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Is Teaching English Abroad for Me?

Should I go or should I stay? Seven questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to teach abroad.

It’s a big decision to leave your home country and teach abroad for a year (or more). It’s life changing, an experience you will never forget. There could be many reasons for you to decide to go. You may have just received your degree and have the urge to travel, or you may be thinking of what to do before your masters program starts next year. Or maybe you just want a change. Whatever the case may be, it’s a big choice and this guide will help you. Assuming you’ve looked into getting a TEFL certificate, let’s start with asking yourself these seven simple questions. 

1. Do you like kids?

As a first-year teacher, there’s a good chance you’ll be teaching kids. The reason being is that teaching adults is less in demand compared to kids in the ESL market. Also, jobs teaching adults are often split-shift and they usually require a decent understanding of grammar and some teaching experience, which is something not all first-year teachers have. So, ask yourself, do you think kids are fun? Do they make you laugh? Can you get along with kids all day? You’ll be with them for most of the day. I will point out that “kids are kids”, meaning that—from my experience—they are very similar everywhere in the world. So, if you’re unsure, it’s best to get some experience volunteering with kids to test the waters. If you do like kids, then this is a good sign you’ll enjoy the job.

2. Are you up for the challenge?

If you do want to teach overseas, there are many changes and challenges you’ll face. Teaching overseas isn’t some kind of vacation—which many prospective teachers may assume after backpacking Asia for example. The fact is that even though you speak English, teaching it is another ball game altogether. As an English teacher overseas, you can get thrown into classes and, although most schools don’t have the highest expectations for first-year teachers, you need a lesson plan and you need to prepare. It can be a tough year to endure if you let the classes get out of control. Classroom management can be stressful at times and it will test your nerves. On the other hand, many teachers enjoy the challenge and fall in love with the teaching profession by facing these hurdles.

3. Are you interested in education?

If you’re considering teaching as your professions and you’d like to test your comfort zone as a teacher, then teaching abroad can be a good place to do so. And, even if you are not considering teaching as a profession, engaging in the students’ learning will help you as a teacher throughout the year. You will be more focused and goal-oriented. Your level of engagement will increase and you will be less bored in class. Therefore, if you are interested in education and actually helping students improve, it will put you in a better situation abroad. If you are there for a paycheck only, it could turn into a bit of a drag. So, ask yourself, how interested in education are you and how committed are you in improving students’ speaking ability?

4. Are you patient?

Due to language barriers, bureaucracy, cultural differences, etc., patience is a must. Not only in the classroom but outside, everything is new and exciting—but you still need to get yourself and your classes organized. It takes patience. Students are also not always going to understand or listen to every word you say. This will take patience too. Students won’t be able to pronounce the “th” sound, even after ten times of repeating it to them… again, patience is needed! In all aspects of teaching overseas, you will need to exercise a degree of patience, otherwise you may burn out half-way into your teaching year. It’s a fun job, so be patient and have fun! If you are naturally highly strung, teaching abroad may teach you a bit of patience.

5. Do you want to save money?

Because your rent is often paid for (depending on the contract), and due to a lower cost of living in many countries, it isn’t hard to save a chunk of your income in higher-paying countries like Japan, Korea or Saudi. That could possibly lead to savings of $10,000 or more per contract if you live simply—of course depending on lifestyle. It also doesn’t hurt to take on a few private students of your own. The money isn’t terrible and the potential savings are decent.

6. Do you have a degree?

It all depends on the country or school, but, although not always necessary, many schools these days do require a university degree to teach.  The reason for this is that in order to process a working visa for you, the school must submit your degree to Immigration. Because there have been many issues with fake degrees, some countries do require you to certify your degree at an embassy before applying. These are all newer regulations that did not exist years ago. Having said that, it is really not a deal breaker. If you wish to teach short-term, say for half a year, it may not be necessary because many countries let you visit for up to six months. In this case, many schools will hire you, but when your time is up, you may need to return home or extend your visitor visa. So, although a degree makes things easier for you in terms of work permits, there are still plenty of jobs out there that do not require a degree.

7. Do you like travel?

Teaching English abroad can be a great way to travel the world and earn money doing so. For me, this is one of the biggest perks of the job—freedom to move around. Oftentimes TEFL contracts are based in Asia, where demand is strong and travel opportunities are endless since many of the destinations in Asia are close to each other and relatively inexpensive. On the other hand, if you like the comforts of your own home and are prone to getting homesick, then it may be a little harder to adapt. Not everyone enjoys the adventure of being in the middle of a country they know nothing about, but some people love it—and depending on the contract you sign up for, there is usually ample holiday time to satisfy your travel thirst while teaching.

Conclusion

If you’ve answered YES to most of the questions above, then you’d be a great candidate for teaching abroad. It could be worth your while. 

Written by Armando Pannacci for Teflnet May 2019
Arm is an ESL teacher with over ten years of experience teaching English in Thailand, Korea and Canada. He has a bachelor's of social work degree and received his certificate in TESOL from TESOL Canada.

4 Comments

  • Mahamud Ayuub Issack says:

    thnk you for your

  • Armando Pannacci says:

    Hi Jenny,

    It really depends on both your contract and lifestyle. If you keep your costs down, then I think it is very possible. However, if you really want to save money, I would head over to Korea or Japan.

  • Maria says:

    Thanks for these great tips. It’s a big help in deciding “should I go or should I stay” 😀

  • Jenny Roberts 🇬🇧 says:

    Could I save money teaching in Vietnam 🇻🇳? Regular language school, not university.

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Teflnet : TEFL Articles : Career : Is Teaching English Abroad for Me?