My Journey to China to Learn Kung Fu

by Carmen Isabella

Here in Germany most of the kids do an Au pair year or go to Australia for Work & Travel or just take a break for one year at home to find out what they want to study after it. From my school a lot of my classmates go directly to university because that is the way it is supposed to be if you attended the ‘Gymnasium’ (the version of high school that only lasts twelve years of school and is commonly described as the most difficult one) – according to teachers and principals.

“What are you going to do after your abitur?”

I must have heard that question about a thousand times. My response almost comes naturally:

“I am going to travel to China and there I am going to study Kung Fu.”

Some people gave me a polite laugh and then asked again: “No really, what are you going to do? Which university will you go to?”, others just raised their eyebrows and didn’t ask any further. I think that a lot of people thought it was just a phase I was going through. Last week a friend came to me and asked me if I still wanted to go to Asia. Yes, I booked my flight month ago, yes I do this voluntarily: I want to train the whole day six times a week. Yes, I am a 18 year old girl and yes I do Taekwondo and am really passionate about martial arts. But I am not annoyed. I love to talk about it and I don’t mind explaining every last detail my research came up with to anybody. I know that this is what I want to do after school, what I want to do now.

I am really lucky that my family supports me and my decisions. Almost one year ago I spend weeks researching on the internet for a programme that would allow me to study Kung Fu. The idea came right after I spend my summer break in Korea at the Sehan University with my Taekwondo-Team. I have never been that exhausted in my life. Three training sessions a day (at least) and rice everyday to lunch and dinner. And I loved it.

I decided to try a different style of martial arts and chose Kung Fu. A really easy decision
since I have been dreaming about becoming a Teen-Shaolin-Monk since I was a kid and got obsessed with the ‘Five Ancestors’– book saga by Jeff Stone. I am currently on the last metaphorical meters to finishing my last 3 exams before high school is over and somehow I still find the time to write this article/blogpost and enjoying my
time. I am even enjoying studying. Because I understood and still learn to understand every single day that I live in the present and that I can determine it. So why not take a chance and go to China ;).

I know I can only get to the very top of the iceberg by researching, reading the website of the Yuntai Mountain Cultural and Martial Arts school over and over again, learning the basics of the Chinese language and getting in contact with people who have already experienced similar adventures.

At this point I would like to add that I am really thankful for the help and support with my plans which I got and still get from the website www.studymartialarts.org and it’s operator David Kelly. I can’t imagine how my individual experience will be and how I am going to change. I will probably laugh about the things I imagine now at the time I am there but I do it anyway. This blog is as much for me as it is for everyone interested in the topic for various reasons. If I can make my future self laugh or paint a smile on her face I already achieved something with it.

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Carmen Isabella

Carmen Isabella – Studies martial arts in China. She recently graduated from high school and did Taekwondo in her home country Germany which already led her to Korea last summer. Her interest in martial arts in general will lead her this summer to China where she plans to study Kung Fu for 6 month. As one of her other passions is writing she wants to share her future experiences with detailed reports about her journey to help and give tips to other travellers and especially women who are interested in martial arts. To learn more about Carmen’s journey click here.

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A Guide to Teaching English Abroad & Studying Martial Arts

Do you have friends or classmates that have taught English in China, Japan, or Thailand and wondered to yourself, “How can I get paid to live in China,  Japan or Thailand and follow my passion for Studying Martial Arts?”  With millions and millions of people learning English in Asia, the demand for native English-speaking teachers is insatiable and virtually any native or fluent English speaker can gain employment teaching English abroad.  But like any great endeavor in life, moving to a foreign country to teach English and follow your martial arts path requires research, planning, initiative – plus a few tips from teaching abroad experts like those at StudyMartialArts.Org who have experience of combining English teaching with Martial Arts studies.  Take a peak at these 12 crucial tips and pointers for teaching English abroad to help you get started.

teach-english-in-china1. Know that virtually anybody can teach English abroad

With approximately 1 billion people learning English worldwide, the demand for native English-speaking teachers is insatiable and virtually any native or fluent English speaker can gain employment teaching English abroad. Remember this:

  • A background in education or professional teaching experience is not required to teach English abroad.
  • You do not need to speak a foreign language to teach English abroad.
  • Prior international travel experience is not a prerequisite to teach English abroad.
  • A college degree is not required to teach English abroad. But it certainly will help. As more and more people take the English teaching route to discover Asia the market is becoming increasingly flooded with job seekers. With this increase tighter controls are being applied. Visas require more often now those with experience and so a TEFL certificate is becoming more handy. Ultimately, the more qualified and well connected you are the better employment opportunities you will get. Because after all you are here for the most part to study kung fu so the last thing you need is to be stuck in a job that requires too much travel, too little work to make ends meet or too many hours.

Remember that hiring standards will certainly vary from country to country, so remember to consider what countries you are qualified to teach in.

2. Research your tail off

If you plan to move halfway around the world to teach English and Study Martial Arts, you owe it to yourself to research all aspects of your great international adventure to make it as rewarding and successful as possible. To start, focus on the martial aspect. Where is that Shifu you have dreamed of learning from?What styles are you interested in? Also check out this country chart which compares salaries, hiring requirements, interview procedures and visa information for teaching English abroad in more than 50 countries around the world. Also, check out our other articles for more information about teaching English abroad. When you’re ready to start diving into program options, be sure to read reviews and weigh all of the possibilities. Salary, livability, conditions, benefits, time commitments, and the potential for an incredible and positive experience will all play major factors in your decision.

05.brucelee3. Make sure to earn your TEFL certification

Even though you don’t need a degree or professional teaching experience, if you want to teach English abroad professionally, you need to take an accredited TEFL certification course, especially if you have no background in teaching English as a foreign language (our guide to TEFL helps lay this all out for you). An accredited TEFL certification course will provide you with the skills you need to competently run 4-6 classes a day, and will outline the best ESL teaching tools. TEFL certification will also provide you with a recognized qualification that most schools and language schools around the world seek when hiring new teachers. Remember, most schools around the world will not hire you off the street to teach English professionally simply because you are a native or fluent English speaker! One of the biggest difficulties that new teachers face is the challenge of creating fun, engaging, and plenty of activities for the ESL classroom. TEFL courses will give you insight on the types of games and lessons that are successful with different age groups. Get a head start by reading our tips for lesson planning or take notes of the 10 best games for ESL teachers.

4. Consider whether to go with an organized program or independently

Many TEFL training schools do provide job placement assistance and it’s definitely something to check for when researching your options, because quality assistance should insure that you don’t have to pay for a job placement. Many top programs provide it for free with the course tuition. Others may charge additional fees for placement or assistance. Teaching abroad through an organized program is a great option for first-time travelers to a new region, especially if the local language is one you’re less-than-absolutely-fluent-in. For most people looking to go abroad, there are enough jobs and plenty of resources in the way of free job boards, recruiters, and other resources, that there really should not be a need to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a placement. Also, programs that guarantee or receive payment for placements will limit you to job options offered by the program, which are a drop in the ocean of the thousands of job opportunities worldwide that you may be qualified for. If you are looking to teach English in Asia, Russia or the Middle East, you may consider working with recruiters that interview and hire English teachers from the U.S., Canada and elsewhere on behalf of schools in these countries. Typically you should not pay such recruiters for placement. Working with recruiters can make the process of interviewing and lining up a position abroad easier though as they can provide assistance and guidance with matters like setting up interviews and arranging documents for your visa. The key, as always, is to research and work with reputable, well-established recruiters. But be aware, most recruiters who do this will then get paid by the school you work for so their payment could be coming out from your potential monthly wage.

5. Remember: hiring and interview procedures vary from country to country

Be flexible and open to new experiences

Remember demand is high in Asia so schools hire all year-around, nevertheless elementary and high schools recruit primarily during the spring, summer and winter for positions beginning in Jan/Feb and September. Many Asian schools will hire new teachers directly from their home country, this is good for a number of reasons one being securing that all important visa and having the right papers from day one. This means that if you want the security of having a job waiting for you when you hop on a plane to your teaching destination, you should concentrate your efforts here.

6. Plan to break even

This means that even as a first-time English teacher teaching you can expect to earn enough to pay your bills – rent, food, daily transportation, etc. – and live comfortably, though modestly. This means that you’ll be able to travel and go out on the weekends and engage in other personal pursuits like taking language lessons and martial arts. However, this will often be very dependent on luck, your color and whether you are a native speaker. You shouldn’t expect, at least at first, to be making enough salary to put money in the bank at the end of every month. This can take time and it is often 6-12 months before you start earning back on your initial investment, the money you spent on settling in job, hunting and securing accommodation and finding with the right kung fu master.

640x450_thai_boxing7. If you want to make more money, this is possible but very dependent on your qualifications and experience

Most people don’t go into teaching for the money, but if you’re looking to make enough to save for extra travel it is possible with the right qualifications and connections. English teachers can typically make enough to save 30%-50% of their income after expenses, and often receive benefits like free airfare and housing. Monthly savings typically range from about $400 a month in a nation like Thailand up to $1000 or more in South Korea. However, be realistic. More and more these opportunities are limited to those with experience, the right papers and longer term commitment.

8. Consider using a Martial Arts School as a springboard

The growing number of martial arts schools in both China and Thailand offer a great opportunity for the savvy martial arts adventurer to use the schools as a base from which to explore teaching opportunities and of course training with other masters outside the international kung fu school system. To make the most out of these opportunities your current school location or planned schools location will be the key.

Rural schools in the depths of the Chinese, or Thai countryside will not be the most suitable if you’re limited to weekend for finding a school or another master. The good news is that StudyMartialArts.Org offers a great Free consultation service. They can easily help advise you both on potential schools, masters near by and that all important teaching job or employment contact.

9. Set a realistic timeline and plan ahead

Getting a job and moving half-way around the world to teach English or Study is not like choosing which parties you’re going to hit this weekend or selecting what you’re going to wear to the gym – it’s not a spur of the moment sort of deal. While hiring cycles and procedures vary worldwide, you should usually plan on taking 3-6 months from the point when you begin your TEFL certification and job search to actually getting on a plane and taking off to go abroad and begin your teaching job. In some cases, as when applying for government public school programs like JET in Japan. Remember the process of applying, interviewing and making travel arrangements may take 6-9 months or even longer.

10. Be prepared for start-up costs

Teaching English abroad may be the most cost-effective way to live and travel overseas for an extended period, but like most major undertakings in life, it requires a degree of financial planning. Major start-up costs typically include:

  • TEFL Certification: $1,000 – $2,500 for a fully accredited online or in-person class – trust me, it’s worth it.
  • Transportation to your destination country: typically $300-$1000 for North Americans traveling to other continents.
  • Support in your new country until you start getting paid: even if you have a job waiting for you when you arrive, you won’t typically get paid on your first day of work. These expenses can range from $500, if your housing is provided and your job is pre-arranged, to even higher while you interview for a position, wait for the right job, rent an apartment or find a conveniently placed master that you want to study with.

Although start-up costs for teaching English abroad in Asia are typically lower because in many cases you can line up your job in advance, and many schools, particularly in South Korea and China, cover airfare and housing costs. But more than often these are not paid until a trial period has been complete or certain part of your contract. In addition to this as your purpose is not just to teach but also to study kung fu extra complications and few choices may be available to you. This is why some managed programs with initial costs are worth considering.

11. Engage your friends and family

You will need their love and support, and in some cases, their advice and financial assistance. At the same time, don’t let their fear of losing you stop you from going abroad – Mom will just have to understand that you’re going to miss a Thanksgiving or two. The good news is that thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch from all corners of the globe. Email, Facebook and other social media make conversing and sharing photos a cinch, and with Skype, you can enjoy video calls with friends and family as often as you like, for free.

Guilin12. Be open-minded and flexible

If you won’t even consider teaching anywhere but places that are just like the home, you’re only cheating yourself. The fact is that you are unlikely to get a job just like at home. This should not stop you from experiencing the adventure of living and traveling abroad, whether it be in China, Thailand, Japan or anywhere else. Also, bear in mind that you are not limited to one destination – you can always teach in one country or region and then move on to another and as in any field, the more experience you gain, the more opportunities will come your way.


Essentially the only way that you can’t teach English abroad is if you don’t have the initiative to make it happen – so let’s go! That means researching your options, getting a TEFL certification and putting together a timeline. Be realistic and organized, but don’t hesitate to broaden your horizons and take chances either. Moving abroad is meant to be adventure, so embrace it! Inspired by – Go overseas.