Ep. 5 Transcript

Ep.5 Jenna Teaches English in Thailand and South Korea!

 

Transcript

Jenny: 

Today I'm here with Jenna Tarasco. Jen and I worked together, while we were students at West Virginia University, (Go Mountaineers!). In this interview, we're going to be focusing on Jenna’s Go Find Out experience of living in Thailand and then South Korea to teach English as a second language.

 

Welcome to the show Jenna. 

Jenna T

Thank you so much for having me Jen. How you been?

 

Jenny

I'm good I'm super stoked to have you on and learn more about your experiences because I definitely was kind of stalking you from afar and watching all your social media pics and stuff while you were away. So this will be really exciting to kind of talk to you a little bit more in depth about your experience. 

 

Jenna T

Awesome. Well I'm flattered.

 

Jenny

So could you tell the listeners a little bit more about yourself.

 

Jenna T

Sure. So my name is Jenna. I am originally from New York. Went to school like we said in West Virginia where we met. Went back to the city after college and I got a decent job maybe a year or two after we graduated, or I graduated. I moved to the city, and then turned 30 and did an inventory of my life and decided to give it all up and go live halfway across the world.

 

Jenny

That's awesome. So, how did you actually learn about the option of teaching, or being able to teach English as a second language in another country?

 

Jenna T

So it started out plainly as a vacation. Okay, 2001 I believe Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach came out and had Maya Bay, located in the islands in Thailand in it. And I said to myself, my, you know ,16 year old self, I have to go there one day. So fast forward to 2000. So, it was always in the back of my mind. It was a seed planted in my head. That was just, you know, matriculating, over these years. Fast forward to 2014, let's say, um, just a series of events happened. My grandma passed away. Left me some money. Um, my lease was up in my apartment. I had just broken up with the guy I was dating at the time, and I was like you know what? I need to get away. I started looking at vacations in Thailand, you know just doing the old Google search, and I came across a blog called nomadic Matt. He's pretty famous in the travel community about how you could teach English with less, you know, living abroad and yeah that that's how the ball got rolling.

 

So I just took a deep dive into Google and started seeing what I needed in order to do that.

 

Jenny

And so what did you need? lHow does the program actually work? 

 

Jenna T

So basically, it depends by country. But in general, all you need is a bachelor's and what's called Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate or TEFL. They are pretty straightforward. They're pretty easy. You can do them online. You can do like a three week intensive program. I chose to do a three week intensive program in Cambodia, because again, I stumbled across a blog, who recommended this particular company in Cambodia so I thought, hey, why not. And, yeah, wired the money and bought a one way ticket to Bangkok first for two weeks and then just how the program worked out, I was in Cambodia, like two weeks after.

 

Jenny

Oh wow, that's crazy. So that particular program, did that provide housing, or how did that work? 

 

Jenna T

So, the program was pretty much in a hotel, and the company...the company escapes me now but I can probably look it up. But anyway, it was in a hotel, so your own room was provided you did have to pay for food, but the hotel stay was included in the entire course package 

 

Jenny

Wow, okay. And you're not paying to go there, they're paying you to teach?

 

Jenna T

Well, so you're paying for the TEFL certificate. It's kind of like school. Okay, so you can learn from probably about 10 to about 2pm. It's a lot of linguistic stuff, pronunciation. I never realized how much of a New York accent I had and I went through that program, I was like, Oh wait, you don't pronounce dog, like “dawg”

 

Jenny

I was gonna say, you truly do actually sound different. I mean, the last time I talked to you was before I graduated in 2010. And so it's been a while, 10 years. Oh my God, but yeah you sound totally different than I remember. So I was like, Huh, like that now that makes sense if you took  pronunciation courses. That's really interesting.

 

Jenna T

Luckily it totally crippled away I know. For the better, for worse. Who knows?

Jenny

So I have to ask you, now you live back in New York, do people think you’re not from New York anymore, or do you put the accent back on?

 

Jenna T

It's like riding a bike like you never forget. But I am more aware of it though. So like my dad grew up in the Bronx and I can totally like pick up, you know, if I hang out with him for a little too long I totally, you know, start staying “true” instead of through. Bags instead of bag.

 

Jenny

That's awesome! So you just slip right back in.

 

Jenna T

Yeah, it's like time did not pass here. Yeah I'm about a lot more aware of it and you know accents in general, I guess. So yeah, so it's three weeks of that and of course. They know that it's Westerners that are coming through this program, so they'd have a lot of course if you paid for them. A lot of extra so they had a weekend trip to Angkor Wat. If you wanted to get certified in scuba, you could get certified in scuba so you know of course I did both and it was an awesome experience. So yeah, so pretty much like in college they hand you your certificate and then you know you're kind of like, “Well, now what?” 

 

So, the company did have connections with different schools, but, I mean, Jen It's, you know, with our current state where our world is at right now. It's still like we are so lucky to be Americans. I really get into it later anyway but, you know, you're an American in a foreign country. I applied to jobs on a Wednesday in Thailand and I had a job by Friday. Like insane. I gave myself a certain amount of time to look for a job but it just happened right away like that. 

 

So I went to Bangkok. I taught at a private school. A little outside of Bangkok and private. Like door to door, I could get to downtown Bangkok in 40 minutes with some, you know, no traffic on the back of a Moto, 

 

Jenny

So before that moment in time, between when you got the official job in Bangkok and before you went, were you kind of like, “Holy shit! Like, I'm doing this!” or what was going on at that point? Were you kind of like, it wasn't a big deal at that point since you were already over there? Or did that happen before you left the states?

 

Jenna T

Yeah, you know, I just remember being excited. Um, you know I'm the kind of person, a major pet peeve of mine is when people talk about doing stuff and talk about doing it and talk about doing it and then never do it. Do it! Like, that just drives me nuts. Yeah. And so I mentioned, my grandma passed and left everyone a little bit of money. Family's complicated, but my grandma was an alcoholic. We were a little estranged towards the end of her life and she was, I believe, depressed and never went out and did anything. And so I wanted to do this because, you know, kind of, take the money that she left me and live a life that she didn't in a way. I remember being really excited. Not really scared, I had a plan B. I gave myself a certain amount of time, and I was like, Alright, if I don't have a job by this date, I'll travel around for a little while and then I'll go home. Like I'd already talked to my parents about it and I was like, “Hey listen, if things don't work out. Can I stay with you for a little bit until I get on my feet?” I had a safety net and placed a little money aside, you know, for if that were to happen, but fortunately it didn't.

 

Jenny

So, really, it kind of sounds like you were embarking on an adventure and even if things didn't work out necessarily with getting a position, you were like screw it. I'm just going to travel and continue the adventure until I run out of money.

 

Jenna T

Exactly, that that was, that was the plan. Yeah,

 

Jenny

That's awesome! I think it's all about like the framing of how you think about it, you know, of going and doing it. And getting yourself to go and do it. And it sounds like that's what worked for you was seeing it as an adventure that, you know, you couldn't fail out because it was going to be fun, damn i.,

 

Jenna T

Right. It's all about mindset. And you know, when we're old and we've reached the end of our lives, are we going to remember the years we worked or the years that we said screw it and lived abroad for three years, you know?

 

Jenny

I have to say, I was totally like man, I wish I could go back because I did a study abroad in my undergrad program, but it was just a study abroad. It was just one semester in Japan and while it was super exciting and I'm so glad I did it, it was, you know, it was a little different because I was in school as opposed to working over there. You know what I mean? But I totally was following your journey. I thought it was so, so cool that you were going and doing it.

 

Jenna T

Exactly. And, you know, I was, I was thinking about it the other day and, like the camaraderie that came from this when I was like announcing that I was quitting my job to live abroad like all these people like on social media that I've known for years like would come out and be like, “Oh, it's so cool what you’re doing! I lived in Japan for a year because my husband was in the army ...blah blah blah... and it was such a cool experience…”  and to just get to know these people that you know for your entire life like on a different level. 

 

Jenny

Yeah, no, that's so cool.

 

Jenna T

It was really cool. 

 

Jenny 

And like to have them come out of the woodwork and be supportive.

 

Jenna T

Right exactly. Like people you don't talk to in years, and just be like, “Yeah you know I lived in France for a summer just picking grapes on a farm and it was just one of the coolest experiences and dah dah dah dah dah.” “I oh I actually met my husband in England, you know, when I was there for a year studying, you know, my for my doctorate,” and this and that, like, yeah, it was really, it was cool.

 

Jenny

Yeah, That's so cool to get everyone’s stories. Nice. So you had all these people coming out with messages to support, did you have any naysayers about going overseas to take the job?

 

Jenna T

Honestly, like out of the hundred people I told. I think I only got two people, one person in particular being like, “Are you effing nuts?”  Oh, but he was old and his opinion didn't really, you know, matter to me. No, like, more than a majority of people were just super supportive and, you know, excited for me. And then on the flip side of that, you know, when I announced that I was going to do this, of course, my dad being a retired detective for the NYPD, I knew he was going to have his trepidation, so basically I just had like ammo set up for all the questions that he was going to throw up here. Like okay, this is what I'm gonna say. Like our parents are a different generation. My parents are, for better or for worse, huge Trump supporters and we don't see eye to eye on everything. Obviously I think that's every family, but um yeah, I knew what they were going to ask me. What they were going to say, and so I was just prepared.

 

Jenny

Did they come and visit you? Because you were over there for several years. 

 

Jenna T 

I was. Unfortunately not. Part of the reason I did this, I think, is because you know no complaints, I I had a great childhood. I’ve had a great life. I had a very sheltered life, you know, in upstate, leafy, suburban New York where everyone does the same thing, year after year. I mean, and if that works for them, that's great but that's just... that's just not me. I'm definitely a person who likes change, so doing this, I mean, just seemed like the right answer.

 

Jenny

It can be tough when your family doesn't necessarily understand your reasons for going and doing something and, but it doesn't sound like they were necessarily unsupportive just not understanding. 

 

Jenna T

Right, exactly. They're supportive but yeah they wouldn't go on a plane for 14 hours to visit me in a foreign country. Like that's just not that's not in their DNA.

 

Jenny

But now you're back in New York. I bet they're happy. 

 

Jenna T

Yes, yes. Happy. Happy to have me home.

 

Jenny

So, what would you say Jenna, was your biggest challenge? Either in the program or just even, you know, living in Thailand?

 

Jenna T

Honestly, the biggest challenge... you can prepare. You can think from other people's experiences, but the first day when you walk into that classroom, and it's you against 25, small children that English isn't their first language...you know, things really... it's sink or swim and things get real.

 

Jenny

Wow. Yeah, I have to tell you as somebody who does not really like small children for long amounts of time, that sounds like a nightmare to me. So kudos to you, man, for going into it! That awesome. That's so cool.

 

Jenna T

You know, you find out a lot about yourself working with children. 

 

Jenny

So would you say that was probably the biggest challenge was, you know, working with kids- with children that spoke a totally different language?

 

Jenna T

Totally, totally. There were days when you walk in and you'd have a class and you'd feel like a rock star and there'd be days where you were just totally defeated. Just, you know, because you can't anticipate 25 four-year and five-year olds moods, you know.yeah. 

 

Jenny

So did you learn any Thai before you left or was it kind of suggested not to do that?

 

Jenna T

I did learn a little just so, as far as getting by, like, asking for directions or like ordering food and stuff but we live in an age where basically I could type a question into an app, and have it pop up in Thai like, but I would rarely do that. I would say, like, in Thailand, everyone under 40, because it's such a touristy country, everyone under 40 speaks a good amount of English. Enough for you to communicate in Korea and Thailand definitely.

 

Jenny

Did you find that if you kind of tried to speak Thai, that it was a little easier to have a conversation because you kind of show, “Oh look, I'm trying.”

 

Jenna T

Yeah, definitely. Um, or like in Korea more, they were more surprised when I knew Korean. They'd be like, Oh, you know, and then they'd like start talking really fast and then I'd be like, “ Okay, Slow down.”

 

Jenny

Same thing in Japan, I didn't know any Japanese when I landed because I'm an idiot and didn't try to learn anything. I got there and was like holy shit I don't speak any Japanese and I'm here by myself. But then I took a class while I was there for Japanese and like you said I would try to like use it and then they'd be like, “Oh, blah-blah-blah-blah!”...and I didn't know what they said and what to say back so I was like okay…I dunno....

 

Jenna T

Hand gestures work. Um I remember, I got super sick in Korea. Like it was a really gnarly sinus infection and the nurse and I were trying to communicate. Like she's trying to get me to tell her my symptoms and all I did was, I took my pointer finger, and I went from my nose to the back of my ear, down to my throat, and then I grabbed my throat, like trying to be like, you know, pain, and she was like, “Oh, okay.”  

 

Jenny

All mime work.

 

Jenna T

Yeah, that's all it took.

 

Jenny

Nice. What would you say was your best experience while you're over there, or and I know there are different places so what would you say was your best experience, let's say in South Korea since we've been talking mostly about Thailand.

 

Jenna T

There's a lot of them, but I would say just instant friendships with like the fellow English colleagues. Like you just have a set, built-in group of friends that you can do stuff with and go on weekend trips and stuff and just having that camaraderie and support. Like coming from a corporate office background where, you know, you don't always like who you work with, in Korea, I never felt that way about a colleague, you know, yeah, that's awesome.

 

Jenny

So obviously, you said you had colleagues but were these others teaching English in different schools, or at different subjects in the same school?

 

Jenna T

Yeah, so, um, the schools, we basically would have about seven to 10 English native speakers, “native teachers” they would call us, from dominantly America, Canada, and South Africa, and a couple of in Europe as well, so like Ireland and England and stuff.

 

Jenny

Okay, so when you actually worked in Thailand, were you guys all kind of living in the same housing unit?

 

Jenna T

Yeah. Um, so it was split. So all the schools offered free housing, but specifically in Thailand. The free housing was a little, a little... interesting. It was basically built like a cement building. It had air conditioning. It had Wi Fi. You had your own room but it was very, very basic. And some teachers just didn't enjoy living like that, so they would go out on their own and get their own apartments. I chose the free housing because I wanted to travel and I also wanted to save money, obviously,

 

Jenny

So would you say it was almost like a college dorm only by yourself and smaller?

 

Jenna T

Yeah, yeah. Like communal bathroom, communal kitchen. Yeah, it was like being in school all over again.

 

Jenny

If you hadn't done this, if you hadn't decided, “Screw it, let's just go. I'm just gonna go on this big adventure and see what pans out.” If you hadn't done this, what do you think is the biggest thing that you would have missed out on?

 

Jenna T

I feel like I got to know myself in a way. I got to be more comfortable with myself. Prior to this and like traveling alone to a country that I'd never been to before, would have been a little, a little daunting. Sleeping in a hammock or you know sharing a dorm room, a hostel with other people. It's definitely made me more well rounded and a lot more open to new experiences. And then also, you know, being comfortable with hanging out or going on a vacation by myself. And it turns out I love to be alone.

 

Jenny

Yeah! I mean if you can't get along with yourself, then I mean, who can you get along with? Jenna T

Right, exactly. Or like, for example, prior to this I would never go out to eat, go and go to dinner by myself and now I don't even think about it for a second.

 

Jenny

it's so funny you bring that up. I think that's a really big one- maybe not necessarily just for women, but that's one thing I had never done really by myself was like go out to eat. Yeah. And so, a few years ago, my husband was deployed and I was like well, I want to go to Olive Garden, dammit. (I don't know why it had to be Olive Garden, but it was). But yeah, I took myself there and I was like, this isn't that bad like to be by myself. And it felt weird at first but then you just kind of get used to it. And it just made me realize that I was really missing out on this experience of going places and not necessarily having to wait for somebody else to go with me.

 

Jenna T

Exactly. And I also learned what I could live without. Like when I went to Korea, like I'm of a curvier build,and it was really difficult to find shoes and clothing that fit me. I kind of had to reassess and I was like, “Well, do I need five pairs of jeans? If you know, two are in good shape and there's nothing wrong, like two holes in them? Like do I need to spend $180 a night in a hotel? Like not necessarily if I'm just going to be there to sleep, ya know. Things like that. 

 

Jenny

And this is coming from somebody... isn't your bachelor's degree in fashion?

 

Jenna T

Exactly. From the merchandising background it's like, what do we really need in the world?

 

Jenny

Yeah. Have you found that, now that you're back in the states, have you kept some of these habits from living overseas? 

 

Jenna T

Definitely 

 

Jenny

Like the clothing habit?

 

Jenna T

The clothing habit. Basically, you know, having like a Swiss Army knife in my - not necessarily a Swiss Army knife- in my bag, but like everything I could need for, you know, being 16 hours away from my home. You know so like, maybe some deodorant, hand sanitizer, lotion, sunscreen...

 

Jenny

Yeah, no. That makes total sense.

 

Jenna T.

Yeah. Like always being prepared.

 

Jenny

Yeah. You know one of the things that we kind of touched on but didn't really go into too much so you're obviously you're working in Thailand you're working in South Korea, and then on the, on breaks from school. I understand that you traveled around those countries right?

 

Jenna T

Yes, correct. So, and people say this about Europe too, but like, once you're in Southeast Asia, flights to nearby countries are super cheap. I can recall getting a flight from Bangkok one weekend and literally with taxes, it was like $60.

 

Jenny

That's awesome.

 

Jenna T

Insane. I got a flight from Korea to Thailand for like $120 like, you know, you're packed in there like sardines, but who cares. It's the final flight.

 

Jenny

Suck it up, right?

 

Jenna T

Yeah I would suck it up, definitely for that. Yeah, I did a lot of that. And that actually kind of led me to go into Korea because, you know, as much as I love Thailand, the salary there wasn't really stretching as far as I wanted and I knew I didn't want to go home because I wanted to travel more. And I'd heard that teaching in Korea on the salary was definitely a good amount. In order to do that. So that's kind of what brought me there.

 

Jenny

What were the rest of the financials for doing this kind of program and living abroad like for you?

 

Jenna T

So, financially, I can actually give you some hard numbers. So you're paid monthly, which takes a little getting used to, as someone you know that's usually paid bi-weekly or I've had jobs where I've been paid weekly, but no, in Korea, everyone is paid monthly a certain stipend. So, minus taxes. I brought home, probably about, like $1900, a month. Of course in our American standards I mean that's not great, but when your nice, one-bedroom apartment, close to your school is free and then of course, transportation to the school: I took the school bus with the kids every morning and every evening... so yeah that definitely helped out. Of course as a typical American, I of course still have student loans, but I definitely had student loans when I was abroad there and I was able to pay a much larger chunk of them down. I was able to pay a lot more aggressively over there than I would have if I was working full time in the States. So like student loans, paid a huge chunk of credit card debt. Squashed that while I was living over there. And really living abroad for three years definitely helped me live better in the states here now, I will say that, financially, I definitely took a huge chunk down faster than I would have had if I had worked, you know, my full time job here. So definitely something to consider.

 

Jenny

I wonder, too, you know, because you were already abroad and you were traveling from there around that region. You know, if you had been here in the states and then tried to travel abroad you're technically saving money, like, already being over there. So you're spending less money for fun, I guess is what I'm saying. 

 

Jenna T

Exactly. 

 

Jenny

And you probably would have been spending a lot more on that kind of thing and like going out to eat maybe here would have cost more than it does maybe over there. 

 

Jenna T

Definitely. I mean, you're able to find like all the comforts of home over there but you know I kind of, I kind of made it a game with myself. Like okay how much can I pay off this loan with, you know, and I was still able to go out and enjoy and be with my friends and things like that. But yeah definitely took the money lesson over there. So I was able to pay off student debt, credit cards, and then I still had money left over to travel to the level that I wanted.

 

Jenny

And so kind of touching on traveling, and we talked a little bit about this before, that you had travelled around both Thailand and South Korea while you were living and working there, but while you were traveling and living abroad, you were a single woman. Did you find some of your decisions of where to travel and when to travel or like when to go out. Do you find that those were really affected by being female?

 

Jenny

Definitely. I definitely, particularly in Thailand. I got a lot of curious people like asking me like, oh you're very confident traveling alone, you know. That wasn't the original plan, of course, but at the same time you know, if I waited for someone to come with me to travel, if I waited for my friends to, you know, be financially able to do that with me, I would be waiting forever. Unfortunately, so you know not everyone is in that position and not everyone wants to be in that position, you know,

 

Jenny

No, I think that makes sense. And I know I absolutely remember seeing your pictures on Facebook and elsewhere like when you were traveling and thinking, Man that's so cool that she's doing that by herself. And I know that occasionally like, you know, I saw that you traveled with a friend or something but the majority of time, you seem to be doing a lot of traveling on your own. And I just remember thinking that it was just so cool. And I wasn't sure that I would have been brave enough to do that, you know, especially overseas. Like it's one thing, like I traveled here in the States pretty often by myself. Especially for my last job. I traveled around the New England area by myself pretty often. And that just got to be normal, but then I thought about oh you know if I traveled overseas I just don't think that I would have been brave enough to do it by myself. 

 

Jenna T

Absolutely. You know, and there was a time where if you told me that I was going to, you know, travel Southeast Asia by myself, I would have been like you're crazy, but um you know I started out small. Like you know, going out to dinner by myself. I never would have done 10 years ago and I did that and then before I left to live abroad, I took a trip to New Orleans, I had a friend there. She was finishing up her master's. And I had taken domestic flights by myself before, but because of her work schedule she, you know, she had to work a lot. So there was me, you know, figuring out, okay how do I get from the airport to my hotel? And how am I going to entertain myself tomorrow because my friend has to work? So, you know, baby steps.

 

Jenna T

Yeah, yeah. And that trip went really well and that definitely gave me the confidence to say, Okay, if I can do that four-day weekend on my own, then I can do this. Kind of work my way up.

 

Jenny

So kind of sticking on the topic of travel, did you, because you had all these colleagues at each school that you worked at, did you find that any of those colleagues maybe didn't travel? And they just kind of stayed there and like, did you see any difference with, like, their happiness levels between those who did travel and those who didn't?

 

Jenna T

Definitely. In general, schools can promise you everything on paper but once you actually get there and start doing the work, a lot of people find out that it's just not for them on teaching and stuff like that. There were a couple of people that would be a teacher there, for example, but didn't really travel as much as I thought someone who would be in the same position as I was to do that. And you know, to each their own.

 

Jenny

Yeah. Do think you'd ever go back? Or do you think you'd ever do try another country

 

Jenna T

Oh yeah, I definitely... three years of teaching, I've discovered it's...it's not for me, but I'm definitely glad that I got to experience that. But on the flip side of that, I definitely want to retire in Thailand, hopefully, when that day comes. I definitely left my heart there. I love it. I can't wait to go back. I will continue to go back for the rest of my life, definitely.

 

Jenny

Do you think you'd ever want to take a different kind of job overseas?

 

Jenna T

You know, I definitely thought about it. And if the right opportunity were to come, certainly, I would certainly consider it for sure.

 

Jenny

Nice. Not to say you're leaving your current job. Don't worry.

 

Jenna T

No if the opportunity arose I would seriously consider it, no doubt.

 

Jenny

What advice would you give to our listeners who are considering applying to a program like this or something similar.

 

Jenna T

Well, I would say, of course, number one, do it. I think every person should work in the service industry, whether being retail or a waiter and B: Travel alone to a foreign country by themselves I think those two things really round out a person, and make them just better overall: personally, professionally, socially, without a doubt. So I would say that, you know, teaching, as I said, wasn't for me but I would never try and talk someone out of doing it. I am pro-screwing your life in America to go live across the world. I would say, just do it. But, do your research, and we live in an age where everyone has a blog. Everyone has a YouTube. It's really easy to research schools, research programs and yeah just ust do your homework. If you're considering a school in South Korea, or in Thailand, maybe speak to one of their current English teachers, something like that. But definitely do your research.

 

Jenny

I think that's great advice. And where can listeners follow you you online. 

 

Jenna T. 

Well, you know, I'm pretty low on the social media posts these days but yeah you can check out my Instagram. It's just my name Jenna tarasco, and yeah, that's where you can find me. 

 

Jenny

Well thank you so much for coming on the podcast today, Jenna!

 

Jenny

Oh, my pleasure.

 

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