Too Old to Teach Abroad? Meet the ESL Teachers Over 30.

2 Posted by - February 15, 2013 - ESL, Teaching Abroad


Is Teaching Abroad Only for Postgraduates?

Am I too old to teach English abroad?  Isn’t teaching English overseas for people who just graduated from college?  Aren’t people teaching overseas only stalling their real careers?  Is someone a loser because they teach English abroad for more than two years? Are they losers because they teach overseas in their mid 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or beyond?  Don’t people teach English abroad because they can’t handle a real job back home?

Answers that Fall Flat

These are all real questions and criticisms working adults encounter before becoming  ESL instructors in foreign countries.  They also have questions about sustainability, working conditions, pay and travel opportunities.  Unfortunately, the web lacks real answers to these questions.  Instead, ESL companies promise their certifications will break people away from their mundane existence and enjoin them to a meaningful crusade of changing lives through teaching English.

On the other hand, post-college graduates spew resentment towards older teachers on ESL forums.  They claim older teachers can’t succeed in the workforce back home or are in the process of committing career suicide.  The naivety and delusions of these post-graduates, concerning their envisioned success and fulfillment in the work force back home, cannot be understated.

Finally, the common western skeptic, like my father, deduces teaching abroad to a poor economy.  Oddly enough, job security and employment are not primary reasons for older individuals to teach overseas.  While job opportunity and security influences younger teachers, the influence of job security wanes as an individual ages.  Although, individuals can secure a very nice living through ESL instruction, especially if they are frugal.

The Real Answers

First of all, do not worry about age.  You are not alone.  Working adults over 30 comprise the larger percentage of those earning TEFL certifications in English speaking countries.

If you are not a post-college graduate and you are considering teaching abroad, ignore the chatter and opinions of others.  The decision rests solely with you.  There are plenty of older teachers who are happy with their decisions to teach abroad.  Those who were not happy returned home upon completing their initial contract.  You simply need to ask yourself one question,

“Will I be happier teaching English abroad, or will I be happier to continuing my current path?”

If you are reading this, chances are you are not happy with your current path.  Why else would you be considering such a crazy option:) The next question to ask yourself is if teaching abroad is the correct change you should make in your life?  This question is complicated, but I think I can help.

The Over 30 and Teaching Abroad Project 

Most online articles employ broad generalizations to explain the motivations of thousands of older expats teaching abroad.  I reflected upon my own motivations for teaching abroad and concluded they were anything but simple.  So, instead of writing why I thought working adults chose to leave their lives behind, I took a different approach.  I asked several expats over 30 to write an essay explaining why they decided to teach abroad.

To their surprise, few who took place in this project could summarize their decisions with a few words.  Their decisions to teach abroad were complicated and often fueled by an internal desire that was often difficult for them to pinpoint and explain.  Most were already successful by some measurement- gainfully employed, master’s degrees, etc.  Most also had plans to return to their careers, but a few decided to change careers.  Some teachers, like myself, are still unsure about their futures, which I discovered is common at any age.

The motivations and eventual experiences of every expat differ; some people pursue careers teaching English as a second language, others savor the opportunity to live in a foreign country for a few years, while many people need a break from the monotony back home to gain perspective on their lives.  Some expats fulfill their desires, but I’ve witnessed many realize they made a mistake and returned home.

Below are photographs and essays by real ESL instructors who teach in Korea and are at least thirty years old.  I asked them one question,  “Why did you decide to teach abroad?”

My hope is that people considering teaching abroad can find answers, comfort, hope, and reassurance in the thought processes, decisions, and experiences of real people who have gone before them.  As this project continues, I will add more people to the list.  The project will conclude with thirty individuals.  If you live in Korea and would like to participate, please contact me.  There are requests for teachers in their forties and fifties so the older you are the more people want to hear from you.

If you are considering teaching abroad, I wish you the best in your decision.    Remember, whether you decide for or against teaching abroad, you are in good company.  You are never too old to follow through with either option.

I’m no longer in Korea to photograph, but if you would like to write an essay and provide two or three quality photos I would be honored to add you to this list.  Of course, you must be thirty or older.  

Meet The Teachers (Click on Them)




















  • […] To read more stories and thoughts of those who decided to teach abroad after 30, please click here. […]

  • Ariel Isaacs February 15, 2013 - 11:34 am Reply

    When do I get to read the Essays???

    • Debbie Nave March 31, 2013 - 12:10 pm Reply

      Click on the individual’s name below their photograph.

  • beatdom February 15, 2013 - 5:01 pm Reply

    When I worked in South Korea most of the teachers I encountered, and certainly all of the ones I worked with, were in their early twenties. I’ve been in China for the past three years and that age group probably makes up less than half of the ESL world. Most of my co-workers are in their thirties and several of them in their fifties. It seems that experience and qualifications are valued here far more than in South Korea.

    • beatdom February 23, 2013 - 8:16 pm Reply

      I’m pompous for pointing out that most most of the teachers I knew in Korea were my age, and most of the ones here are older than me? Or pompous for pointing out that the hagwon system in Korea feeds on young (and mostly caucasian) teachers, whereas in China they prefer experience?

      Either way, your comment seems a little unfair, Brent.

    • mangy17 May 29, 2013 - 8:06 am Reply

      beatdown I do not regard these comments as pompous at all, and Brent’s accusation is unfair indeed.

      • Brent Sheffield May 29, 2013 - 8:26 am Reply

        “It seems that experience and qualifications are valued here far more than in South Korea”

        This was about teaching abroad over 30, not about what countries people teach in. To make a comment like that is very disrespectful to the extremely qualified teachers in South Korea, especially the ones likely to be included to in this post. Most people who teach over 30 have a bit more going on. Cut it any way you want, it was a rude and unnecessary comment that is more about division than unity. I call them as I see them.

    • Jessie August 19, 2013 - 2:35 am Reply

      I am an ESL teacher in my 50s; I teach in Korea. I have a great relationship with my director, and she couldn’t be happier that she hired me. It may not have been the case when I first took the job. She had concerns about my age at first but we got on so well that I signed for a second year with her.

      • Sad March 1, 2014 - 12:33 pm Reply

        Did she ever call you an ajumma though? I hate that disgusting horrible word. I’ve had students call me that and I’m thin and fashionable with long hair. Koreans love to use ajumma to insult any foreigner whether you’re over 30 or not.

      • Debra Kreisberg March 2, 2015 - 7:22 pm Reply

        Hi I’m a 55 year old professor looking for advice about teaching English in Asia in my 50s. I have a PhD and tons of international experience. I would love some advice.Is there any forum for older TEFL teachers?

        • lee lepper November 19, 2015 - 11:29 am Reply

          Dear Sad, I taught in Thailand for 10 years, and Korea for one (guess which lace I liked better). I am on my second year in Saudi so that can tell you how I feel about living in Korea…. I studied Thai for many years and Korean for about 6 months. The term adjumma although it is often translated as middle aged, visor wearing, soju swigging, cut in line, loud gum smacking middle aged or above woman among English speakers in Korea, actually has to do with a woman’s marriage status or motherhood or of being of age for that…. It is certainly not meant as an insult. If it were an insult Koreans would not address women in public like that.. Much like haoloe in Hawaii or Farang in Thailand. Maybe you just fit their idea as to what is considered to be “adjumma” take it as a compliment, it is a respectful term.

  • Charlie February 16, 2013 - 10:57 am Reply

    I think this will be a really interesting series. As an over-30 English teacher heading back to the homeland after just a couple of years here in Korea, I’ve found it quite interesting how varied the story lines are that bring everyone to this one, specific place on the map. Kudos for a great concept.

  • Jeffrey Miller February 16, 2013 - 8:51 pm Reply

    Very interesting article. I came to Korea in 1990 when I was 32 and I’m still here. I spent two years at ELS and thirteen years at Yonsei teaching English. Now, I’m an assistant professor at SolBridge in Daejeon. Check out Waking Up in the Land of the Morning Calm.

    • Brent Sheffield February 22, 2013 - 6:15 pm Reply

      Put a fat link on here so people can check it out!

  • […] To read more stories and thoughts of those who decided to teach abroad after 30, please click here. […]

  • annov February 20, 2013 - 7:31 am Reply

    Very interesting. When I last worked in Korea, the majority of my coworkers were over 30. I hadn’t even considered it to be old! But when I think back to my first job at a hagwon, 30 really would have been seen as old. I kind of think of hagwons as a training pool – I learned a lot very quickly in two years at ELS, then did a CELTA which taught me that I kind of knew what I was doing after all. That opened up doors to a university job where I was given all sorts of opportunities that I would never have had outside of Korea. The key to making time in Korea a success is to have a plan and to work on self-development. It’s easy to drift aimlessly there, but just as easy to carve out a plan. I wish I’d realized that earlier in my time there.

  • […] To read more stories and thoughts of those who decided to teach abroad after 30, please click here. […]

  • […] is the first entry in Kimchibyte’s series of ESL teachers over 30.  Her stories will be particularly helpful to those who want to teach abroad, but are also mindful […]

  • […] Part 5 of 30, ESL Teachers Over 30 […]

  • […] Part 5 of 30, ESL Teachers Over 30 […]

  • Amy D. Duhon April 24, 2013 - 10:44 am Reply

    Hello and Good Morning from South Korea,
    After reading this link, I now feel I am in good company. I am an African-American woman, 39 yrs. of age, and I was very concerned about my age while applying to teach English abroad back in the states. I am very thankful that I continued to pursue the opportunity, and I accepted an offer back in March last month. I jumped for joy. Thanks for your website!! :)) Amy from Austin, Texas

    • Brent Sheffield April 26, 2013 - 6:05 am Reply

      Awesome – Thank you for sharing. It encourages me to continue this project.

  • […] Too Old to Teach Abroad? Meet the ESL Teachers Over 30. […]

  • […] Too Old to Teach Abroad? Meet the ESL Teachers Over 30. […]

  • londone7 May 7, 2013 - 9:06 am Reply

    I wonder if recruiters are discriminating on age as often I dont get responses even though I’m qualified and experienced

  • icaltefl May 8, 2013 - 6:15 pm Reply

    As a TEFL trainer we have students ranging in age from 17 to – our current oldest – 79 years old. True that most jobs are for the under-60’s but there’s still a huge market there for older teachers who can bring a certain gravitas to the classroom.
    In our experience helping teachers find work it is harder for older (that is, 40+) teachers to find work simply because schools are short-sighted, but often we find those teachers staying longer at a school and generally settling in much better.
    By the way, I’d be interested to see which forums “spew resentment towards older teachers” as you say.Where do you read this?!

    • Brent Sheffield May 24, 2013 - 10:48 am Reply

      Read any forum, plenty of people criticize esl teachers over 30.

      • ICALAdmin January 12, 2014 - 10:34 am Reply

        I’d be interested to see links!

    • Debra Kreisberg March 2, 2015 - 7:25 pm Reply

      I’m a 55 year old PhD professor with tons f international experience. I’m going to take my TEFL and leave for Asia next year. I keep hearing from the TEFL courses that I can’t get a job in Asia and especially China and Korea because I will be 56. Yet on the forum sites people say thats not at all true especially with my credentials. I sure could use some advice specific to older teachers in the market or a forum.

  • DN May 8, 2013 - 8:32 pm Reply

    I am over 30 and have been working in Korea for the past 3 years. Going on my fourth now because my school renewed me.

  • […] Too Old to Teach Abroad? Meet the ESL Teachers Over 30. […]

  • […] Too Old to Teach Abroad? Meet the ESL Teachers Over 30. […]

  • […] Too Old to Teach Abroad? Meet the ESL Teachers Over 30. […]

  • Kelly June 1, 2013 - 8:51 am Reply

    What do you guys think the average age is for people in Korea ?

    I graduated 2 years ago and have been struggling to find employment still, although I’ve been travelling and teaching through AmeriCorps full time. Korea definitely lured me because of the ability to be in a new exciting place as well as make money. But then I realized I’d probably be back on my mom’s couch & still jobless in the states afterward, which I don’t really want.

    SO I decided to get my U.S. teaching credential first this Fall and head to Korea for a year right after, hopefully pay off some of the debt from it. I’m almost 24 now so I’ll be 25 when I go. So it sounds like there will be a lot of ppl around my age?

    • Brent Sheffield June 1, 2013 - 9:24 am Reply

      Ha, you are very young! There are a ton of people here your age. You’ll be fine!

  • […] Too Old to Teach Abroad? Meet the ESL Teachers Over 30. […]

  • Robert. June 11, 2013 - 10:08 pm Reply

    As a person in their 40’s, I am facing the age discrimination head on. I have been looking for a job for over two months now. As soon as they ask you your age, you never hear back from them. Any advice for improving my chances??

    • SeattleMike5 October 25, 2013 - 7:12 pm Reply

      I’m 44, and have been wondering about age discrimination, especially related to teaching English overseas. Did you ever find the job that you were looking for?

  • Mark Lewis July 10, 2013 - 12:37 pm Reply

    How can I deduct child care expenses if I paid them cash?

  • Braden Klune July 18, 2013 - 7:09 pm Reply

    Came to Korea in 1996 at the age of 40. Now 57 and still here.

  • Joy Noseworthy July 25, 2013 - 10:57 am Reply

    Just want to let you know that we came to Jeju 13 years ago. My husband retired from teaching in Canada and decided that he had more teaching left in him. We ended up here on Jeju,where he taught for 11 years at the same hogwan. Retired again and started volunteering at the university. This year he decided to go for his second masters degree and is now a student there. He will be almost 70 when he finishes.

    • Brent Sheffield July 25, 2013 - 11:16 am Reply

      Incredible story! I’d love for you guys to hate your jeju stories sometime if you are interested!

    • Debra Kreisberg March 2, 2015 - 7:27 pm Reply

      I’m a 55 year old PhD professor with tons f international experience. I’m going to take my TEFL and leave for Asia next year. I keep hearing from the TEFL courses that I can’t get a job in Asia and especially China and Korea because I will be 56. Yet on the forum sites people say thats not at all true especially with my credentials. I sure could use some advice specific to older teachers in the market or a forum.

  • stephanie August 17, 2013 - 9:24 am Reply

    I’m 37 and have had the nagging loud voice in my head for a while to leave my office job and come to SK. I’ve lived in SE Asia and traveled alot, but never on my own. Will I meet others like me?

    • Brent Sheffield August 17, 2013 - 10:16 am Reply

      They are here, just not in spades. Work with a recruiter and try to locate others. I find areas right outside of Seoul have good options.

  • stephprattles August 17, 2013 - 9:27 am Reply

    Brent–I left a reply but it’s not showing. Let me know if you received so I can spare your readers the redundancy.

  • […] Too Old to Teach Abroad? Meet the ESL Teachers Over 30. […]

  • […] ESL Teachers Over 30, Part 7 of 30 […]

  • […] ESL Teachers Over 30, Part 10 of 30 […]

  • […] ESL Teachers Over 30, Part 9 of 30 […]

  • […] Part 6 of 30, ESL Teachers Over 30 […]

  • Coming Out to Korea: Michael H | Kimchibytes September 28, 2013 - 12:02 pm Reply

    […] Part 5 of 30, ESL Teachers Over 30 […]

  • Mauwa October 22, 2013 - 10:00 am Reply

    It seems to be that with the exception of South Aficans the rest of Africa has been forgotten. I am a 30yr old African lady who got a TEFL certification online with i-to-i earlier this year and have applied for almost 200 TEFL jobs with no success. Everywhere I look it seems that only American, Canadian, British or South African teachers are wanted. I do not know whether or not to conclude that the world in general seems to think that apart from South Africans the rest of us on the continent do not know how to speak English. It is terribly disheartening. Please does anyone have any advice for me?

    • King_Oberon January 27, 2014 - 7:51 pm Reply

      I have heard that there is discrimination if you don’t fit the stereotype: young, white, blonde, native English female. Anything that deviates from this too much meets more resistance. Have you tried Japan? I know there are a couple of black guys teaching there. Also, check out Gold Star Teachers. Not sure how legit they are but they claim to be a legit recruitment firm and have a few videos on youtube.

  • SeattleMike5 October 25, 2013 - 7:11 pm Reply

    These stories are excellent, and I hope you will continue with the project. At 44, I’m also somewhat amused at calling people who just turned 30 “old”, but when I was that age I very much felt the same way. I’d love the opportunity to teach in Korea, but unfortunately I have a felony for theft in my past which will prevent that from ever happening. What I took from these stories, however, is the inspiration to break away from the life that we’re not satisfied with and to try something new, like teaching English overseas. I may try it someday in another country, or pursue another profession. Best of luck to you all.

  • King_Oberon January 27, 2014 - 7:43 pm Reply

    Hi Brent. Thank you for this article. I am 32 and have been considering teaching English in Asia but lack a degree. I’ve decided to rectify this by going back to school to fulfill the visa requirements, however by the time I’m finished I might be substantially older (6-8 years). If I pursue this part time, would my lack of experience in teaching along with my age at that time prove difficult in terms of finding employment? Will Asia’s general level of English improve so much that it puts me out of a job? Living in East Asia has become an obsessive goal of mine and I’d be disheartened to find out that China, Taiwan or Japan have improved so much that they’re hiring locals and/or professional teachers by that time.

  • […] Inspiring ESL Teachers Over 30  […]

  • Shane McHan February 22, 2014 - 2:29 am Reply

    sweet, over thirty and heading to South Korea

  • Sad March 1, 2014 - 12:28 pm Reply

    Many Koreans are jerks though and call anyone over 30 old, especially a single woman. No matter how thin and pretty you are, many Korean guys will hate you. You’ll end up a spinster like me. I wasted my life in such a screwed up country and now no man will ever want me because of my age. Korea destroyed my life.

  • Mike June 27, 2014 - 12:17 pm Reply

    Nice website.. I was wondering if there might be less age bias teaching English at the university level in Korea? I’m in my late 30s and am considering giving it a shot. I have a PhD (although not in English/tesol) and a year’s experience of tefl. What do you think my chances are like? Cheers

    • Mike July 9, 2014 - 3:41 pm Reply

      Anyone?? Cheers

    • kimchibytes October 6, 2014 - 1:00 am Reply

      Certainly. If you have a Master’s degree the opportunities are there. Most University positions you will need to interview for in person.

      • Mike November 14, 2014 - 12:22 pm Reply

        Ok thanks. So even if the Masters is not in TEFL, it is possible? Cheers.

  • Shirley Pressley October 5, 2014 - 11:43 pm Reply

    How do I sign up to teach at 50 black american female no college degree just a passion to teach an live overseas

    • kimchibytes October 6, 2014 - 1:01 am Reply

      Being black isn’t an issue – or it’s less of an issue than it used to be – but not having a college degree will severely limit your opportunities.

      • Shirley Pressley October 6, 2014 - 1:21 am Reply

        Thk u

  • Tulipgirl April 13, 2015 - 9:10 am Reply

    Why would anyone want to teach in Korea? It’s a dead end job and you are considered old at 30 here and many Koreans are ice cold and mean spirited as if they have no souls

  • Rob May 12, 2015 - 1:32 am Reply

    hey, just came across this, great read.

    I came to Korea at 26 and am just leaving now at 33… for SE Asia. Working in Korea I managed to get an MA, pay off a great deal of student debt, travel extensively and meet my fiancee. So that is why I stayed anyway.

    I think EFL is what you make it, like any job in that sense. There are people who have been doing the hagwon gig for ten years with no plans or goals. I have a hard time convincing myself that they are doing well but if they are truly happy good on them. However, most people I know here are in the 28-40 category. They are using their time in Korea to get more education, get experience at universities or came in the wake of the 2008 crisis and found a career. I also think that any job, or any life decision, is only as good as you want it to be. Look at the above comments to find the glass half full vs. glass half empty people. Not that you need to walk around with rose coloured glasses or be an apologist, but I think a huge part of success or failure anywhere is based as much on you as the situation around you.

    As a final note, when I tell people I am an EFL teacher, I do get those comments, when I tell people I lecture in linguistics at the University suddenly people think I am interesting and adventurous. Perceptions I guess.

  • July 10, 2015 - 6:46 am Reply

    Thanks for sharing these experiences Brent, it has really helped me make up my mind. I spent a year teaching in China when I was 24. I am now 30 and have always meant to get back into it, but life has a way of slipping away from you. I was concerned that 30 might seem too old, but these stories have inspired me once more. Japan or Vietnam here I come…

    • Brent Sheffield July 10, 2015 - 9:48 am Reply

      Awesome. I just got my teaching license in the states so might come back to Japan at 33 years old as well.

  • Anonymous September 10, 2015 - 9:59 am Reply

    Well, you might just lucky, we are in process of hiring many native teachers to work for public schools in Vietnam. There are also classes iin-house at our center.

    Anyone in this topic looking for a job in VIETNAM, please just inform your friends, associates about our job openning.


    39 Hoa Bang St.
    Cau Giay district, Ha Noi, VIETNAM
    (84) 197-328-7523, 1-93-268-0452 outside VN, in VN, added 0 minus -1, and the numbers

    Send your CV, documents to me, att. Mr. Ted Nguyen

    P.S.: There are bus # 9 from Hoan Kiem lake ( in Old Quarter area) get off at Yên Hoà bridge ( Láng Street) , walk over the bridge, turn left on Hoa Bang, the center on the left. Elsewhere bus # 16, 24, 35. Ask someone to help you

  • […] Too Old to Teach Abroad? Meet the ESL Teachers Over 30. – Are you too old to teach abroad? Meet some of the ESL teachers Over 30 who have graciously shared their experiences. […]

  • jr November 14, 2015 - 4:59 am Reply

    Retired USAF early at 38 yrs old in 1999..stayed in Korea and have worked exclusively at the university level..22 weeks paid vacation annually, ok salary and decent pension plan. Most of the young people I have seen here don’t last long…work a couple yrs and disappear for Wall Mart type jobs back home. ESL is a great retirement job, and a pathetic way to start a decent career. The only fast way to get ahead in Korea is to marry a ROK and play the F visa – work anywhere you want visa… The salaries in Korea have also shrunk and have in no way kept up with inflation.

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