Housesitting and the Creative Life

In the last post, we mentioned that one way we pay our bills to fund our travels and our housesitting lifestyle is by teaching English online. This helps us ensure that we will have a consistent amount of money that we can count on each month. Here, we’ll talk a bit about our other (less consistent!) jobs: writing books.

Both of us are professional writers. Heather has published a number of critically acclaimed YA novels. She has received awards and recognition for her writing, and her most recent novel, Bad Romance, made the 2018 YALSA list of Best Fiction for Young Adults. Zach is excited that his first novel, American Magic, finally has a release date: it is coming from Simon and Schuster in summer, 2019.

dear heartbreak new final

In December, both of us will both appear in an anthology edited by Heather called Dear Heartbreak. The book takes letters from real teens and pairs them with responses from notable YA writers. These writers draw deeply from their own experiences of heartbreak to offer teens their hard-won wisdom…and the hope that there is life after loss.

Long-term housesitting is ideal for the creative spirit. It enables us to travel while also providing a home base to return to—meaning that it satisfies the hunger that we creatives have for new experiences, while offering the stability required to actually produce creative work. It also limits time- and money-consuming distractions by stripping life down to its essence—if it doesn’t fit in your suitcase, it doesn’t get to come along.

We don’t know what the future holds for us on this particular road, or how long we’ll be living this way. We don’t know what kind of writing it will yield, or what inspiration we may draw from the new experiences, people, and places we’re exposed to every day. But, with our pens in hand and our laptops powered up, we are training in openness. Thanks for coming along with us!

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Paying the Bills: Teaching Online

Let’s start with some great news about long-term housesitting: aside from the new places you’ll see and the people you’ll meet, you get the added bonus of significantly reduced monthly bills! Our mind-bogglingly steep New York City rent? Gone. That high speed internet bill? Also gone. Ditto gas, electricity, and even our cell phone bills (replaced by much cheaper top-up SIM cards, the ins and outs of which we’ll cover in another post).

Now, the reality: bills still exist, albeit in a more limited form. For us, there’s travelers’ insurance, student loans, and the storage bill from the Brooklyn U-Haul, of course. Then there are the transportation costs of getting around town, and from one city or country to another. And that doesn’t count food and drink and other incidentals. So, yeah, you’re still going to need to make money. Lucky for all of us, the Internet opens up a lot of doors in that department.

TEACHING ENGLISH ONLINE WITH VIPKID

Hi, it’s “Teacher Zach”! One way that I make steady money to support our housesitting adventure is by teaching for a China-based company called VIPKID. It’s a totally legit enterprise, not a fly-by-night scam of some sort. I’ve worked with them for four months now and taught hundreds of lessons. They pay well, and they pay on time.

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The newer classroom format

HOW VIPKID WORKS

The company uses their own proprietary software to enable you to teach one-on-one lessons with young learners, primarily in China. The students typically range in age from 4 to 14 years old, with most students (in my experience at least) being about 10 or 11. You do not need to speak Chinese; however, you do often need to speak very…slow…exaggerated…English (with accompanying BIG, BROAD GESTURES!). The teacher is responsible for leading a 25-minute lesson in a virtual classroom, where both teacher and student are visible on camera. The lessons are composed of slides that you and the student can write on (an increasing number of the lessons are now more interactive, with drag-and-drop functionality, for example). There is zero planning on your part, but you are required to fill out a quick post-class assessment after each session (which takes me two minutes, tops).

WHAT VIPKID PAYS

Let’s dispense with formalities and talk money. That’s why you’re reading, isn’t it? Depending on your experience and education, and based also on your performance during the application process (i.e.your demo lessons), you can make between $7 and $11 per class. Since classes are 25-minutes long, this makes the hourly starting rate between $14 and $22. Note that these rates are possible only if you teach more than 45 classes in a month (that is, 22.5 hours). This functions as a participation incentive. If you teach fewer classes than that, you’ll have to knock fifty cents to a buck off your hourly rate. I have a Masters and many years of experience, so I make the full $22. Because I teach around 25 hours per week, I take home $2,000 a month, give or take (before taxes). There are various other ways to make additional money (small rewards and other incentives, as well as referrals) which I won’t go into here.

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The older version of the classroom

THE UPSIDE

  • No commute.
  • No planning, no grading.
  • Work from anywhere in your sweatpants (with a nice shirt on top, naturally. I call this hideous combination “the mullet of outfits”: business on top, party on the bottom—and no I’m not posting pics).
  • The kids are usually adorable, precocious, or both.
  • It’s fun! You get to be a playful goofball to your heart’s content. At least until an eight-year-old girl rolls her eyes at you, then you tone it down a notch.
  • The pay isn’t excellent, but if you keep your bills down, it’s decent.
  • (Not to be underestimated when engaged in long-term, foreign housesits) It gives you the opportunity for real connection with others. It’s not mature, adult conversation, perhaps, but it’s something.

THE DOWNSIDE

  • No benefits.
  • It can be exhausting. Trying to hold the attention of a youngster when you’re only a tiny face on their computer screen is a unique skill you kind of have to learn on the job. A bad class is the longest 25-minutes of your life.
  • There are technical issues that emerge on a semi-regular basis—either my internet acts up, or the student’s does, or (rarely) the system is experiencing some weirdness. These glitches can be frustrating.
  • Sounding like a goofy ass to your partner who’s trying to concentrate in the next room.

HOW TO APPLY

If you have at least a Bachelor’s degree, are eligible to work in the USA or Canada, and have one year of teaching experience of any kind (including tutoring, coaching, or mentoring), you can apply to teach for VIPKID. In addition, you’ll need a computer and headset, and high-speed internet. The application process (at least when I went through it) involves two mock lessons which are also interviews, with your interviewers playing the part of the student. They are awkward, because it is strange to talk to an adult like a small child who doesn’t speak English, but lean into the weird and you’ll be fine! Feel free to contact me with more questions about the job or the process, and click the link below to get started.

*Please use my referral code so I can make a bit of money to keep the travels and the helpful blog posts going! My code is: ZACHA0032, and you can go here to get started.*

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