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


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.

Meet The Teachers

Lindsey Nave
bob profile-1
Robert Matthew Adamson
Chris Sutcliffe







Ellen Sidorski
Ellen Sidorski
michael jpeg -9
Michael H.
Victor Zachariou







Brian Williams
George White
George White
Kari Nguyen
Kari Nguyen







jurgen finished-2
Jurgen Germeys


83 thoughts on “Too Old to Teach Abroad? Meet the ESL Teachers Over 30.

  1. 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.


    1. 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.


      1. “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.


    2. 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.


  2. 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.


  3. 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.


  4. 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.


  5. 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


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


  7. 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?!


  8. 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?


  9. 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??


  10. 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.


  11. 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?


  12. 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?


    1. 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.


  13. 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.


  14. 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.


  15. 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.


  16. 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


  17. 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


  18. 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.


  19. 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…


  20. 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


  21. 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.


  22. Thank you for writing this blog, it’s helped me so much. I am 32 and about to embark on my first overseas teaching adventure. I feel less alone after reading this 😊 Thanks again!


      1. I haven’t decided 100% as I’m still in the process of finishing 40 more hours of online training for TEFL (already received the in class portion) I only have an associate’s degrees, so it limits where I can go a bit. I was eyeing South America–Ecuador in particular, but then I discovered that the ability to save money is a lot stronger in Asia, so now I’m thinking Taiwan or Vietnam possibly (I traveled to SE Asia 4 years ago and felt very comfortable there) any advice or tips?! Greatly appreciated!


        1. I only taught in Korea– it’s a very easy place to save money. I’m now teaching in Jacksonville, Florida, and I was easily saving more money in Korea. I have friends who have taught in Japan; they enjoyed it more than Korea but saved more in Korea. I feel like the same could be said about China and a lot of other SE Asia countries. The exceptions, of course, are your big international cities like Singapore and Hong Kong. Also places in the middle east pay a lot but be prepared for some isolation.

          Regardless, let me know where you end up and if you can get someone to take some portraits of you I’d be happy to add you to this list!


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