Stop Coming To Asia To Teach English

Being white is a privilege, not a qualification.

woman teaching mentatdgt / Shutterstock

I’ve heard so many stories of Caucasian people going on a post-graduation backpacking trip through Southeast Asia, falling in love with the region, and then deciding to teach English so they can stay. Heck, 90% of the white people on Tinder in Thailand are all English teachers.

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And we make it so easy for them. We practically roll out the red carpet. We put the West on a pedestal, aspiring to whiteness and its ideals, language, and values.


So it’s no surprise that when it comes to education, we place the same emphasis on whiteness. In various teacher postings I’ve seen, many times there aren’t even job qualifications listed; and when there are, the only qualification you need is to be a “native English speaker”.

What does native mean? Yup, you guessed it: white.

Never mind that one can be from the Phillippines, India, or Singapore, and be a native speaker of the language. Nope.

I’ve seen identical job postings where the description is the same for two teacher positions save for the one that lists “Caucasian” in the job title pays three times as much as the one that lists “Filipino”.


So really, to be an English teacher, you don’t even need to be a “native speaker”. You could be European and still qualify. When a school wants a “native English speaker,” what they mean is someone white.

Just because the system makes it easy doesn’t mean you should take advantage of it

It’s true that the system makes it so easy for white people to do this. Parents in many Asian countries — Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand — want their kids to learn superior American or British English and accent. Because it’s what parents demand, it’s what the education centers and schools have to provide. And so they go out scrounging for whatever and whoever they can find.

But just because the system makes it easy for you to take advantage of, doesn’t mean you should, especially if you know it’s wrong.

Let’s draw an analogy. Let’s say there’s a candy store based on a faith-based system. You’re meant to pick and weigh your own candy and then self-checkout to pay. Because no one’s watching and there aren’t cameras, you know you can get away with taking the candy and leaving. But should you? No.


Perhaps not the perfect analogy, but what I’m trying to say is — just because you can take advantage of a system doesn’t mean you should. Especially when taking advantage of the system could mean harming others like the minds of future generations through improper instruction and education.

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If you want to teach, get a qualification

Before we go any further, let’s be clear: I do not have a problem with people who want to move here to teach and make a home here. None whatsoever. Asia boasts a low(er) cost of living, tourist attractions, and perhaps beautiful beaches, so I understand the allure of wanting to move here. 

What I do have a problem with is people who have no formal training or qualifications whatsoever except for the color of their skin. People who take advantage of a racist system that is already skewed in their favor.


If you want to be a teacher, that’s great. It’s a wonderful and rewarding profession where you get to inspire, impact, and change the minds of tomorrow. But if you’re going to do it, take it seriously. Go get an appropriate qualification and training — a Master’s, TEFL, CELTA, and what have you.

Don’t just fall into teaching because you think it’s easy or because you can. The minds of tomorrow deserve better than your backup plan or whim to try to extend your stay.

And if you’re going to teach here, be culturally conscious

So now let’s say you have a degree and qualifications and you’re ready to teach. One more thing is you need to be conscious of the culture that you are stepping into. Leave your white savior complex at home and walk into a new country ready to learn, respect, and appreciate their culture.

You don’t have to agree with it, but you do have to respect it.


There’s an English teacher in Thailand who found TikTok fame for making videos about life in Thailand as well as teaching English. Teacher Luke has made several questionable, antagonistic, and problematic videos, such as the now-deleted video where he teaches the N-word, all of which I will not go into.

But what I want to talk about are the instances where he mocks Thai culture. In this example, he rattles off Thai nicknames, poking and making fun of them, thereby giving off the impression that they’re silly and can’t be taken seriously.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s common for Thais to get nicknames from their parents that have nothing to do with their legal name. These nicknames are usually object-nicknames like Golf, Ball, Earth, Porsche, June, Ice, and Fern, and Thais use them as you would Liz for Elizabeth.

Instead of appreciating this unique cultural phenomenon, Luke mocks the incredibility, and it just rubs me the wrong way.


If you’re going to walk into someone’s house, you don’t have to like their rules, but it’s only respectful that you follow their rules. If you don’t like the rules and the way things are done, get out and live in your own house.

Recognize your privilege and act responsibly

I recognize that this is a problem that needs to be fixed on both ends. In Asia, we need to change the narrative around what it means to be a native English speaker. We need to stop putting whiteness on a pedestal and value people for their talent, experience, and qualifications instead of their skin color.

And for us to be able to move towards a more equal and just system and the world, white people — you also need to play your part. Don’t just come traipsing through without a plan and decide to fall back on plan B to teach English. Recognize the privilege that you carry just by winning the genetic lottery and don’t use it for gain in a system that doesn’t know any better.


Change is happening slowly, but it’s happening. But it cannot happen without your responsible actions and cooperation.

We are not your experiment. We are not your easy paradise. If you’re not going to take it seriously, stop coming here to teach English. You’re not welcome here.

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Toffy Char is the Co-founder of MindTerra, a mental well-being community. She writes about social justice, feminism, dating, and self-help.