When Kate Dobie graduated from college, she had over $40,000 in student loans. She also graduated at the start of the global financial crisis in 2008, making finding work extremely difficult.
With the economy in ruins, Dobie struggled to find a job that would pay her bills and allow her to keep up with her student loan payments. So in an incredible leap of faith, she made a dramatic decision to manage her debt.
A drastic step to pay down student loans
Dobie decided to move overseas to reduce her expenses, so she packed up the few belongings she could take with her and moved to China.
She took a teaching position working with children, creating lesson plans for 800 children. Since her degree was in Asian studies, it was a way to use her education and make a living doing what she enjoyed.
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,” says 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 adjusting 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. Every sensory experience you encounter in those first days and weeks is new and different,” she explains. “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 she worked hard to immerse herself in the culture. Coincidentally, that also helped keep her expenses down.
“Living expenses can vary. Many teachers wanted to indulge still in Western food, go to movies and pubs, or shop at high-end retail stores,” says Dobie.
“I took the local approach and ate mostly from food stalls or my school canteen. I focused on the goal of eliminating my college loans. I was able to structure my time and budget to make that goal realistic.”
With her living expenses so low, her 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,” says 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.
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, she 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 says.
For others interested in teaching overseas
One of the most prominent resources is The International Educator (TIE), a nonprofit organization focused on helping international schools all over the globe find qualified teachers.
Whether you are interested in teaching kindergarten students or high-school teenagers, 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 US 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 and teaching overseas, Dobie recommends doing your research.
“There are heaps of resources,” explains Dobie. “Reach out to alumni of programs and get their feedback from their experiences. And, if you’re 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 is a big step, it can be a rewarding and enriching way to pay down your loans and build a secure financial future.
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