Jobs for the Traveling Climber: University Admissions & Test Prep. Tutor

In this interview series we talk with people who spend their time traveling and climbing, while still holding down a steady income. From nurses to coders, writers to outdoor guides, we want to show that you don’t have to go full dirtbag to live the itinerant life. Because contributing to your 401k while seeing the world doesn’t sound so bad.

Name: Jojo Yee

Job: College Admissions and Test Preparation Tutor / Advisor

Editors Note:

Jojo and I met on the internet via the Traveling Rock Climber’s group. I was looking for recommendations for climbing hostels, and Jojo reached out with her favorites: Stone Drum House in Shigu, China and Kezban’s Guesthouse in Geyikbayiri, Turkey. We got to chatting and I learned about her work, as well as her other projects, including her own excellent travel blog, her efforts with animal rescue and rehabilitation (@liberatewings), and forays into art.

Jojo getting back to it after a recent injury. Photo courtesy of Jojo Yee.

1) What do you do?

I’m a college admissions and test preparation tutor. I help students ready for things like the SAT, GRE, GMAT.

2) How did you learn about the world of test prep?

I have been teaching standardized test preparation since 2004 after university. I had taken the LSAT, GMAT, and GRE after my first degree in university, hoping to gain entrance into law school or graduate school.

At the time, I did not know that there were standardized test prep companies out there, as I guess they weren’t all that popular in Canada. It wasn’t until I moved to Hong Kong that I realized it was a thing and started teaching at the Princeton Review Hong Kong.

Since then, I taught the SAT, TOEFL, GMAT, and GRE regularly and realized that there was huge potential for me to start my own test prep company when I moved to Bangkok, Thailand.

I owned and worked [that] full time until we merged with another company, and then I took some time off.

I don’t just see myself as a tutor, rather a mentor to students. I try to be there for them even if it’s not questions that have to do with the tests.

3) What are some of the perks of the job?

I enjoy flexibility in my schedule now.

I have 3 dogs, a cat, and an animal rehabilitation project that I spend time and finances on. My income from my job funds my trips and other side projects like animal rehabilitation and donations to other causes.

I get to have at least few weeks off at a time, which allows me to either go back to Canada to visit my family or head out for a climbing trip somewhere in the world.

Sometimes falling is the beginning of successes. I always have to tell myself to not be afraid of falling. Do what you can and let yourself get into the flow of things.” Photo courtesy of Jojo Yee.

4) What are some of the challenges?

I really need to prioritize and balance my schedule to accommodate the students with time away.

My responsibility is to my students and I make sure that I am here for them when they have questions. I’m no longer a “tutorial center” where students just come for planned classes, [so my work extends a bit beyond a typical classroom setting].

I like to ensure that the students are really ready for their exams, even if it means spending more time keeping in touch with them and following up to see if they’ve been practicing what we’ve covered in class.

You can always plan ahead to get more free time.

5) What motivated you to pursue these paths?

I didn’t have this kind of guidance when I was entering university, so it seemed to me that it was more a mentor program rather than a job. 

Even after I exited my tutorial school, I kept getting referrals from old students, so the clients just kept coming and I found that I enjoyed the new found freedom of managing my own schedule and teaching when I needed to.

If students needed to get in touch with me when I’m on a trip, all I required was the internet to access whatsapp or messenger to answer questions.

Hanging with Honnold. Photo courtesy of Jojo Yee.

6) How has your life changed since you started this?

It has been rewarding to see students get into colleges and universities. I am in touch with many of the students I’ve taught since 2004 and have seen them graduate, get their first job, get married, and even have kids. [Editor’s note: How cool!]

Sometimes, I get nice messages from parents saying they’ve noticed a change in their child’s behavior or personality towards school or life after studying with me. So I don’t just see myself as a tutor, rather a mentor to students. I try to be there for them even if it’s not questions that have to do with the tests.

7) How does this job allow you to travel and climb?

SAT and ACT exams happen during certain months. I’ll schedule courses and classes up ’til the test date and then I’ll have some free time to travel and climb until I have to start the next course.

8) What does a “typical” week or month look like?

Currently, home base is in Bangkok. My typical week varies depending on whether the students are on holidays (i.e., I’m busier: Teach everyday). Or if they are at school (I’m more free: Teach after school for a few hours and on weekends).

“Who love kisses?! Hahaha.. Getting some snuggle time in with Shakespeare at @liberatewings.” Photo courtesy of Jojo Yee.

9) What do you wish you knew when first starting out?

…Never really thought about that…

10) What is one lesson learned from your journey so far?

You can always plan ahead to get more free time. I’m working on that now…

Thanks, Jojo!

You can see more of Jojo’s adventures on her blog, Consmos Wanderer, and her love for animals on her instagram account (@jojoyees).

Feature photo courtesy of Jojo Yee