How Oneika Gets Teaching Jobs Around the World

I’ve featured a lot of readers on this website – solo travelers, couples, young and old travelers, Brits, Canadians, and Americans. But there are still a lot of viewpoints I haven’t covered. So today’s reader interview brings some more diversity and perspective to our series. Today we talk to Onieka, a thirty-something single black traveler from Canada who teaches in Hong Kong. A lot of e-mails ask me about racial prejudice on the road and since it’s a perspective I can’t answer, let’s talk to Onieka about that and teaching!

Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone about yourself. 
Oneika: I am a serial expat, blogger, and travel junkie who has travelled to 68 countries around the world! I hail from Toronto, Canada, though my parents were born in sunny Jamaica.  This means that even though I’m used to cold weather, I hate it — the tropics run through my veins! I’m 31 years old and have been living abroad for over eight years now. While I’m a traveller at heart, I’m a teacher by trade and currently teach middle-school English at a private school in Hong Kong.

What inspired your move to Hong Kong and love of travel?
My move to Hong Kong was inspired by a burning desire to work and travel in the Far East — Asian culture has always seemed so exotic to me and the idea of living on the other side of the world appealed to me. However, my first experience with intercontinental travel began during my third year of university, where I did a year-long study abroad program in France. After I realised that I could make money teaching, I spent a 2nd year in France doing that, and then moved on to do the same thing in Mexico. Wanting more of a culture shock and remembering my initial desire to head to the Far East, I decided to look for teaching jobs in Asia.

What did you do to save up for all your travel?
As a university student, I worked odd jobs at a call centre and a bank to fund my travels during school breaks. They were mostly low-paying jobs, but through diligence and penny pinching I was able to save anywhere between $4000 – $7000 USD from working part-time throughout the school year and nearly full-time from May to August. My only regret is that I worked entirely in and around my hometown of Toronto and then used my money to take short trips internationally — somehow I never realised that I could make money whilst living abroad until I got into teaching! At any rate, now that I’ve finished school, have moved abroad, and have been teaching full time for seven years, I try to put aside a set amount of money every month for my travel expenses.  I try to cut out unnecessary spending (difficult because I love to shop!) and prioritize travel instead.

How do you stick to a budget when you travel?
I usually plan a trip with a set budget in mind.  When I was planning my recent trip to Tokyo, I did a bit of research to get a feel for how much things like transportation, food, and accommodation would cost. I used this information to decide how much money I would need to spend on the whole trip. I attempt to set a daily budget and try to use only cash or debit when paying for things– I avoid using my credit card at all times.

I try to walk or use the cheapest forms of public transportation once at a destination. Also, I’m at the point where I’ll pick and choose which tourist attractions provide the best value: I realise I don’t need to see everything, and am not interested in spending money on a random museum/shrine/temple just because it’s listed in my guidebook!  If money is an issue, I always advise people to only pay to see the things they truly care about.

You’re an English teacher. How did you get into that job?
After getting my Bachelor’s degree, I taught ESL in the South of France for a year, through a English teaching assistant program offered by the French embassy.  During my time in France, I met a French girl who was teaching at a boarding school just outside of London. It was then that I learned about the existence of international schools, which are schools that cater to the expat children of families who have relocated abroad for whatever reason.  The language of instruction in most of these schools is English and many of them follow a Canadian, American, or British curriculum.

When I discovered that to teach in these types of schools I would need to get a Canadian or American teaching license, I returned home and got certified to teach Elementary and Secondary school English and French.  It was the best decision ever! I secured an international teaching job in Mexico and never looked back.  I’ve since taught in international schools in London and Hong Kong. In between I went back to Canada and taught French in a high school, but the draw of international travel made me move back abroad after a year.

Matt’s note: If you’d like to teach English abroad, here’s a great resource for you.

Do you find it easy to get work?
I have found it pretty easy to get work in my field; there are an abundance of recruiting agencies that are geared to help both international school and ESL teachers find work abroad. For ESL teachers, organisations like Teach Away and online job boards like Dave’s ESL Cafe are great places to start looking for jobs. I got my ESL teaching assistant job in France through CIEP.  For certified teachers looking to teach in top international schools, recruiters like Search Associates and ISS are an excellent resource.

Many readers ask me about racial prejudice around the world. Have you ever faced any racial prejudice on the road?
Honestly? I have been super lucky in that in all of my travels I have had very few incidents where I have been discriminated against due to the colour of my skin.  Don’t get me wrong — in places where black people are a rarity, people stare.  This has happened to me often in Asia.  In South Korea and China, people have reached out to touch my skin and hair without asking.  In Thailand, India, and the Philippines, people have stopped me to ask if they could take my picture.  Mostly, I don’t mind the attention — I think it’s hilarious, and these sorts of interactions have always been positive since the people involved were very complimentary.

I understand that their interest is often fuelled by an innocent curiosity; the reality is that many locals in these countries, for whatever reason, are unaccustomed to seeing black people “in real life”.  This makes a huge difference in terms of how I view these sorts of interactions. The only time I really suffered racial discrimination was when I went to Ireland on a short trip in 2009.  I was in Dublin when a group of men followed me and yelled out some inappropriate racial epithets.  Despite that, I wouldn’t dare let that incident colour (pun intended) my opinion of all of Ireland — it’s a beautiful country and I hope to return at some point. I have since met a number of lovely Irish people on my travels, so am convinced that what happened to me in Dublin was an isolated incident.

You travel solo. What safety tips would you give to other solo female travelers?  
My #1 tip: Be prepared and stay aware of your surroundings.  Don’t leave yourself open to danger.  A well-planned itinerary, in my opinion, keeps you purposeful and out of harm’s way. It’s when you wander aimlessly without a plan that you become a target.  Another tip of mine, which is perhaps controversial: Don’t dress provocatively.  Yes, I know, us ladies should be able to dress any way we want, but when I travel, especially in Islamic countries where local women are expected to cover up, I do the same.  It allows me to stay as “under the radar” as much as possible —  I want to avoid getting negative attention at all costs.  If that means I have to leave my short shorts at home, so be it. “Doing as the Romans do” also demonstrates a respect of the local culture you are sampling.

What advice do you have for other people who are scared about traveling the world or think it’s dangerous to travel as a female?
Don’t believe the hype! The media perpetuates the idea that international travel is dangerous, but the truth is that there’s often a greater chance of tragedy befalling you in your own proverbial backyard than abroad. Research your destination before going and inform yourself of the potential dangers so you have zero chance of becoming a victim.  Another thing to do would be to connect with fellow travellers online for their perspectives on a particular place.  Travel blogs are also a great resource for getting current information from someone “on the ground” — don’t hesitate to contact your favourite bloggers for insider info.

What advice do you have for others who want to do what you do?
Get a teaching credential! Whether you teach ESL or an elementary or secondary school subject in an international school, teaching is a marketable, exportable skill that is highly sought after abroad.  School breaks/holidays are abundant, which allows you to travel on your downtime (case in point, I get 13 paid weeks of vacation a year).  Teaching also allows you to have a base, which might be a better option for those who would like to travel, but don’t necessarily like the idea of backpacking or being on the move all the time.  Getting a diploma to teach ESL and/or a state teaching credential is relatively time and cost-effective.  Do it!

What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started traveling?
I wish I realised that I didn’t need to see everything, that travel is not a race.  I wasted a lot of time, energy, and money trying to hit up every tourist attraction in a given city, bouncing from country to country in an effort to pack it all in.  Now, I prefer to travel “slower”, picking and choosing the things that catch my fancy.  Also, I wish I had taken more advantage of opportunities like the Rotary Exchange program to study abroad while in high school.

For more travel stories and tips from Oneika, check out her blog at Oneika the Traveller.

Become the Next Success Story

One of my favorite parts about this job is hearing people’s travel stories. They inspire me, but more importantly, they also inspire you. I travel a certain way but there are many ways to fund your trips and travel the world and I hope these stories show you that there is more than one way to travel and that is within your grasp to reach your travel goals. Here are more examples of people who found work overseas to fund their trips:

We all come from different places, but we all have one thing in common:

We all want to travel more.

Make today the day you take one step closer to traveling – whether it is buying a guidebook, booking a hostel, creating an itinerary, or going all the way and buying a plane ticket.

Remember, tomorrow may never come so don’t wait.

  1. Efrutik

    Oneika is fantastic. I have been reading her blog for several years now. She is resourceful, very personable, and adventurously addictive. I like her a lot! Good job for featuring her – she has a lot of experience and genuine way of sharing it with others through her blog. One small comment – I believe she is not single so perhaps you should edit that 😉

  2. Luís

    I have a secret desire to follow the same path as Oneika but I’m a certified portuguese EFL teacher.
    I believe that most international schools search for native speakers :(

  3. Great interview! I’ve looked into teaching as an option. Travel nursing was great in the states but isn’t going to work in India. I need a new universal talent! I know what you mean, Oneika, about the controversial dressing tips.. I live in Goa so I dress very freely, and might even have a bikini top on in a restaurtant.. it’s beachy and all the indians are doing it too- but they aren’t usually the local goans, they are Indians on vaca. Outside of Goa I’m much more conservative but after being here a year and a half, I don’t wear traditional clothing or baggy pants.. I’ve kinda met somewhere in the middle!

    • Chary

      Yeah, you are right cent percent. Many travelers do the same as you do who are coming Goa from different parts of India. Skimpy clothing is so common in Goa except natives / locals. Goa is a a place with plenty of beaches.. So international beach culture prevail there; even married native females use bikinis. In other places of India being conservative is a great idea.

  4. Jessica

    Great post and thank you for initiating this online dialogue re: racial/cultural stereotypes in travel.

    I had to laugh out loud when I read Oneika’s story as I felt as though I was reading my own story, especially her comment about people asking to touch her hair, gah!!

    One contrast is my experience of living in South America; the black experience in a continent with an often unmentioned history of slavery leads to very interesting, sometimes frustrating, experiences here.

  5. Jeff

    Matt, can you start putting captions below the pictures, letting us know where they were taken? Some are obvious (pyramids!) but others are not. I can’t be the only one that’s curious about some of the locales your interviewees post!

  6. Brandy

    Great interview Matt! I love Oneika’s blog and have been reading along for a couple of years now. I enjoy reading about how she fits in so much travel with a full-time job, since that’s something I try to do.

  7. Oneika is great! Her blog is wonderful, and she is great resource for travelers. As a Black woman, I’ve experienced an array of things while traveling. Sometimes I’m often surprised that my fellow travelers are the culprits of holding stereotypes about who I am. That said, traveling is about broadening your horizons and cross-cultural change (among other things). Thanks for featuring Oneika, Matt.

  8. Nice

    Nice reading a travel blog entry not just geared toward the usual crowd. I’ve found that in terms of racism in some places like China you get people who just have never seen XYZ type of person. I don’t really consider that racism, it’s more naive behavior.

    On the other hand you have countries including parts of Europe, South Africa, and heck the USA where a minority of people for historical or stupid reasons have deep seeded prejudice against certain groups. Those places can suck if you have just one bad experience from some idiot.

  9. Thank’s to this interview i’ve discovered another great blog to follow. Thank you Matt and thank you Oneika for being a true inspiration!

  10. She’s such an inspiration, not only to us women, but to everyone who travels.. and stories like this teach us of the tiniest details of life.. not only how to travel in a very tight budget, but on how to deal with people you encounter everyday.

  11. Awesome post! Feeling so inspired by nomads everyday. I myself am doing the same program to teach in France, except I’m in Paris and I’m also from Toronto! What are the odds – and I’m ALSO looking to teach in Hong Kong next year! I’ve also faced some racial issues myself being Asian and sticking out a lot so I’m glad this post is something I can relate! Love to talk Oneika!

  12. brittini jackson

    Oneika!!!! Such an inspiration! being a black woman myself, you are such a great role model to young girls around! i am preparing to do a bit of traveling and getting my esl teaching credentials. i find it difficult to stay positive about my traveling dreams when some of my friends discourage me or tell me i’m living in a “fantasy world” =( but reading your interview was like a breath of fresh air and reassuring! thank you for that!

  13. Sahha

    I have been reading Oneika’s blog for years and she is an inspiration to me! I have since made a number of solo trips. And thank God I was laid off from my corporate job (in the US) last summer, I live in France now and loving it!

    Sahha from NP :)

  14. What a nice surprise to see Oneika featured here! I’ve been reading her blog pretty much since I started blogging in 2008. Great interview and good to see you featuring people with a different perspective on this blog.

  15. Kiya

    I’ve known about Oneika and her blog for some years now. She is a great inspiration for black women travelers like myself. Thanks Oneika! Hats off to Matt for featuring interviews from different travel perspectives.

  16. Rhona

    Oneika is great. I found her blog years and years ago when she was venturing into Hong Kong for the first time. I think I was one of her first commenters. I feel a connection to her in a strange way as I am also black, Canadian, from the Toronto area and love to travel. Everything she said is spot on. (As a side note, she is not really single now. She is happily engaged and to a lovely man no doubt.)
    I love her tips on safety as a single travelling woman. The bst advise is to stay aware of your surroundings and practise safe etiquette. I prefer solo travel and her blog (and loads of others like this one) has helped me to enjoy it more and more. Thanks Matt for this post.

  17. Rachel

    Truely inspiring. I hope to do the same someday soon, teach and travel the world. Thank you Oneika for your story.

  18. I love reading about people traveling abroad and how they raise money to do what they love. My first long term adventure was picking up a teaching job that allowed me to explore my host country. I wish more would do this.

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