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This region, encompassing Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam offers a wealth of different experiences. Highly developed Malaysia and Singapore, stand in stark contrast to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, whom only relatively recently normalised their relationships with the US.
You can expect Islam and Buddhism, communism and capitalism. It really is a fascinating region where you have to learn to expect the unexpected!
The market for teachers is both phenomenal and varied in nature. Malays seek to send their children to university in English-speaking countries; in Singapore, English is the lingua franca of commerce, and dexterity is seen as a must. In Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam there is huge demand for TESOL teachers due to the inrush of western development capital, and the free-market economies that now reign in formerly state controlled economies.
In Malaysia and Singapore an employer will expect you to have to have several years teaching experience, an undergraduate degree and a TESOL qualification. Things are a good deal more relaxed in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, though a TESOL certificate is still a must.
With language institutes you can, in the main, expect to find yourself teaching those who work in business or tourism, less so those doing it just for fun. This ‘needs-driven’ market makes for sharp, well-motivated students. Don’t expect to find people dozing at the back of the class. Commensurately, these people are paying for the privilege, and will expect a respectable, well-turned out, professional teacher. Another thing to be aware of is that many students will have been studying English for a number of years, and may have considerable awareness of grammar, such as tenses. Be on your metal, and prepare well. You don’t want to have your knowledge of tenses tested by your students, who learned them all by heart before they were ten! One often finds a disparity between knowledge and oral and written dexterity. For example, students may be quite unused to hearing English spoken by a native speaker. Conversely, some, from experience in the tourist industry, speak and comprehend with great dexterity, but perform poorly in writing.
Because of the huge variety of standards in education you can expect a commensurately varied student body. Some will have very little experience; however, others, privately educated, will have many years experience in studying English.
In almost every circumstance you will find highly motivated students, expecting well-structured classes presented by well turned out teachers.
Malaysia only issues work permits to highly qualified candidates. People caught working on a tourist visa can expect to be fined and deported. Singapore is a lot more straightforward, and all you need is a sponsoring employer who will, on your behalf, contact the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority. Vietnam has begun issuing two-week visitor’s visas, but you can convert this to a six-month business visa, provided that you have a sponsoring employer.
With Laos and Cambodia you would do well to check at the embassy in your country of origin, as the situation is somewhat fluid.
Perhaps the wise job-seeker, in the best of all possible worlds directs their attention to their visa requirements and entitlements. This will depend on what your country of origin has fixed up with the host country. You can find all about this from your local embassy. Think about also what you have to do to renew your visa. All the way back home, or does a cross-border trip do nicely? How many times can you renew your tourist visa? What are the penalties for working on a tourist visa?
A modicum of preparation prior to setting out will pay dividends. Think of not one country, but the sub continent of South Asia. You may come to value mobility once you hit this part of the world. Hence, it is a very good idea to contact all of the Asian embassies your country of origin, enquiring about teaching and visas, and see what you get back. You will find that you have a nice big file folder of leads and information, but opportunities will vary from country of origin to country of origin, Asian embassy to Asian embassy. In addition to this you should have copies of all your educational certificates.
There are avenues that can be utilised to gain a placement prior to setting out. Princeton (email@example.com) and Stanford (firstname.lastname@example.org) Universities run volunteer programmes in various countries, a component of which is TESOL teaching. Stanford’s programme, for example, is open to graduates and graduating seniors, and charges a fee of $1,975 for one year, and $975 for two. This covers the cost of flights, training, visas and insurance.
In Malaysia a good lead is CfBT (www.cftb.com) who have been placing people in Malaysia for a number of years. In Singapore it is worth checking out the Foreign Recruitment Unit of the Ministry of Education (470 9347/4798780; fax 470 473 4807. Also the Teacher Recruitment Unit in London (0207 321 5601). In addition to which the British Council is well worth looking up, and many language schools are located along Orchard Road. With Cambodia and Laos the VSO has a considerable presence, and may be able to get someone in the country on a work permit. In Vietnam, Remit International University is often on the lookout for teachers. Again the British Council is a useful source of information and maintains a list of language schools in the region.
For many, getting a job will mean knocking on doors - hence, the need for those certificates. Schools and language institutes are often only too willing to interview candidates. Highly-qualified, and more importantly, well-turned-out, organised and enthusiastic teachers are in short supply. If they like you they will most certainly find some teaching for you!
Hence, one of the best and most realistic propositions is to build a working life based around constructing a portfolio a few hours here and a few hours there, bearing mind that revenue from ‘privates’ can double a teacher’s income, one should always be on the lookout for private students, whatever one’s employment or visa status. The market for those wanting private tuition or conversation practice is huge, and potentially very lucrative, therefore, not be neglected. Give yourself time to build a portfolio of work. This is best safeguard to both your income, and employment status.
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