Nine essential questions to ask yourself before you travel to teach English
If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? To an EFL teacher, this can be a complicated question!
1. Are you up for an adventure?
When you travel to another country, you will be up for an adventure. How much of an incident, that’s entirely up to you. If you’re not ready for that, I can confidently say you should probably keep your suitcase in the closet.
But if you’re up for exciting unknowns, here are some practical considerations.
If you don’t have one already, most of you’ll need a passport to travel to another country. For U.S. citizens, go to his link: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply.html
Then, you’ll need to think about why you want to teach overseas. The following questions will help you choose the right kind of program and destination for you.
2. What are you hoping to get out of teaching English abroad?
This is an important question to ask. Many of us went into EFL or ESL teaching to travel. We taught English to travel. Our goals weren’t clear. The only sure thing was we wanted to travel, and teaching English was the way to pay for it. As for me, I didn’t know what my other goals were. And without knowing what the others were, it wasn’t easy to tell whether I was achieving them. Of course, once I was in the classroom, I wanted my students to learn, but I didn’t know anything beyond that.
Some of you may want to experience a different part of the world with a very different culture. If that’s you, you might consider teaching in Vietnam. https://vietnamesl.com/. You may be looking for a country where you can make good money; South Korea could be a good choice. https://www.glassdoor.com/Job/south-korea-english-teacher-jobs-SRCH_IL.0,11_IN135_KO12,27.htm
Some do it for the teaching experience. If you want the experience, look for the countries voted to best for EFL teaching in 2022.
It may be worth your while to explore Lonely Planet and grab a travel guide and a phrasebook relevant to the region where you’d like to live abroad. Try to learn a bit about the language, culture, etiquette and way of life there.
Know why you’re travelling to teach before you go, and you’ll have a good idea of whether you’re meeting your own goals.
Keep in mind the compensation you want from your position as well. Do you want housing as part of your package? Insurance? Do you need money to pay back student loans, or can you defer them while you teach?
Practical concerns may not be as fun to consider as the view from your tropical island apartment. Still, they are essential to think about before you go. So be sure to ask these questions of any potential employer.
3. Are you a language learner as well as a language teacher?
Teaching a language is excellent. But when you travel overseas to teach, you’ll benefit by being a language learner, too. Many of us took several years of Spanish in high school and college, so this could come in handy if we decide to teach English in Madrid.
If you decided to teach in China, it would be a culture shock when you cannot read what you’re buying at the grocery store. But, like many of us, we would have studied the basics and learned enough to function daily.
If you’re willing to learn a language during your travels, you’ll have many more teaching options. If you don’t want to be a student while you teach, consider teaching in a country where higher English levels are more common. This, however, will limit your opportunities for obvious reasons, the demand for English language learning will be lower. The best way or studying your host country’s language before you go.
4. What type of teaching experience are you looking for?
Before you begin searching for jobs, think about what type of teaching position you’re interested in. You can find contracts that are short-term and long-term. (Mine was two years, for example.)
Or you might want to teach conversation or offer informal private classes with no contract at all.
Another option is to teach at an American school overseas as I did, or you might want to work for a foreign school or an independent/private school.
You can also find government-sponsored positions in countries, for example:
You have to know what you’re looking for before you know if you’ve found it.
5. How will you find an overseas teaching job?
You’ve done a lot of thinking at this point, but how exactly do you find a job teaching overseas? I found mine through a friend of a friend, quite unexpectedly, I might add. But, for you, it might not happen that way.
If you’re not applying directly to a government-sponsored program, you might want to check out some English teaching job boards, like the one on Dave’s ESL Café.
You can also post your resume online on an ESL teacher’s board such as this one.
Or, you could search for a specific type of job at TEFL.com.
Still another option is teaching ESL online and travelling the world simultaneously. The most successful online teachers will tell you it’s both freeing and lucrative. Just look at Jack Askew of Teaching ESL Online. It’s the example many of us online teachers turn to. He’s had tons of success with his own online teaching business, and he has created the Teaching English Online Course to impart his knowledge to others. It’s pretty affordable and may give you a good leg up in preparing to teach ESL online.
It’s not so important how you find your position, just that it’s the right position for you. So don’t be afraid to look around and take your time before accepting an offer to teach overseas.
6. Do you have an adequate support system in place?
Believe me when I tell you that travelling on your own to another country isn’t always easy. I encountered challenges every day, inside and outside the classroom. Since ninety per cent of culture is what we cannot see, cultural struggles are genuine – even for the most open-minded people.
When you face this type of situation every day, you need a support system. I travelled by myself to an area where I knew no one. I taught at an American school, so there were other English-speaking teachers. And while I became fast friends with some of them, it wasn’t the same as having my loved ones nearby.
Will you have anyone you know with you when you go overseas to teach? A friend? A spouse? If not, how will you communicate with them while you’re over there? Consider obtaining an unlocked smartphone before you go and ensuring you can get Wi-Fi wherever you teach or live.
You may want to avoid buying international calling cards until you arrive at your destination since they often have to be used in the country in which they were purchased. Instead, you can plan to text/call friends and family with apps like WhatsApp and Viber. You can use Google Hangouts from Gmail to call U.S. phone numbers (landline and cell) for free and make video calls. And there are always Skype and FaceTime for video calls as well.
Plan on putting forth initial effort towards making friends wherever you go. You’ll find that many places have a large ex-pat community, and friendships are quickly formed among the people there. For example, you might look for an English-speaking church to meet ex-pats in your area or head to an American restaurant or Irish bar where ex-pats frequent. Your city might also have an ex-pat forum where you can meet people. (Check Meetup and Internations for existing groups.)
Also, think about how your decision to teach overseas will affect those you love. In some ways, my time in East Asia was harder for my mother than for me. Finally, take some time to talk to your family and friends before you go. Talk about how you’ll communicate and keep in touch. Give them any information that will help ease their fears and contact information for where you’ll be once you get to your new home.
7. Do you need to do anything to prepare professionally?
Many have taught without much previous classroom experience as I would have liked. This can prove disastrous in many ways, and you might not last in your job for too long. What kind of training do you have? Maybe you have a TESOL degree, or perhaps you’ve never taught before!
Can you get some more experience before you go?
There are many other resources on the site you’ll find helpful, including blogs, jobs board and paid internship opportunities.
Or you could look for courses at a local college. You might also have an organization nearby that offers classes that will teach you how to teach.
If you have no classroom experience yet, look for volunteer opportunities. Many non-profit organizations offer free English classes to English learners, which volunteer tutors teach. You might also be able to shadow an ESL teacher in your school district if you get permission.
8. What materials will you have available?
Once you have an idea of where you’ll be teaching, find out what resources will be available to you there. Talk to current teachers to see if they recommend bringing anything special from your home country (newspapers, magazines, menus, brochures, a map, candy, etc.). If you can get in touch with them, you could also ask former teachers at the same school. Finally, you could reach out to bloggers teaching in your host country to see what advice they have about what materials to bring.
When I was teaching overseas, there were no English materials available in my area (hence the 50-pound carry-on). Some easy things I packed in my luggage were English reward stickers, bookmarks, and other small prizes with English writing.
What materials does your school use? Can you get a copy of the curriculum before you go and review it while you’re still at home? What English materials will you be able to purchase or borrow in your host country? If you can’t find it there, you’ll need to bring it with you or take a chance shipping it overseas. Either way, be prepared before you go.
You might also consider contacting your home embassy in your host country. For example, my editor tells me that while she was teaching in Spain, the American embassy there offered (and sent to her – for free) U.S. maps and a spiral-bound book about U.S. history (with quizzes) written primarily for English learners.
9. Are you flexible?
I saved this question for last, but perhaps it should be the first one you ask yourself. Are you flexible? You have to be if you’re going to teach overseas. You’ll be dealing with culture shock, language barriers and a working culture you have not experienced before. Every day you’ll face challenges. Will you be able to meet them?
I love this proverb: Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape.
I’ll be honest. I’m a little on the type-A side, and I struggled with many situations I faced overseas. That doesn’t mean that I should have stayed home or that you should either. It just means that I had to be flexible. I had to let things go. I had to have a good sense of humour about myself.
You will, too.
As I said before, teaching overseas was one of the most remarkable experiences in my life, even if it was one of my greatest challenges. So it’s something I would recommend.
However, the key to a successful and fulfilling overseas experience is getting yourself ready before you step on that plane. So take some time to think about these questions. Then pack that carry-on and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.