Imagine yourself leading a classroom of adoring students hanging on your every word. On the weekends, you pack your backpack and head out for adventures, exploring some of the world’s most interesting landmarks. Best of all? You’re being paid to live your dreams.
When you teach English abroad, that dream can be a reality — to a certain extent. Teaching English to foreign students in their home country is a great way to build your resume and gain important real-world skills while experiencing a new culture as well as support yourself while you travel the world. You can make a measurable difference in the lives of others, and your own life, but unfortunately, some teachers are surprised when they realize what teaching English overseas really entails.
Before you commit to spending several months, or even years, working with students in another country, it’s important to ask yourself a few key questions to determine whether your expectations are reasonable and you’re prepared for the challenges that such a position will bring.
What Are Your Teaching Qualifications?
One common misconception is that anyone can teach English overseas, regardless of their teaching experience or language abilities. While it’s true that you do not have to be fluent in a foreign language in order to teach English, in most cases you do need to have a degree in the subject you’re teaching and a few years of teaching experience under your belt. An overseas classroom is not the place to get your feet wet or “test out” the possibility of becoming a teacher. You’ll be expected to understand educational principles and classroom management, just as you would here in the states. If you have training and education in teaching English language learners, you will have a distinct advantage over other candidates.
How Will You Handle Being Away From Home?
Living and working in a foreign country is exciting, but it can also be difficult, especially when the culture is so different than what you are used to. In most cases, you will not have enough free time to take regular trips home if you feel homesick. It’s important that you have a grasp of the cultural principles of your destination country before you arrive, and keep an open mind to avoid frustration.
What Are Your Expectations?
Unfortunately, some people look into teaching abroad expecting that it’s an easy gig. “I’ll spend a few hours a week teaching English, and have plenty of time to do what I want!” they think. While you won’t be expected to work 24/7, it’s important to realize that teaching overseas is like any other job. Not only will you have classroom time, but you may have administrative responsibilities to uphold, and your time “off” will be spent preparing for class, grading work and taking care of your own details, such as doing laundry and shopping for food. In other words, you won’t have unlimited time for exploring the region.
Nor is it likely that you’ll have plenty of money to do so. While you’ll be paid for teaching abroad, you probably aren’t going to earn a huge salary, and you will have expenses. Depending on the program, you might live in your own private apartment, in a shared house or with a host family. Even if you live with a host family, you will have expenses — and you may still have expenses to cover at home — so you will not have unlimited funds for exploring.
You do not want to live in another country without experiencing some of what it has to offer, and you should expect to put aside some time and money for exploration. As long as your expectations are realistic, and you know that you’ll have to work hard, you will succeed in an overseas teaching position.
Are You Flexible?
Teaching overseas is not a good fit if you tend to get upset when things don’t go according to plan or if unexpected developments throw you off course. From unexpected cultural differences to lesson plans that don’t work out as hoped, things happen when you’re teaching overseas that will require you to be flexible and roll with the punches. You need to honestly assess your ability to go with the flow and make adjustments, and use that as a gauge to determine your willingness to go ahead with an international teaching job.
Teaching overseas can be one of the greatest experiences of your life, if you go into it with the right attitude and expectations. Ask yourself these important questions beforehand, and you’ll be able to handle whatever comes your way.