How I Paid Off $23,000 Teaching English in South Korea

I paid off $23,000 in student loan debt teaching English in South Korea for two years. Not only that, but I put a nice chunk of money into an emergency fund and savings account too!  I’ll break it down for you here to see how easy it could be for you to do the same.

 

A palace you will see when teaching english in south korea

 

 

My Background

I graduated university with about $40,000 in student loan debt–some from a private lender and some from the US government. During the four years following my graduation I worked really hard in multiple jobs. I was trying to both pay my monthly bills and pay down a bit extra each month on my debt payments.

As an “Urban Studies” major who graduated at the age of 20 (side note: who lets 18 year olds take $40,000 in loans for a random liberal arts degree??), I really had no idea what to do next. I had always believed what I had been told–a college degree would make my life better and more financially stable. Now, I didn’t choose the most logical degree. Even though I loved what I studied and it really opened up my mind–there’s a lot of instrinsic value in that–I just couldn’t afford it. But, lenders told me I could, so I did. My degree was not a financially lucrative one, as anyone could’ve guessed. There was no specific career path for me to take, and so began my four year streak of “a little bit of everything.”

I worked as a caregiver, a nanny, an office cleaner, and a barista and a server in the Alaskan wilderness (more about that here!). I did office work, delivery driving and bartending. Most of the time, I was juggling two to three jobs at once. All of this work was an attempt to cover my bills and pay a little extra each month towards my student loans.

Something needed to change.

Teaching English in South Korea

A series of life events led me to decide to become TEFL certified and apply for EPIK, the government program for teaching English in South Korea. About a year after making that decision, I was on a plane!

After buying my ticket, I only had about $1,000 to my name and about $23,000 in student loan debt. Over the previous four years, I had worked hard enough to pay off $17,000. It had, though, been extremely stressful and I had overworked myself to an extreme degree. And, having a “net worth” of -$21,000 doesn’t exactly feel good.

But all of that changed in Korea. I won’t say the job itself was easy though, especially at first. Nothing could have prepared me for the culture shock, confusion at what my role in the schools I worked in exactly was, or the cockroaches in my government provided apartment (the landlord brought in pest control, but it was a bit horrifying for awhile!). But I am so thankful for my experiences and the financial freedom that teaching English abroad provided me with.

The Numbers

Now, for the fun stuff! At least, as a budgeting nerd, I find it fun!

How Much Can you Make in a Year Teaching English in South Korea?

Pay varies depending on what job you have and where you work. Most native English teachers will make about 2.2 million won per month. I will base the bonuses received on my own. Again, for reference, I worked for EPIK in a provincial office of education from 2016-2018.

  1. Paycheck – Deductions: 2.3 million won/month (approximately 27 million/year)
  2. Entry Allowance: 1.3 million won
  3. Settlement Allowance: .3 million won
  4. Severance Pay: 2.2 million won (equal to one month’s pay – extras)
  5. Exit Allowance OR Renewal Bonus: 1.3 million won (if you renew, you’ll get 1.3 mil at the end of your first contract and .7 at the end of your second)
  6. Pension Refund: 2.5 million won (Pension refund is only available for teachers from the USA, Canada or Australia I believe)

Yearly Total: About 34.5 million won  (~$30,615 USD)

Consider Your Expenses

You won’t be paying rent, vehicle expenses (unless you choose to buy one) or extremely high health care costs like you might be at home if you’re American. These numbers will vary from person to person based on your values. But if you are considering just the necessities along with a bit of fun, this will apply to you. Here are some expenses you can expect to pay while teaching English in South Korea.

  1. Utilities: This includes electricity, gas and maybe an apartment complex maintenance fee. It should be around 50,000 won.
  2. Cell phone: Again, depends on your plan. Plan on about 40,000 won for a month to month plan.
  3. Food: Groceries and eating out combined, I spent about 300,000 won per month on food. If needed, you can definitely go the “rice and beans” route and cut back on this!
  4. Transportation: Getting to work and back by bus costed me about 70,000/month. Add 30,000 won/month for traveling around Korea for a monthly total of 100,000 won.
  5. Fun/Stuff: This can include anything you like to do! Some people are into drinking the night away or going to clubs. Some are into shopping (though I would discourage doing this on a regular basis if you want to pay off debt or save–things seem cheap in Korea but add up SO quickly!), some people are into a hobby, and some people like me are into visiting every cute cafe in every city and drinking all of the coffee. Everyone should make the most of their time in Korea by exploring the country–it’s so easy to get around and there is so much to do! We’ll allot 200,000 won/month for this to be safe.

That brings us to a total of about 700,000 won per month (8.4 million/year), plus maybe an extra 1-2 million won per year for traveling or other expenses. Let’s say you’ll spend 10 million won/year.

Yearly Total: 10 million won (~$8,875 USD)

What’s Left?

The answer is–a lot! About 24.5 million won (or more) per year if you play your cards right. That’s about $21,740 USD! Even if you end up spending more than I’ve allotted for expenses, you should still be doing pretty well.

What can you do with that $20,000 USD? Anything you want! Pay off your debt, save money and travel the world. You can do it all as a result of diligently following your budget.

I worked in Korea for two years and paid off the last couple of thousand I had left with the pension lump sum I received after finishing up my contract. The rest of my savings have been invested, saved or are sitting in my emergency fund for peace of mind.

I can’t recommend teaching English in South Korea enough to any native English speaker with student loan (or other) debt to pay. If you love to travel the world and save money, give it a try! What do you have to lose except your debt?

Girl happy with teaching English in South Korea

 

10 Side Gigs to Help You Save Money for Travel

Finding room in your budget for adventures at home or abroad can be difficult, especially if you’re already working hard to repay your debt. Here are 10 side gigs you can do to help you save money for travel.

1. Teach English Online

An excellent way for English speakers to save money for travel or to make money while you travel is teaching online!  This is my presently my main source of income as I take time off from having a “real” job. Presently, I’m only working 10-15 hours per week, though I do plan to increase this in the next couple of months to save for my fall/winter travels. While it doesn’t give me the chance to stockpile extra savings, it covers all of my expenses in a month (which has mostly been plane and train tickets since I came back to the US from Korea, oops!) However, there are many people who do this “full time” (20-40+ hours/week) income while they travel or live abroad long term!

You can read more about my experience with teaching English online here. I currently teach for two Chinese companies, 17zuoye and VIPKID, though many similar companies exist. I also teach for Cambly on the side. The flexibility and fun of this job make it the best side gig on this list.


2. Freelance Your Skills

If you have an art, design, tech or other skill to share, you can do freelance work to save money for travel! Maybe you are good with photography and editing software like the Adobe suite. Excellent with social media? Look into social media management for businesses that don’t have the time. Proficient in more than one language? Design a website and course or create a YouTube channel to teach others and eventually earn passive income. That’s easier said than done, of course. But if you put the work into it in the beginning, you’ll likely thank yourself a year from now. If you have any kind of tech skill, you should have no problem finding freelance work. You can promote yourself on websites like fiverr or search for gigs on Upwork.


3. Babysit Some Kiddos

Love hanging out with kids? Post your services in your local newspaper or Facebook group, or create a professional profile on childcare service websites like Care.com or Sittercity. It will be good to gather a few references and become first aid certified to distinguish yourself among caregivers.


4. Sell Your Creations

Are you a creator of physical or digital goods? Sell your work on etsy, or create and promote your own website for it! This is best for someone with a more permanent space, as you’ll need to house your materials and inventory, and have a good shipping system.


5. Transcription

This won’t make you a ton of money, but it can likely cover a few cafe visits in Bangkok or a Sunday brunch in NYC! You might even learn something interesting in the clips you transcribe. Check out Rev, TranscribeMe or Scribie and choose your favorite platform. I like doing this between teaching classes online to make the most of my working hours.


6. Sharing Economy Apps

If you live in a larger city and own a car, this may be the choice for you. Check with Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Food Dudes and others for their vehicle and personal requirements. In some cities, car rental may be available if you don’t have your own.


7. A Good old Food Service Job

Don’t forget about this trusty old trick! You can often get a pretty flexible schedule to work around whatever it is that you’re already doing and make some cash. Bartending, serving, making coffee and delivery driving are all good options. Put your tips in a jar or put your paycheck in a separate savings account meant just for travel. I worked a very part time bartending job for about four months and it paid for my trip to Sri Lanka entirely!


8. Tutor Kids or Adults

If you have a degree in STEM or another subject that’s in high demand in your area and you are good with kids, tutoring during after-school or weekend hours could be a great way to help in your community and earn some extra cash for travel. Many parents are willing to pay good money if you can help their kid become proficient in and even enjoy a difficult subject. Think about advertising on community Facebook groups and set up a basic website outlining your offerings.


9. Sell Your Things (…and don’t buy more)

You probably have a lot of stuff. You probably don’t use all of it. If you have good quality items that are just collecting dust, list them on Facebook marketplace, Craigslist or Ebay. Your space will feel more clear and organized, someone will get some use out of something you aren’t using anymore and as a result, you’ll get some cash for your adventure jar. Feeling a little more old school? Host a garage or yard sale.


10. Start a Blog

Do what I’ve done here and start a blog! It will take a lot of time, passion and dedication…not to mention patience. There won’t be heavy cashflow in the beginning. You may fail the first time around. But, if you are passionate about your subject, the work will flow out of you, and you could be doing as well as this couple in a few years! (Special thanks to Anna and Tom at Adventure In You. I took their basic blogging course and it encouraged me to get started!)

Honorable Mention: Paid Surveys

Surveys are not exactly my cup of tea; however, if you enjoy participating in market research studies, you can make a little change here and there. A lot of survey sites and apps will pay you via PayPal or Amazon gift card. It might take a few months to reach your cash-out point, but if you have a few extra minutes in your day you can use this avenue to save money for travel, too! Check out Google Surveys or iPoll.

 

Happy traveling, loves.

to an american

who are you
that you’ve been placed into this world
the way that you are
with a roof
and water
and food
and a lack of
civil unrest

who are you
that you can live in this place
have you been born
into this
because you’ve done something good?

looking away from another
human
being
creating boundaries

exalting
governments

strips you of what you are
too,

a human

being.

you can’t fathom
at all
what they’ve seen
why they risk
everything
for a chance
at life

life for themselves
life for their children
life for the sake of life

because nobody wants
to leave their home
forever

but everyone wants life
for the sake of life.

is it a crime
to desire
-looking into your child’s eyes-
to simply live?

we are not running out of room
we are running out
of
humanity.

Reflections: Two Years in Korea

Today is the first day of 2018! Time flies, as they say. This past month, as I’ve finished my last full month of teaching for the school year, I’ve been reflecting on all of my time here.  Two years ago I arrived in this small town in rural South Korea, knowing next to nothing. I was nervous out of my mind and filled with self-doubt. I couldn’t stop thinking…how is it possible that they hired ME to teach a bunch of middle school and elementary school kids who speak a different language than me?

goodbye 2017

From the moment I stepped into my first classroom, nothing was what I was told it was going to be. Nothing could have been farther from what I had imagined it was going to be. Before I moved here I thought I would be teaching cute little elementary students every day and working at the same school at least most days of the week. None of these things were true. I taught at five different schools, one different school each day. Middle school was especially a challenge for me as I hadn’t expected to be teaching that age group at all and I just do much better with younger students in general.

IMG_0305

For my first three months, I barely slept at all. My coffee addiction jumped off the charts. From finding the right buses to get me into the countryside at the right time to planning twenty unique lessons a week to trying to understand the social norms of a new culture and society and the stress that comes with starting a new job in general…I was a mess, to say the least.

coffee

Despite all of the madness, I ended up staying a second year.  This was partially due to all the work I had put into my first year–planning lessons and figuring out life here, and partially due to the fact that I actually started to (gasp) LIKE it here.

My friends here like to joke “If we can make it in this job, we can literally do ANYTHING.” And I really do feel like I can do anything now. Everyone’s job in Korea is different due to different school settings and different coworkers, but generally we all share the “WHAT IS HAPPENING” feeling at the end of the day. To my friends here…we made it through the year. Congratulations, you’re amazing.

thiscat

Last year, I made some New Year’s resolutions on this blog, so I thought I’d revisit them to check in with myself, and see if it’s even worth making new ones this year (haha).


  1. Hike 3 Korean mountains.

  2. Intensify my Korean language studying. Finish through TTMIK Level 3.
  3. Yoga Revolution! And a continued exploration of yoga throughout the year.
  4. Visit 3 new countries. (I’ll start with Hong Kong in January!)
  5. Blog once a month, rather than sporadically as I have been.
  6. Stick to my new budget and pay off my last student loan.
  7. Choose to be happy and light in the everyday madness.

Well! It wasn’t so painful after all. I hiked, I studied Korean although I took an online class rather than continuing my self-study (I plan to continue that once I get back to the US and have a lot of time on my hands). Yoga! Always saving my life, one breath, one asana at a time. I visited Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan this year as well as (kind of) North Korea on the DMZ tour. Does that count? I DID pass the border underground. As far as my student loan goes, it’s not quite finished but will be in February(!)

wolchulsan

I can’t say I chose to be happy and light EVERY day, because, you know…I’m human. But I felt a definite weight lifted this year…a weight of caring too much what people think and worrying about small things. I feel a lot more in tune with what I need for myself and open to the continued search for all things true and light in the universe. In that sense, life has been lighter.

2018 should be an exciting year. I will visit northern Vietnam in January, finish up my contract in Korea in February, and travel around China and Japan in March and April before heading back to the USA.

travel

In the US, first I’ll visit my mom in Colorado, head to Minnesota to see the majority of my family members and then head to the west coast to visit friends and my little sister, who is having a BABY! That’s right. I’m an auntie now. I have no words for how exciting this is. After that, who knows! I predict more exploration of myself and the world around me and even more freedom as I finally move about the world debt free! (Wooo!)

If you have read this far, thank you for following along on my journey. Thanks for being a part of my life, or if we don’t know each other, thanks for existing and fulfilling your beautiful part of the fabric of the world. Here’s to the new year, lovely people!

peacelovehappy

 

 

three years ago today

You know how Facebook has those reminders? “On this day in ‘x’  year…” Today Facebook reminded me I was in Amsterdam three years ago.

Snapseed

 

Well, three years ago, I was a mess. My life had fallen apart and I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I had lost all sense of who I was. Or maybe I realized I had never really known who I was.

So I quit my job and got on a plane. I wandered around six European countries for almost two months trying to find myself… or at least survive the winter in lovely places.

“On this day in 2014” I was cold, so I went into a small cafe and ordered an espresso and a scone. Two men were running the cafe, and there were no other customers. They asked me where I was from and told me they were from Turkey. With my espresso and pastry in front of me, a giant window to my right side and two men rambling about whatever was on television in Turkish to my left, I took out my notebook and began to write.

I wrote it all. All of my regrets and fears and hopes. I wrote down the truths I had lied to myself about, finally being honest.  And before I knew what was happening, I was sobbing uncontrollably in that little cafe with the two Turkish men and the news on TV and the beautiful view of a canal through the window. I was embarrassed, but there was nothing I could do. The floodgates had burst open from within me.

The men quietly slipped to the back room, turning the volume down on the television. They could have rolled their eyes and carried on, or they could have turned up the volume. Instead, they gave me a minute alone (a rare thing traveling around from hostel to hostel).  After I recollected myself, one of the men reappeared with a second espresso. “Here,” he said with a small sympathetic smile before disappearing into the back room again. I tried to protest, but he was already gone.

The kindness of strangers, for real.

My memories of Amsterdam in general are nice, but faded. But I can vividly remember this particular hour. I remember the realization of loss, the deep sense of regret and the sensation of my self returning to my physical body, ready to feel the painful things.

I didn’t return home a totally changed woman. I had a lot of things to let go of before I could really start to be free. The process of unlearning all of the things I thought I knew took months…years…honestly, I am still unlearning and relearning every day.

Three Decembers later, I needed the reminder of how far I’ve come. I needed to look at myself through the eyes of the Amanda in that cafe in Amsterdam that day.

If you feel like your wheels are spinning too, look back. And then look forward at yourself through the lens of the person you were back then.

I think you’ll be surprised. I think you’ll find that you’re doing just fine.

x

 

 

Ground

Moonrise Collective

She could feel the earth stinging her feet every time she took a step.  It’s why she kept running, running, running.

She heard some distant call beckoning her away from the place of the present.  And she lifted her feet off the stinging ground and let the wind carry her away.

What she left behind her wouldn’t be realized until later, some far off moment where clarity could be found.  She would climb a mountain and reach the peak and in the beauty of the clear blue sky, amongst the clouds and sunshine there it all was.  Amongst the beautiful things, there was the truth.

She saw them, the broken particles carried from place to place because they no longer fit inside of her… but they had nowhere else to go.

Echoes of well-intended advice floated between her ears, sounding jumbled to her mind.  No, it was clear now.  The…

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with every sunrise
every sunset
another day passes and
we edge closer and closer
to the end we want to deny

the breath in our lungs
every
inhale
exhale
inhale
exhale
a chance

what is this life
if it is not a recurring cycle of breath
and movements of our bodies
and thoughts of our minds
and
and an endless
desire

for more?

where
do you want
to be?

you
should go there.