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How Working Abroad in a Korean University Set Me Up for Financial Awesome

Wealthy English Teacher

How Working in Korea for 10 years Set Me Up For Life

I think working abroad is great as I talk about over on my other site about teaching in a Korean university: Top 5 Reasons Working Abroad is Awesome. In that post, I didn’t talk about the money, but working in a Korean university has given me a solid, solid foundation for my financial future. Part of it was luck in that I happened to choose Korea, mostly just because it was really easy and simple to get a job here, as opposed to other places like Eastern Europe or Japan. It ended up being an excellent choice because salaries for English teachers were excellent back when I started 10 years ago and are still pretty decent today, despite inflation combined with salary stagnation.

I’ll tell you my story of how it came to be that after 10 years working in Korea, I have a large pool of money, enough that I could survive for many, many years without working. It may be a bit of a bold statement, but I really do think that 10 years in Korea set me up for life. I could buy a house if I wanted. Not work. Go back to school. Travel the world for a decade. Explore the possibility of being an online entrepreneur. Move back to Canada with no job but a total of 0% stress about it.

Korea = A Frugal Paradise

Many countries around the world have ridiculously low costs of living and things like eating out, taxis or services are really, really cheap-much cheaper than in the Western world. Here in Korea people think nothing about eating out for almost every meal, taking taxis every single day or other such unthinkable craziness that such a thing would be in Canada.

However, if you’re frugal, you really can survive on almost nothing, perhaps even as low as maybe $300 if times are desperate because your workplace often provides housing and gives you perks like free lunch/dinner or your own computer with high-speed Internet. In my early days in Korea when I was still paying off student loans, I hit the frugal living extremely hard for 2 years, then kept up with it for another 2 years or so as I was trying to build a money pool to invest. It was 4 years of sacrifice, but Korea really isn’t a terrible place to go frugal because there are a million things to do for free-mountains to hike, beaches to hang out on, rivers to bike along, festivals to go to, board game and book clubs to join. What I’m saying is that I certainly didn’t suffer and I managed to have an excellent time during those years plus save a ridiculous amount of my monthly paycheque.

Dumpster Diving = I Love You

When you’re an expat working abroad, you just have way lower standards for what is acceptable. I think it has a lot to do with kind of living on the fringes of society and also that you’re comparing yourself with people who’ve just arrived with 2 suitcases mere months ago so even the tiniest luxury item seems like a huge splurge.

For example, the 15 year-old beater that I drive with almost 200,000 km on it is better than what 99% of the other expats have, which is nothing! Or, my apartment that I pay $600/month for is downright luxurious compared the one-room hovels that many people are forced to live in when they first get here. And of course, you can’t forget the dumpster diving. I’d be lying if I told you that much of my apartment wasn’t furnished this way. I then hit the second-hand recycling store for the rest of it. Koreans throw or give away some great stuff! I’d be crazy to not take advantage of it.

What I’m saying is that when you’re back home, there seems to be a lot more emphasis on keeping up appearances where most expats are a transient kind of sort who usually really don’t care about this, at all. It’s almost like a competition to see who can get the most awesome thing for free-seriously, if you snag something spectacular, you’re going to tell all your friends about it on Facebook and feel really proud about it.

Investing that Money After the Crash of 2009

Dumpster diving +frugal living = a large pool of money that I wanted to invest. During those frugal living years, I was obsessively researching investing and what my strategy was going to be. This was around 2008 and when the market crashed in 2009, I went all-in on dividend paying stocks, most of which I still hold today. I also leveraged up to a small degree to take advantage of the extreme cheapness of the market. During the bull run of the past 5 years, I’ve experienced massive gains as well as collecting dividends steadily each month and reinvesting them.

Free Time to Get My Side-Gig On

Teaching English in South Korean universities is amazing for me because I get 5 month paid vacations and don’t actually work that much during the week. Yes, it really is true. No, it’s no lie. I’ve used much of this free time to do extensive research about investing, get lots of Hubpages set-up, publish 8 books and set up a mini-website empire. The income from this stuff has paid for quite a few of my exotic vacations and in the future, hopefully it’ll be enough to support me.

I guess working abroad has given me a unique perspective to write from, which perhaps the average person doing the 9-5 in their home countries might not have. It’s like this very specific knowledge set that I’ve acquired, and that other people are really interested in. I plan to turn this very small website and self-publishing empire into something far bigger, and far better when I can work on it full-time.

For more details about building a side-gig when you’re working abroad as an ESL teacher, check out this post:

English Teachers Abroad: Get your Side-Gig On

Let’s Sum This Up 

Working abroad set me up for financial awesome for life. I was able to save a ton of money because I kept making more and more at my jobs through overtime work (and changing jobs) and I was also the queen of frugal living. I then invested this money after the stock market crash of 2009 and in the ensuing years, have enjoyed the bull run, as well as collecting some sweet dividends, month after month after month.

Then, I turned my attention to writing books and building websites during my free time which is bringing in an increasing amount of income each month, such that I hope to go full-time on the writing when I move to Canada. My plan is to live really frugally for the first year or two in Canada until my income from the books and websites is enough to sustain me totally so that I don’t have to dip into my savings from Korea too much, after the first $15,000 that I’ve allotted myself for start-up costs.

Working abroad-Will it Work for You?

10 years ago when I got my start with teaching abroad, things were booming in the world of ESL. Japan still had lots of decently paying jobs and Korea was up and coming with money being thrown at English extremely liberally. The Middle East offered a ton of potential with jobs getting better and better each year. Taiwan was a great place to save for those willing to hustle and put together a few different jobs. It seemed like you really could make a living doing ESL. However, it seems like job conditions are not as great for teachers these days and it can be pretty tough to save a large amount of money like I was able to, especially in Korea and Japan. But, of course, if you’re smart, well-qualified, well-networked and do your research, there are lots of excellent jobs out there in the ESL teaching world.

Make your own story of financial awesome, you know? Whatever works for you-everyone has their own path. Work hard, live frugally and be smart-you’ll get there.

Personal Finance for ESL Teachers Abroad

You’ll need The Wealthy English Teacher: Teach, Travel, and Secure Your Financial Future, which is the first and only books specifically for English teachers. It has a ton of frugal living tips, advice about choosing an ESL teaching job, dividend stock as well as ETF investing strategies, advice on how to open up a brokerage account as an expat, plus plenty more financial awesome.

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