Teaching English Overseas Interview with Nomadic Matt

My Korean Students - Teaching English Overseas in Korea

Recently I caught up with Matt Kepnes (better known on-line as Nomadic Matt) in Seoul, Korea while he was visiting briefly for a few days.  Although many know Matt for his ‘nomadic’ lifestyle, it may come as a surprise to hear that he was once an ESL teacher in Asia for nearly a year and a half.  Not long ago I was asked to do an interview in his book about teaching abroad.  Upon completing the interview I was given a copy of the book to review.  I wish I had a resource like this before I went overseas to teach for the first time.  

My Korean shack on top of the roof


During my first contract in South Korea I was given a shack on top of a roof (when I was promised an apartment) and I was cheated on my healthcare and pension services.  Looking back in hindsight, I could have done a better job researching my position before signing the contract.

Matt’s How To Teach English Overseas book is full of valuable information that will allow one to confidently pursue a position overseas:

How to teach English overseas

Q1) Can you briefly describe your career as an ESL teacher abroad.

A1) I taught English in Thailand for close to a year and in Taiwan for 3 months. I taught test preparation and business English while in Thailand and basic English to little kids in Taiwan.

Nomadic Matt Kepnes

Q2) How important was your experience as an ESL teacher in relation to your eventual transition to becoming a backpacker?

A2) The two are very different. I wouldn’t even relate the two experiences.

Q3) There is a lot of misleading information on the web regarding teaching English overseas compounded by the fact many recruiting agencies do not tell the truth regarding placements and working conditions. How does your Teaching English Overseas assist somebody looking for a quality teaching position?

A3) My book uses information gleaned from my own teaching experience as well as interviews from other teachers from around the world. It gets updated each year so that the information stays fresh. The book isn’t some spam site designed for you to click on ads or buy some products. I have no agenda with this book other than to provide good information.

Q4) What are some of the top ESL destinations for one to consider in terms of the potential to save money for travel?

A4) South Korea, China, Thailand, and Taiwan. If you are older and are a certified teacher, you can get a job in the Middle East and that pays well too.

Nomadic Matt Kepnes

Q5) What do you think is a common mistake made by English teachers going abroad on assignment for the first time?

A5) They don’t research their school enough to know if it is good or not.

Teaching Korean Students

Q6) What advice would you give to somebody who is sitting on the fence regarding teaching English overseas that is caught up in fear of leaving home and/or getting up in front of students and conducting a class for the first time?

A6) Teaching isn’t that hard. It seems scary but most schools provide pre-made lessons. You don’t have to know how to be an expert teacher. People from all walks of life teach. It’s easy.

Q7) What do you think the greatest strength of your book is as a resource for somebody eager to teach abroad?

A7) The country guides that detail visa information, salaries, working conditions, benefits, and cost of living.

 Nomadic Matt Kepnes

Q8) What can teaching English overseas offer an individual in terms of life experience?

A8) Teaching a foreign country will definitely help you learn how to survive in an unknown environment as well as adapt to different circumstances.

Q9) Setting salary or savings potential aside, what are some destinations you’d recommend others consider for teaching ESL with more of an emphasis on leisure activities, recreation, culture and fun?

A9) Thailand, South Korea, China, Central America, Ukraine

Q10) Finally, what is one tip you’d suggest to any new teacher before he/she signs a contract to teach abroad?

A10) Make sure every last detail, especially those regarding benefits, bonuses, and time off are clearly stated. You want everything in writing. 

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurence June 8, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Nomadic Samuel meets Nomadic Matt. Now you need a couple of camels and a harem and we can recreate some sort of Arabian Nights adventure!


Megan @ Roamancing June 10, 2012 at 4:43 am

Great advice! I feel like some of it could apply to au pair-ing too.


Brock - Backpack With Brock June 10, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Great tips! This sounds like an awesome resource for people thinking about going abroad to teach English


Paulette @ Marginal Boundaries June 21, 2012 at 8:42 pm

This is really great information. I have a friend currently teaching English in Seoul, Korea and he is loving it. But I do feel like we as Americans need to be better prepared to represent the English language and our country. I have been encouraged by family members to teach English overseas, and my sister was also considering it. There is no better way to immerse yourself in another culture than to live abroad and teach your language confidently while also learning another. I may have to consider!


Mary @ Green Global Travel August 4, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Great info on teaching overseas! I would definitely send newbie ESL teachers your way for advice.


Nomadic Samuel August 7, 2012 at 5:25 am

Thank you! It’s a great way to go overseas, experience a culture and save for travel. Win-win-win situation! :)


Andrea September 12, 2012 at 3:13 pm

I spotted this Groupon this morning (Wed. 9/12/12) and thought it would be something of interest for you folks and others who are interested in teaching abroad as part of a travel lifestyle, and wanted to share. (Also, does anyone have experience with TESOLS courses or recommend if this is worth looking into or necessary?)

There is a Groupon right now for the TESOLS course, $69 for 150 hour course, at supposed $599 value. The course is through the TESOLS website. The verbiage for Groupon is:
“Online course grants internationally recognized certification to teach English as a secondary language. Expires Mar 13, 2013. Limit 1 per person, may buy 2 additional as gifts. Must be redeemed online. Must be activated within 6 months from the date of purchase. Not valid with other offers.” Also some verbiage at the bottom “Though TESOLS.com sometimes features a discounted price online, this Groupon still offers the best deal available.”

This showed up through the Pensacola Groupon list, so not sure if when you search for it you’ll need to somehow search specifically in Pensacola, or just search TESOLS and it might come up.


Remy September 20, 2012 at 5:55 am

I found this Groupon an am trying to figure out how it stacks up and if it’s worth it.

From what I gather it’s unaccredited by any organization and the one that it’s an applicant for accreditation with seems like kind of a joke (ACTDEC).

In general the advice I gather is to look at the country where you want to work, find the institutions you want to work for and ask them what they recommend and prefer.


Julia Robert February 16, 2013 at 5:54 am

Thanks for sharing this nice post. If you are seeking a cool way to receive money and want to tour the world,than teach English in abroad.


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