If you’re wanting to go overseas for a lengthy period of time, but you don’t have the savings to travel for too long without an income, teaching could be the path for you. We both began our lives abroad by teaching English, and it was the best decision we’ve ever made!
But many people are intimidated by this idea. They think they aren’t qualified, or that they’ll need to know the local language, or that they aren’t that great at English grammar themselves.
While teaching isn’t the right choice for everyone, the concerns above should not worry you.
Every country and school will require different qualifications – even people without a college degree have found jobs. The most important requirement is English fluency.
Not only will you not need the local language while teaching, you’ll actually be strongly warned against using it in the classroom even if you do know it – native English speakers are hired to create a pure English environment. Students are usually not supposed to know their teachers have any proficiency in a language besides English.
Don’t worry – it will be much easier to communicate with your students than you think! Body language, gestures, demonstrations, charades, and pictures go a long way, and majority of students will know at least a small amount of English already.
Unless you are teaching a very advanced class, you will be teaching simple grammar that any native speaker knows. Most grammar mistakes made by English language learners are obvious to a native ear. Kristin taught grammar back in America, and her experience teaching grammar abroad couldn’t be more different. The grammar mistakes an American makes and the grammar mistakes an ESL student makes don’t overlap. You will be just fine teaching beginner and intermediate students.
So what questions should you be asking if you want to know if teaching abroad is for you?
Are you patient?
Language learning is a process. Your students will progress slowly, and maybe they’ll even seem to stall from time to time. You will have to explain the same thing over and over before they understand. One day they’ll seem to get it! But the next class everything is forgotten. This can get frustrating at times – patience is a necessity.
Are you creative?
Repetition is the key to language learning. You’ll need to practice the same vocabulary over and over, along with the same basic sentence structures. A creative person can pull this off without making the class boring for the students with a variety of different and interesting activities. Most teachers really enjoy this part of the job. We get excited to brainstorm new ideas and share ideas with coworkers.
How do you handle people who are different to you?
Any job abroad is going to require an open mind, cultural sensitivity, and a willingness to be flexible – even when you’re certain your way is the most logical or efficient. Your students, many of your co-workers, and maybe even your boss will be from a different culture (not to mention your landlord, your waiter, your taxi driver, your neighbors, and some of your friends). This means things won’t be done the way you’re used to. Values, habits, or world views that you believe are common sense won’t be the norm anymore. Can you respect this and embrace it when needed?
How do you respond to challenges?
You’ll experience some obstacles living abroad. Getting the right visas, work permits, or other immigrations documents lined up, setting up a bank account, finding an apartment – all of these tasks are immediately thrown at you upon arrival (although most schools will offer support and help), and they aren’t always easy for a foreigner to navigate. Even after you’re settled, you’ll occasionally struggle to do things that used to be very simple, such as going to the doctor, figuring how to send or receive mail, or transferring money to your bank account back home. But you can and will figure all these things out – if you are determined to do so.
Do you frequently get homesick while away?
Homesickness is the number one reason we’ve seen people quickly leave their positions abroad. While everyone misses their family, friends, or home culture from time to time, some people become overwhelmed by these feelings, while others seem to only experience homesickness for fleeting moments in moderation. Neither way is the “right” way to be – but if you become homesick easily, you’ll struggle more with a long-term job abroad.
The longer you’re teaching, especially if you’re moving around every couple years, the more places you will become homesick for. You’ll find you have homes and close friends all around the world. At this point, you accept that you’ll always be missing somewhere and someone. Some people will enjoy the feeling of making the whole world their own, and they get used to all the goodbyes and long-distance friends. We truly love this – there is always somewhere to go on holiday, and always a fun reunion coming up in our current home. Others might struggle more to accept this part of the lifestyle.
Can you travel slowly?
Teaching abroad is not the same kind of “travel” as the person who quickly moves from hostel to hostel, country to country, every few weeks. You’ll have very long stretches in the same city, and even if you truly love your job, the routine of going to work every day is not exactly thrilling. What seemed foreign to you when you first arrived will become normal long before it’s time to move on.
You’ll need to set your expectations accordingly before arriving in your new country. Teaching abroad will definitely give you experiences and opportunities you’d never have otherwise – but you probably won’t be feeling like you’re on an epic adventure every day.
On the other hand, slow travel has many benefits – such as really being able to explore a city thoroughly, truly befriending the locals, forming real connections with amazing students, experiencing the culture in a very authentic day-to-day way, and genuinely adapting to a new way of life. We still love our short trips around the world, but we’ve realized that the cities we’ve lived in are the only ones we have any real understanding of – and even that understanding is pretty limited, and always will be as foreigners.
Teaching abroad has been a life changing experience for us both. It’s actually a bit terrifying to think that we could have made other choices and never had the opportunities teaching has given us. We love both the job and lifestyle of a foreign teacher.
Is it also for you? If you’re interested, you can also check out our posts on the different types of teaching abroad and how to get started in ESL.