My first days of college were in the fall of 2008. I was full of naïve confidence built upon the words of all the adults in my life up until that point: do well in school, do well on tests, get into a good college, and, naturally, get a good job. 

After graduation, it just fell apart. I’d just started at a too-expensive school, like so many other students around the U.S., and the rug was immediately pulled out from under me after graduation. My level of student loan debt quickly became untenable and the jobs I expected to be offered that could have worked to pay it off never materialized. 

Such is life.

I had a decision to make. I could:

  1. Go deeper into debt by getting more schooling.
  2. Quickly try to find any job I could while the clock was ticking on my student loan payments starting.
  3. Get out of dodge and make some money while seeing parts of the world I’d never imagined I’d see. 

Obviously, I chose door number three. My decision was a stop-gap measure at the time, but my experience has turned into so much more.

My wife and I moved to Taiwan with somewhere around $150,000 in debt. It should never have been so much money, but, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. The plan was to spend a year teaching, making a little money to pay off minimums, travel and learn some Mandarin so we could go home and get a good job with our degrees and a little Chinese. 

We are still in Taiwan almost nine years later. We speak conversational Mandarin, we have paid off all of our debt and started saving money, and we still live and teach in Asia. This was not our original plan, but it has worked out. Here’s how we did it:

You have options, even if it doesn’t feel like it

The world is massive, which means there are a multitude of places to go to find work and make money. If you are an English speaker, this is particularly the case. These options are more attainable now than they ever have been; what was once a dauntingly large world feels much smaller thanks to modern transportation and communication technology.

The pressure to find a job and make money can be suffocating, especially when you feel like you are out of options. However, the reality is that if you are willing to take the leap and go abroad and teach, you have seemingly endless opportunities. Teaching can be an end itself, or it can be a vehicle to help you gain skills,  like learning a language or earning income, that can be a means to a better future.

The proverbial cake

Many of the places where you can teach abroad offer a relatively low cost of living. As such, you can make and save money while also living well. 

In other words, you can have your cake and eat it, too. 

For many people, teaching abroad makes it much easier to live the life you want, be it simple or luxurious, while also meeting financial goals. Living overseas allows you to live in a nice flat in a big city, go out on the town, and travel, all while you are still able to put money in the bank or pay off debt.

Affordable and delicious outdoor eats in Japan.

Flexibility is king

One of the biggest draws to teaching abroad has been the flexibility it allows. You can find a high paying job and just stick with that to meet your goals, or you can get multiple jobs and private tutoring gigs and rake in the cash. 

There are almost always more opportunities out there if you are willing to put in the work. My wife and I worked six days a week for six years to pay off our debt. Now, we work four days a week and still save money and meet our financial goals. 

Teaching English abroad has allowed us the flexibility we want and provided the opportunity we needed to get out of the cycle of student loan debt, and we got to do a bunch of travelling while we did it.

I could go on and on about my experience because my wife and I are living examples of why teaching abroad is not only a viable option for reaching your financial goals, but also a good one. The way our life has worked out was not our original plan, but I cannot imagine a better way of reaching our goals. There is almost certainly no other scenario where we would be here in our early 30s and completely debt free. 

Teaching abroad is often thought of as a post-college fantasy or stop-gap, but it can be much much more if you are willing to put the work in and throw yourself into it.

So, if you want to get on your own two feet financially, or just start chipping away at that student loan debt, start your journey today.


Teacher in Taipei
"If you were to get a dollar each time someone teaching abroad told you they originally planned for their journey to last just a year, you'd be rich, and I'd have to donate a dollar myself. I moved to Taiwan from Chicago with my wife on July 1, 2012 and we have no plans to move on. It is the best decision we have ever made."