If you want to pay off debt fast, you most likely have to increase your income or decrease your expenses.
By teaching English in South Korea, Lauren Kubik, now a travel blogger at Long Lost Lauren, managed to do both.
Not only did she gain a decent income after graduating from college, but she moved to a location with a lower cost of living.
I spoke with Kubik to learn how moving across the globe helped her pay off her student loans faster.
Here’s how she benefited from moving abroad, as well as her words of encouragement for new graduates interested in doing the same.
Moving abroad with $30,000 in student loans
When Kubik graduated from Seattle Pacific University in 2012, she left with a degree in history. She also left with a lot of student debt.
“I graduated with about $30,000 in loans,” said Kubik. “My minimum payments post-graduation were about $300 per month.”
Unlike many of her peers, though, Kubik didn’t spend the months after graduation hunting for a job. She had already decided to move to Ulsan, South Korea, and teach English.
“I knew during my senior year of college I would go straight to South Korea to teach abroad after graduation,” Kubik said. “I chose to go to South Korea [because] I knew the salary was good for a newbie grad with debt and would give me a chance to travel.”
Kubik landed a teaching job in an elementary school through a program called Adventure Teaching. She made $2,000 per month, and the costs of housing and airfare were covered.
Not only was she spared the stress of a post-graduation job search, but she didn’t have to worry when her first student loan bill came. “When student loan repayment kicked in, I had zero stress,” said Kubik.
Lowering the cost of living to help pay off debt
With a monthly income of $2,000 and no expenses for rent, Kubik was able to ramp up her monthly student loan payments to $500. Plus, she put another $500 aside each month for savings.
Kubik was careful about sticking to a budget. And she enjoyed the fact that Ulsan, a city with more than 1 million people, had a much lower cost of living than Seattle.
According to Numbeo.com, restaurant prices in Seattle are 87.78% higher than in Ulsan. And while Kubik didn’t have to pay rent, Numbeo.com found that Seattle’s rent prices are a whopping 288.88% higher than those in Ulsan.
By August 2014, after two years of living and teaching in South Korea, Kubik saved almost $10,000 and paid off the same amount in debt. Plus, she had enough money to travel.
“I backpacked Southeast Asia for four months right after teaching and used only about $3,000 in that time period,” said Kubik. “My money could go far in Southeast Asia.”
Returning to a more expensive life in the US
After two years of living in South Korea and four months traveling around Southeast Asia, Kubik felt the pressure to return home.
“I eventually moved home (to Washington state) because I assumed that’s what adults were supposed to do,” she said.
But once she encountered the high cost of living, Kubik had to tone down her aggressive debt repayment. In fact, she had to apply for a Graduated Repayment Plan and reduce her monthly payments to $78 just to keep up.
Part of the reason she had to lower her student loan bills was her lower salary.
Kubik’s first full-time job back home was in social services, and she was making just $12.50 an hour. Kubik was dealing with a much lower salary than the $2,000 a month (plus free housing) she was making in South Korea.
To increase her income, Kubik took on side gigs. For instance, she continued to teach English as a second language (ESL) through online companies, a gig that made her more than $20 an hour.
Kubik also coached soccer, worked part time as a barista, and became a brand ambassador for Kind, a healthy foods company. She even made $1,500 in two months crocheting hats and selling them on Instagram.
As time went on, Kubik took a different full-time job at another social services agency that paid $20 an hour, plus benefits and free transportation. As she got her stride back, Kubik started ramping up her debt repayment goals again.
“In my last one-and-a-half years, I paid over $1,000 per month,” she said. As her loan balance got closer to zero, Kubik decided to take $2,000 from her savings to polish off the rest. Instead of sticking to the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan, Kubik ultimately cut her repayment in half.
“I paid off my loans in exactly five years,” she said. “My loan payments started in October 2012, and I finished off the $30,000 in October 2017.”
At the age of 27, Kubik was completely debt-free. And it was just in the nick of time, since her feet were itching for another international adventure.
Becoming a full-time traveler again
In February 2018, Kubik returned to South Korea to visit. From there, she went on to Thailand, where she plans to live for the foreseeable future while continuing to travel as much as she can.
“I’m always planning a vacation,” she said. “I have upcoming trips scheduled in Ukraine and South Africa. I’m planning on staying in Thailand at least a year but want to country-hop each year with my boyfriend.”
She supports herself through travel blogging, freelance writing, and teaching ESL online. Although her varying income sources can be challenging, Thailand has a low enough cost of living that she can cover expenses.
Because the cost of living is so much cheaper than it is in Seattle, she can work less and travel more without breaking the bank.
Living abroad could help you save money and pay off student loans
If you’re interested in living abroad, Kubik highly recommends teaching English to gain job experience, see the world, and pay off debt.
“Teaching abroad is amazing,” she said. “There are so many perks, you meet so many people, and you get to fully live in a new country. [There are] tons of ways to go abroad for free or cheap.”
You might go through a program as Kubik did. Or you could get your Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate and contact international schools on your own.
That said, teaching English isn’t the only way to live in another country. Consider other ways to get paid to travel, such as freelance writing assignments or working on a cruise ship.
If you can find a job that also provides free housing, you’ll likely be able to put a big chunk of your salary toward your student loans. Instead of scrambling to cover living costs, you could get out of debt fast while having the adventure of a lifetime.
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