewhere between 1 to 10 students would meet the teacher in a virtual classroom. The teacher would conduct the class using the slides on the board, starting with a warm-up, then vocabulary, then various games and questions.
Like in any other school, there were many pros and cons for working with Open English. The pay was not exceptional, the class structure had very little room for creativity on the part of the teacher, and the students who often did not know a word of English were put with some who could get by, making it hard to design a class that would please everyone. At the same time, the beauty of working with any online company is that you are working remotely, and so you can be anywhere in the world you want. With Open English, I traveled to all of the countries of Latin America, saw fuming volcanoes in the Philippines, made the best friends of my life in Japan, and I earned enough, maybe around a thousand dollars, to base me in some of the less industrialized parts of the world.
Around 2014, I switched companies, and I started working with Learnlight, another virtual company based in Spain. Learn light’s class structures were very different from that of Open English’s. With Learnlight, I mostly tutored business professionals who worked at partnered companies, one-on-one, by calling them on the phone. I talked to individuals working at Whirlpool or Disney, from areas as distant as each other like Slovenia, Japan, or Argentina. Since it was one-on-one tutoring, the classes were structured to each individual’s needs. The pay was also a lot better, and so I was able to live in Turkey for a year, Indonesia and Portugal for a few months, and return often to India and the USA.
A few words of advice for those who want to work online:
- Hiring can in fact be competitive for online teaching. I have recommended several of my friends to my online companies, and none of them have been accepted. Perhaps, it is because some of them are passport owners from India, others not fluent in a language beyond English, but the point is that teaching online is in fact a job, and they will hire people who best fit their company’s goals and needs.
- Do not take a job online if you do not want to spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen. Usually you can work anywhere from four to eight hours in a shift, so if you are not used to computer usage, it will take a toil on your health and mentality. That being said, work hours can usually be decided by you. The minimum amount of time you are usually contracted for is 8-10 hours a week, but I worked usually for about 30 hours and had no trouble getting students assigned to me.
- The pay is manageable but low. I was paid from 8 to 10 dollars an hour at Open English, with my wage increasing depending on the time I spent at the company, and I was paid 10 euros an hour at Learnlight. If you work hard, it is possible to make around a thousand dollars a month, or perhaps more in some cases.
- Contracts are usually not time-specific, and so your commitment can be flexible. You can always quit if you feel like the work is not for you.
- The job is good for short-term goals, but not always long-term ones. Like with general ESL, the pay is not exceptional, and there is no room for mobility within the profession, so use it knowing that it is meant for something else.
And that something else can be great! I have traveled to over 118 countries over the last four years because I could work online, and earn my income even if I was spending one week in Lebanon, another week in Oman. A lot of my time was spent working, not traveling, but the fact that I was able to live so easily everywhere and anywhere was its own boon, and for all of you who want to travel without a tether, I can’t think of another better way.
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About the Author: Kiran Bhat
A graduate of ITA's Online TEFL Class, Kiran Bhat is an Indian-American cosmopolitan currently finishing up his first novel, We, of the Forsaken World.… Born and raised in Jonesboro, Georgia, he has spent formative time in Mysore, India, and he studied abroad for a year in Madrid, which inspired him to think globally. While he taught online, he traveled to 118 countries. He currently divides his time between Shanghai, Jonesboro, and Mysore.