In my time spent teaching English in Taiwan, Korea and China I have met a number of people who said that teaching ESL is "not the real world". I first heard it in Taiwan and I have a vague memory of hearing some young American woman say that teaching ESL in Taiwan is not the "real world". Then I heard it in Korea and then again and again.
I don't think very many people say this actually, but I have come to the conclusion that the people who say this are of the same type. I also recently read an article on someone's blog that said "teaching in Korea is not the real world". He continued on that in the real world people earn less, have to pay rent and so on. Actually Korea is not the only country that offers free housing or free airfare. You can find that in other places such as in China (free housing + sometimes airfare reimbursement) and in Saudi Arabia (free housing and airfare).
Free housing and airfare is not only for ESL teachers
And that's just for teaching ESL there are other companies in other fields that will pay for an employees housing, airfare and expenses. I met other westerners living in Busan, Hong Kong and in Shanghai who were working in other fields living quite comfortably rent free.
Don't get caught up in the rat race
From my point of view the people who make these kinds of statements are your average possibly conservative American 20-something. It's not all of them it's just some of them. These are the kinds of people who are caught up in the "rat race". The ones who value their resume more than their experience.
Teaching English abroad is very much the "real world", but it's a different world because you're most likely doing a different job - something you haven't done before in a different country whose culture is different than yours. Peoples success with it varies and it's not for everybody.
I have also heard or read online that teaching abroad is like an escape. I suppose that it can be an escape for some. A foreign country is a good place to go to run away from your past if you want. But living in a foreign country is also a good way to develop your mind and perspective on things. And since the beginning of time there have been people of all ethnicities and economic backgrounds who have moved to a new city or a new country in search of a better opportunity.