Out of work? Try teaching English -- it's taken me all the way to Korea
If you're truly motivated, you can be in front of a class in less than two months. Andrew Farrell on the joys of working abroad
It may seem as if the big freeze will never end, but for many people it's the chill of recession that will bite during these first few days of 2010. With Ireland braced for another year of pessimism and uncertainty, what options are available to the thousands of degree-holders without a job?
Recent estimates put the unemployment rate at around 15pc, the second highest of the EU-15 countries. Come May, when the next batch of students graduate from university, job possibilities will decrease further and for the foreseeable future, many of Ireland's youngest and brightest will be consigned to the dole queue.
Fortunately, there is an alternative that doesn't require prior training and experience. That option is teaching abroad. 'Teaching English in Korea jobs' brings up over 34 million hits on Google, and close to double that when you replace Korea with Japan. The point is, jobs are plentiful and it's simply a matter of putting in the time and effort to secure one.
Japan and Korea are among the most popular destinations because of their exotic cultures, proximity to south-east Asia and Australia, and, for the most part, well paid, secure jobs with excellent benefits in a modern, stable part of the world.
No form of teaching qualification or experience is needed, but one or both will increase your chances of earning a contract, and possibly a better salary. A degree from a recognised university is an absolute must, as are transcripts to verify the authenticity of your degree, a criminal background check and a health check.
Private and public schools also provide free roundtrip airfare, free single accommodation and a settlement bonus. This is true of Japan, Korea and Taiwan, but not exclusive to these countries.
The best way of securing a job is through an agency, and there are many to choose from. Tiger English was the first Irish-based teacher recruitment company to offer a free placement service to prospective teachers. However, it doesn't matter if you apply via an Irish agency or an international group, they all offer free placement service, meaning the schools pick up the recruitment fees.
Agencies are quick and efficient since their goal is getting each applicant into a job. After applying, you will be contacted for a short interview which runs over your educational history and any qualifications you may have. The agency will then pass your details onto the school, who will conduct their own short interview. In the meantime, the teacher organises his or her own criminal background check, copy of degree and transcripts of results. If the candidate is truly motivated by the prospect of working abroad, they can be teaching in less than two months after sending off the first application form.
For a job in south-east Asia or the increasingly popular Latin America, a Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) qualification may be required. It's virtually impossible to gauge how many jobs are available globally because many of these schools don't advertise their openings on the internet. But taking a TEFL course with a company like i-to-i , for example, will give you access to a contacts list with over 5,000 schools worldwide.
These companies offer all applicants, who have completed either online or weekend TEFL courses, lifetime assistance in securing a job. Courses range from 20-hour online to 120-hours combined online with a weekend course.
Prices range from €200 to €800 depending on which company the teacher applies to. Opportunities to take a course worldwide are vast, and www.teachabroad.com is a good place to start looking.
For checking out jobs online, it is important not to be put off by terms like 'experience essential' or 'qualification required'.
Last August, I moved to Gwangju in South Korea. I have no teaching experience or any TEFL qualification. My degree from NUI Maynooth and clean background check were enough to secure a private Kindergarten job alongside 13 other foreign teachers.
The Canadian-based Gone2Korea ploughed through the application process so quickly that I was offered two jobs before I had my documents in order.
Many teachers here will tell you they arrived in Korea after closing their eyes, spinning a globe and picking the first country their finger landed on. The reality is they, like me, were drawn more to the excellent benefits than opening an atlas and selecting with gay abandon.
If the globe story is correct, how many people worldwide have sent letters to the Department of Education in Pyongyang or Mogadishu searching for a job?
I have to be in the school by 9am, and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I am out the door by 2.40pm. I have to stay a little later on Tuesdays and Thursdays -- 4pm.
The comfortable working hours allows the teacher to explore more of this small, but culturally amazing country.
On the face of it, Korea appears to be the fifty-first state of the USA. Traditional restaurants in major cities are dwarfed by McDonald's, Burger King, KFC and TGI's. But this is unsurprising given Korea's place in the G-20 of major economies and the fact that roughly 37,000 American troops are still stationed on the peninsula keeping peace in a war that never actually ended.
But the joys of being in Korea are teaching children aged between five and seven, in classes of 11. I was hesitant at first about coming over. How would I ever manage to say their names, let alone memorise them?
I teach four classes, so 44 children with names like Lee Jong-Beom, Han Ki-Joo and Kim Sang-Hyun was unbelievably daunting.
Thankfully, one of Korea's many surprises is that some private schools insist that children are enrolled with an English name.
My school is no different, so sitting in front of me is Wayne, Gwen, Brendan and Wendy.
It certainly takes away from the mystic of working in Asia, especially when a seven-year-old child with clear oriental features has the same name as me.
There are the times sitting back in the canteen, trying desperately hard not to smell more of the kimchi or look at the octopus and squid soup, when your mind races back to moments in the classroom.
These include the boy who grinned profusely when explaining his absence from school for the past few days.
He points to the sky and says "grandmother". Your heart breaks further when he concludes that "mammy was crying".
Or making a class of five-year-olds laugh so deep simply by hiding a toy behind your back and bringing it out by making a loud noise. Each time they collapse in stitches.
The attention is akin to celebrity status but whereas Hollywood's finest are harassed for signatures and memorabilia, foreign teachers are a source of candy and amusement.
Life as a foreign English teacher in Korea is just beginning. Sure, you could do this in Dublin or Waterford -- but if you can't, why not try it over here?