Sara was already a qualified and experienced teacher before she decided to pack up her life back home and move to Singapore. Read on to find out how you can too!
KD: Sara, tell us a bit about yourself.
I moved abroad about four years ago, with the intention of only staying for one year! I'm originally from New Jersey, in the U.S., and spent the first five years of my career teaching high school English in northern New Jersey. After my third year, I got tenure (a dream!) but I started to question if I wanted to live in NJ for the rest of my life, did I want to teach until retirement, etc. I went through a quarter-life crisis!
I had always loved reading about Asia and so one snowy night, I thought that maybe I would move to South Korea. That thought made my stomach drop and though I felt a bit afraid, I figured that it was better to try and fail rather than regret not trying. Though South Korea didn't work out (more on that later), in July of 2014, I moved to Singapore to teach reading to students aged two to 11.
I did that for one year then transitioned into a research position at a think tank based in Singapore. I took on an array of projects-- including editing their publication--and learned so much. I spent almost three years there, and just recently relocated to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
KD: That sounds like an interesting position. How is it that you ended up teaching in Singapore?
SM: From that first snowy night where I thought about moving abroad to actually boarding the plane took almost two years. I am a slow planner and it was important to me that I did things 'right', which included asking for a leave of absence from my NJ teaching job. I also worked with a recruiter from Reach to Teach where we explored the different opportunities for teachers who want to work abroad. I originally looked at applying for the JET program in Japan but heard that it was dwindling, so I applied to (and was rejected from) the EPIK program in South Korea. It was a strange experience-- because I had taught for five consecutive years at a public school and because I was a certified teacher, I was deemed too qualified for the EPIK program. I was heartbroken at the time, but now I am so happy that things worked out as they did.
After EPIK, I was planning to go to Hong Kong but at the last minute, I accepted a position in Singapore. The only reason I chose Singapore over Hong Kong was that I had had two friends who had lived and worked in Singapore, and they both loved their experience.
KD: Wow! I'm so glad everything worked out. What did you love most about teaching and living in Singapore?
SM: I was really surprised and happy to find that I enjoyed teaching students who were 2-11. In the US, I taught high school so my students were ages 14-18. I also felt lucky that I had lots of practice with classroom management so teaching two to 11-year-olds was much easier than I anticipated. My students in Singapore were also insanely curious and very genuine-- they learned a lot and we had a lot of fun.
KD: What was the most challenging aspect of teaching in this part of the world?
SM: My experience wasn't challenging-- sometimes I worried about all of the stress my students felt (Singapore's school system is extremely competitive), but overall I made the time they spent in my classroom as informative and fun as possible. That was how I tried to balance this - through engaging them and ensuring that they enjoyed our class.
KD: What advice would you give to someone wanting to teach in Singapore?
SM: There are plenty of tuition centers in Singapore and lots of jobs. I would work with a recruiter, find people who work for those companies, and ask them what their experience is like. I would also recommend trying to let the process take its course - don't try to force an opportunity and location. As I said, I was so disappointed when I didn't get a position in South Korea, but it worked out. I loved living in Singapore and wouldn't trade my experience for anything.
KD: Thanks for all of your insight into teaching in Singapore!
You can see more of Sara's travels on Instagram and Twitter. Do you have any questions for this teacher abroad? Do you dream of teaching and living in Singapore? Leave a comment below.