Curious about legitimate work from home jobs that allow freedom? Want to supplement your income or be a digital nomad?
Why not… teach English online?
Teaching Traveling: Let’s welcome Katty Hargrave-Kerns, who will explain her journey to do just that.
Katty, tell us about your background.
Katty: Hello! Hola! Ciao! Mambo! Sawadee ka! Ni hao! I’m Katty, a 26-year-old from the US. I’ve traveled to over 35 countries on six continents and called seven of those countries home.
First thing’s first. I understand the position of privilege I come from. I grew up in a suburb of New Jersey, outside of New York City, exposed to different cultures, foods, languages, and people. My passport, my race and my home have put me in a position of privilege. I am aware of the opportunities that have been afforded to me.
However, this is not to say ‘mommy and daddy’ paved the way either. After years of working odd jobs and studying, I found a way to support myself and accomplish my dreams of traveling the world.
For over two years, I have funded my travels by teaching English online with a wonderful company, VIPKID. This year alone, with VIPKID as my only income, I have supported my adventures through Southeast Asia, the USA, the Caribbean, Central and South America. Now I’m excited to share my journey with you, as a traveler and a teacher.
TT: Amazing that you are able to support your travels from teaching online! How did your travel life begin, and how do you sustain it?
K: Like most people from my hometown, I went to University. Unlike most people from my hometown, I decided to study abroad in Kenya for a semester. Little did I know – those four months would be the catalyst for the next six years of living and working abroad.
I often get messages asking, “How are you living your life?” Well, the answer to that is, happily. But I do understand what they’re really asking, “How do you afford your life?” And again the answer is simple — I work. I work a lot. I plan a lot. I budget… often. Teaching English to students in China with VIPKID is not only a source of income for my travels but it has become a huge part of my life.
TT: Can you break down the phases of your development to starting to teach English online?
K: My wanderlust has gone through many stages, from optimistic student, to a modern day digital nomad. I’ll paint you a quick picture, think: this woman has a “wanderlust” tattoo, complete with coordinates and an inspirational quote as her laptop background.
You could say I’m a millennial cliché, but I’m also living my dream at 26 years old (and have been for a few years). It took a bit of research, hard work and an amazing job opportunity, with VIPKID, to realize my ambitions. Let’s break it down into phases.
Phase 1: The Idealistic Student.
I was going to change the world. I was going to save all the starving children and have plenty of #InstaPics to prove it. Fortunately, a dose of reality and an understanding of the savior complex humbled me.
In Kenya, I had the opportunity to work with an incredible organization, The Sarakasi Trust Hospital Project, with some truly inspirational humans. They taught me the ins and outs of life in Nairobi as I established friends, family and professional networks throughout the region.
Within my first month away from home, I decided this was it. My life was going to be spent in places where I don’t speak the language, where I’ve never tasted the food, where everyday activities become a challenge.
I was so far removed from anything remotely resembling my comfort zone, and I was addicted. I didn’t ever want to be comfortable again. Every day was an adventure. Don’t get me wrong; this is both an incredibly freeing and terrifying thing. I decided to spend the next 12 months living in Kenya as a student, then as a local mzungu (Kiswahili for foreigner).
During my time in Nairobi, I volunteered as a hospital clown, wrote grant proposals, taught acrobatics to street kids, and learned to hula-hoop. One of my biggest achievements was co-founding a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that advocated peace to the youth population in the wake of the 2008 post-election violence, pending the upcoming elections.
This kick-started Phase 2.
Phase 2: The defeated NGO worker.
Fresh after my year abroad, I returned home to complete my undergraduate degree. I was eager to return to and work in Kenya. After I graduated, I worked as a nanny and personal assistant. Pulling 55+ hour weeks allowed me to establish a solid savings account.
I finally had enough to return to Kenya. The cost of living in Kenya can be extremely low if you live like a local. My monthly budget was around $500 USD, bills and rent included. While working with various organizations, I met with shady politicians, greedy organizations, and witnessed corruption at a level I was no longer uncomfortable with.
I decided to resign my post with the organization I co-founded. I decided I wanted to work in a less corrupt field… so I chose education (get your laughs out now, while you can).
The next logical step was to earn a TEFL Certificate to teach abroad. I still had most of my savings, the world at my fingertips, and a burning desire to travel. After some initial research online I choose to head to Thailand over Guatemala.
Thailand appealed to me because it looked different, so unfamiliar. I was chasing that feeling I first had when I moved to Kenya. Fortunately, I had a few months before the big move to Southeast Asia. I figured to make the most of it. I packed a tiny backpack and my hula-hoop and set off of on my first solo-backing trip through East Africa.
Cue Phase 3.
Phase 3: The hippie backpacker.
Feeling a bit defeated from my short time working in NGOs, I decided to enjoy myself the next few months. I took my first overnight bus to Kampala, Uganda to visit friends. We visited a Baha’i Temple overlooking the city, we ate fish freshly caught from Lake Victoria and haggled for small souvenirs in the local markets. My Swahili (Kiswahili) was pretty decent at this point, which made traveling around East Africa exponentially easier.
I traveled to visit a friend in Northern Tanzania, where I ended up stranded in Arusha and couch-surfed for the first time, a budget backpacker’s best friend. I slept on a mattress under the stars and cooked dinner with strangers. I spent a few hours on the back of a motorcycle climbing up a mountain to visit another friend who worked in a small rural community.
I shared Thanksgiving with friendly strangers, hailing from different corners of the world, in the capital of Rwanda. I took the scariest “bus” ride of my life to Burundi, sat on a wooden stool in the aisle for the entire seven hours. The ride ended up being completely worth it.
I made friends with an expat miner and few locals who took us out in the capital Bujumbura — a city that seemed trapped in the 1970s. I hitchhiked across Rwanda to the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and met fascinating characters along the way. With my savings account depleting I decided my time in East Africa was coming to an end. I finally made my way to Thailand to complete the 120-hour TEFL course.
Onto Phase 4!
Phase 4: The TEFL Teacher.
I arrived in Thailand excited, thrilled, and eager to complete my TEFL course. I completed the course, and applied to work in a few local schools. After learning how to drive a scooter and navigate the Thai traffic I was hired at a local language school and a local private school.
I taught English to Kindergarten aged students and Social Studies in the English Program. Managing a class of 45 four-year-olds who don’t speak English was a challenge, to say the least, but I loved it.
I have worked with children my whole life, from coaching gymnastics/acrobatics, working with street kids, nannying, tutoring, and now teaching. I fell in love with my students! I was able to work with kids and live abroad. I had hit the jackpot.
Schools pay Native English Speakers (NES) well in Thailand, more than enough to live comfortably. After I completed my contract I was able to travel through Thailand and a handful of other SE Asian countries. I ate incredible Indian food in Kuala Lumpur, slept on an overnight train to Chiang Mai, explored the streets of Singapore and lost myself in streets of Bangkok. I spent weekends lounging on the beach and meeting people from all over the world.
A lot changed in those few years abroad. I began my journey as a teacher and started studying towards a Masters in International Education. I was still itching to see more of the world. I decided I wanted a more flexible job that would help support my travels.
With more than a years teaching experience under my belt and the savings I built up while working as a teacher, I decided to move to Melbourne, Australia on the Working Holiday Visa.
I struggled to find a job, except some odd Nanning hours, until a friend recommended that I check out this new company. The company offered teaching positions to teach English online to young students in China. This opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time.
And guess what? PHASE FIVE.
Phase #5: The Digital Nomad and Online English Teacher
Through my network of English teachers in Thailand, I landed an interview and eventually was contracted by VIPKID. It seemed too good to be true. A job where I can set my own working hours and teach children! As long as I had a stable Internet connection, I was teaching children in China 5 days a week from the comfort of my apartment in Australia.
Since I started working for VIPKID in 2015, I’ve taught from a dozen countries and a variety of locations all over the world. I’ve taught from apartments, campervans, campsites, libraries, co-working spaces, AirBnbs, and guesthouses.
I’ve taught over 1700 different students and helped them grow as English speakers. I’ve been fortunate enough to help struggling students read for the first time, shy students sing their hearts out and watch my students laugh while learning a new language.
I’ve swum in the Kuang Si waterfalls of Laos, watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and hiked a volcano in the Philippines. I’ve explored the English countryside with my partner, road-tripped across the USA, and eaten freshly caught seafood in the Caribbean, and toured cities in Central America. I’ve walked on every continent, excluding Antarctica (so far), and swam in a half a dozen different seas.
I decided to move to Medellín, Colombia earlier this year where I shared an apartment with another VIPKID teacher. Medellín has transformed into a hub for digital nomads (similar to Chiang Mai, Thailand and Bali, Indonesia). Through a variety of social media platforms, we easily made friends with fellow VIPKID teachers and other digital nomads.
And this brings us to today, in Buenos Aires. I’ve settled (for now) in the capital of Argentina. I recently accepted a position with VIPKID as a Mock Class Mentor, where I conduct Mock Classes with potential applicants for the company in addition to my teaching hours.
The past few years have been quite a ride. They’ve brought me where I am today: an experienced ESL Teacher currently completing my Master’s Degree in International Education while exploring the world. I’ve become a better traveler and educator thanks the constant challenges that are intrinsic to life on the road. I can’t wait to see what else I have to learn and grow both as an educator and with VIPKID.
If you’re interested in working with VIPKID, you can use my referral link to apply today!
TT: WOW. Thank you for sharing this journey to teach English online, Katty!
Readers, what questions or comments do you have?
The author, Lillie Marshall, is National Board Certified Teacher from Boston who has been a full-time public school educator since 2003. She launched Teaching Traveling in 2010 to share expert global education resources, and over 1.6 million readers have visited over the past decade. Lillie also runs Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog, and DrawingsOf.com for educational cartoons. Do stay in touch via subscribing to her monthly newsletter, and following on social media with the links below!