Never in a million years did I think I would be teaching English online. Then again, never in a million years did I think it would be possible to give up my steady paycheck to become a globetrotter. So it was only fitting that my first location independent income would come in the form of teaching a language that I learned myself 30 years ago.
For one reason or another, teaching English online never appealed to me as an option when I started looking for online work. I figured it wasn't something I should be doing at this point in my life.
Maybe it's because I thought this job was reserved for the younger crowd. More than a few of my friends taught English abroad right after college as a way of keeping the college life going while delaying the whole growing up thing.
Perhaps it was my ego talking. After all, I had left a good paying job. I had a great college education and an MBA degree to boot. To leave all that behind is one thing. To start over as a lowly paid English teacher is just too much of a cliché.
And I'm so glad I went ahead and did it anyway.
When I first started thinking that teaching English online was a real possibility, VIP Kid popped up on my radar screen. After all, Kobe Bryant invested in it.
The Chinese company that specializes in children's English education was growing exponentially. Its generous referral incentives resulted in hundreds upon thousands of teachers popping up on YouTube in the hopes of attracting new talent who will use their referral link to become a teacher.
I figured I should give it a shot. After all, how hard could it be?
*Spoiler alert: it was harder than I expected.
I sent in my application and went through an initial interview with a guy from corporate. The interviewer informed me that based on my qualifications, I would be making up to $19 an hour. He also emphasized that I could make a lot of money via referrals. If I referred a new teacher before my first lesson, I would earn $50. Once I became an actual teacher myself, I would receive $80 per referral.
Then came two successive mock interviews. I was advised to set up my virtual classroom, to decorate my surroundings prior to these interviews. Things like a white board, an orange colored t-shirt, a map of the US, and other random stuff. I was then given some lesson plans to study, so that I could "teach" my interviewers, seasoned teachers on the platform who pretended to be 5 year-old Chinese kids.
I won't go through all of the details of the process, since there are a ton of information already out there. Besides, if you are really keen to teach for VIP Kid, the current teachers would know more than me and should be the ones receiving the referral fee for helping you through the process.
As you might have guessed by now, I didn't get the job. Although I was a bit devastated (again, my ego took over), it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. To be honest, I really wasn't excited about the prospect of teaching young children.
Despite my love for kids, the job simply didn't fit my personality. And I certainly had no idea how hard teaching 5 year-olds would be.
The Airbnb of Language Learning
A subsequent casual conversation with a friend led to the discovery of italki, another Chinese company that specializes in language learning.
However, it is completely different from VIP Kid.
First off, italki is an online platform that matches students and teachers from all over the world. Anyone from anywhere can become a teacher of any language.
Whenever anyone asks me to describe the platform, I simply say it is "the Airbnb of language learning." Teachers set their own rates, and students choose teachers based on a combination of prices, reviews, and availability.
On top of that, italki targets adult learners instead of children. Lesson plans are fluid, not set in stone. As a teacher, you have more freedom to show your personality and tailor lessons to each student's specific needs.
After my experience with VIP Kid, I didn't have high expectations of italki, but I went ahead and sent in an application anyway. Again, I figured I had nothing to lose. And time was ticking for me to figure out my first location independent income.
- I made a pretty decent self introduction video, uploaded my credentials, and got approved.
- I set my hourly rate very low in order to attract students while having zero reviews under my name.
And then I waited...
For a good couple of weeks, nothing happened. No one was signing up for my classes. I started to write it off as just another dead-end.
Then one day, for reasons unbeknownst to me even today, the lesson requests started to flood in all at once. I was getting booked up on a consistent basis.
Reviews started to come in. Students were happy with my teaching style for the most part (I'm also learning that I will never please everyone). I've been able to raise my rates just a little bit.
More importantly, I've been enjoying the experience.
Not only am I helping people from all over the world learn my native language, I am learning a little bit about their countries and cultures as well. I am meeting people from China to Russia to Brazil to even Iraq and Kyrgyzstan from the comforts of my own home.
There are certainly other platforms out there that pay more. Some I know about, others I have yet to discover. So far, I haven't found any of them to be better in one aspect or another.
Final Thoughts on My First Location Independent Income
I've been on the italki platform since November 2017, and I don't plan on stopping any time soon. I am improving everyday as a teacher. Seeing light bulbs go off has been very rewarding as well.
Teaching English isn't the-end-all-be-all by any means. The income right now simply isn't high enough to be sustainable for the long haul.
However, it is a great start to my location independent career. It has given my bank account enough breathing room to calm my anxiety about money for the time being. I continue to fill my pipeline with other projects that have yet to come to fruition.
As I discover more about myself, I look forward to breaking down my own barriers, eliminating pre-conceived notions about my own abilities and limitations. I learn something new about myself every single day.
And that's the most exciting part.
P.S. I don't receive any referral incentives for introducing new teachers, but if you are thinking about learning a new language, you can get started with $10 in free credit by using this link.
P.P.S. Does anyone need a white board and an orange colored t-shirt?