How One Woman Paid Off $40,000 in Student Loans Teaching Overseas

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This report was originally published September 27, 2016

After graduating with over $40,000 in student loans, Kate Dobie needed to get a job ASAP. But finding work was difficult, as she’d graduated in 2008, right at the start of the global financial crisis. Instead of struggling to get by at home, Dobie made the decision to make money teaching abroad.

By heading overseas, Dobie was able to make money, pay down debt and gain invaluable life experience in another country. Here’s how she did it:

Deciding to make money teaching abroad

Dobie decided to move overseas to make money and reduce her expenses, so she packed up the few belongings she could take with her and moved to China.

She took a teaching position, creating lesson plans for 800 children. Since her degree was in Asian studies, this role was a way to use her education and make a living doing what she enjoyed. (Read this post for more on how to get a teaching job abroad.)

To the outside observer, Dobie’s teaching salary might seem low. She made about $5,000 renminbi (RMB) a month. Converted to American dollars, that comes out to just $750.

However, the job came with additional benefits.

“The school took care of my room and board, and I managed to find freelance tutoring jobs that paid very lucratively,” said Dobie.

With few expenses, she was able to dedicate her salary and her freelance income solely towards debt payments.

Adjusting to a new country

Dobie found the adjustment to living in China difficult at first.

“Anyone who has moved to a country with no shared language can probably relate to immediate culture shock,” she said. “Every sensory experience you encounter in those first days and weeks is new and different. It can be exhausting and exhilarating, grappling with communication barriers and relentless cultural nuances.”

But Dobie persevered. She used technology like Skype and FaceTime to connect with family 10,000 miles away, and worked hard to immerse herself in the culture. Coincidentally, that also helped keep her expenses down.

“Living expenses can vary,” said Dobie. “Many teachers wanted to indulge still in Western food, go to movies and pubs or shop at high-end retail stores.”

But given her student loan debt, Dobie kept her spending low.

“I took the local approach and ate mostly from food stalls or my school canteen,” she said. “I focused on the goal of eliminating my college loans. I was able to structure my time and budget to make that goal realistic.”

Making extra payments on her student loans

With her living expenses so low, Dobie’s teaching salary and income from tutoring went right to paying down her debt — that allowed her to pay off her loans ahead of schedule.

“Before moving, I had a few hundred dollars a month deducted towards my debt,” said Dobie. “It would have taken me at least a decade to pay off my loans at that pace.”

In just two years, she was able to eliminate her loans completely. She also saved up enough for a down payment on a home for when she was finished.

Next steps after becoming debt-free

Now that she has no student loans and owns a home, Dobie is back in the United States. Her decision to spend two years overseas in China opened up new opportunities for her.

Since she’s debt-free, Dobie was able to launch her own business, Pens+Pals, without stressing about bills. She’s doing what she loves: connecting like-minded people across the globe via old-fashioned letters.

Dobie recommends that others treat their loans as an emergency so that they can pursue what they love later on. It was a huge transition to move across the world, away from all her friends and family, but Dobie knows it was worth it.

“It freed me from the burden of debt,” she said.

For others interested in making money by teaching overseas

One of the most prominent resources for those who want to make money teaching abroad is The International Educator (TIE), a nonprofit organization focused on helping international schools all over the globe find qualified teachers.

Whether you’re interested in teaching kindergarten students or teenagers in high-school, TIE can connect you to hundreds of opportunities. Some of the most common and lucrative opportunities are in South Korea, China, Japan, Taiwan and the Gulf Arab States.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of State has resources for those seeking teaching positions abroad and offers warnings and travel advisories about particular areas. The site can provide guidance on what to expect from the culture in specific cities.

For people interested in following in her footsteps to make money teaching abroad, Dobie recommends doing your research.

“There are heaps of resources,” explained Dobie. “Reach out to alumni of programs and get their feedback from their experiences. And, if your goal is to reduce your college debt or increase your savings, be sure to ask them specific questions about salary and external job opportunities.”

While moving 10,000 miles away is a big step, it can be a rewarding and enriching way to pay down your loans and build a secure financial future.

Rebecca Safier contributed to this report.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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LenderVariable APREligible Degrees 
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1.91% – 5.25%4Undergrad
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2.25% – 6.53%5Undergrad
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Visit SoFi

2.17% – 4.47%6Undergrad
& Graduate

Visit PenFed

Check out the testimonials and our in-depth reviews!
1 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.

Splash Financial Disclosures

Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. If approved, your actual rate will be within a range of rates and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, income and other factors. Refinancing or consolidating private and federal student loans may not be the right decision for everyone. Federal loans carry special benefits not available for loans made through Splash Financial, for example, public service loan forgiveness and economic hardship programs, fee waivers and rebates on the principal, which may not be accessible to you after you refinance. The rates displayed may include a 0.25% autopay discount.

The information you provide to us is an inquiry to determine whether we or our lenders can make a loan offer that meets your needs. If we or any of our lending partners has an available loan offer for you, you will be invited to submit a loan application to the lender for its review. We do not guarantee that you will receive any loan offers or that your loan application will be approved. Offers are subject to credit approval and are available only to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers will receive the lowest rates, which are available to the most qualified borrowers. Participating lenders, rates and terms are subject to change at any time without notice.

To check the rates and terms you qualify for, Splash Financial conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. However, if you choose a product and continue your application, the lender will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit pull and may affect your credit.

Splash Financial and our lending partners reserve the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen and meet our lending partner’s underwriting requirements. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers. This information is current as of Feburary 1, 2021.


2 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 2.98% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.49% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 1.99% APR (with Auto Pay) to 5.34% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of October 26, 2020, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 10/26/2020. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at [email protected], or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.

© 2020 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.


3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change and state law restriction. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900), NMLS Consumer Access. If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. ‍All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 0.15% effective Jan 1, 2021 and may increase after consummation.


4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it  endorse,  any educational institution.

Subject to floor rate and may require the automatic payments be made from a checking or savings account with the lender. The rate reduction will be removed and the rate will be increased by 0.25% upon any cancellation or failed collection attempt of the automatic payment and will be suspended during any period of deferment or forbearance. As a result, during the forbearance or suspension period, and/or if the automatic payment is canceled, any increase will take the form of higher payments. The lowest advertised variable APR is only available for loan terms of  5 years and is reserved for applicants with FICO scores of at least 810.

As of 02/17/2021 student loan refinancing rates range from 1.91% APR – 5.25% Variable APR with AutoPay and 2.95% APR – 7.63% Fixed APR with AutoPay.


5 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance: 1. Fixed rates from 2.99% APR to 6.99% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.25% APR to 6.53% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.25% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 0.12% plus 2.38% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. See eligibility details. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. The discount will not reduce the monthly payment; instead, the interest savings are applied to the principal loan balance, which may help pay the loan down faster. Enrolling in autopay is not required to receive a loan from SoFi. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score.Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE.

6 Important Disclosures for PenFed.

PenFed Disclosures

Annual Percentage Rate (APR) is the cost of credit calculating the interest rate, loan amount, repayment term and the timing of payments. Fixed Rates range from 2.99%-5.15% APR and Variable Rates range from 2.17%-4.47% APR. Both Fixed and Variable Rates will vary based on application terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. For Variable Rate student loans, the rate will never exceed 9.00% for 5 year and 8 year loans and 10.00% for 12 and 15 years loans (the maximum allowable for this loan). Minimum variable rate will be 2.00%. These rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.