In my recent post on how to get a teaching job overseas, I focused a lot on English teaching jobs. This is because the most readily available overseas teaching work are in ESL. (Especially for American applicants who would need to take the Praxis to teach in their home country.)
I myself taught English abroad for several years, and I consider it to be one of the best decisions I ever made; it was truly an enriching and life-changing experience for me. Still, it’s a big decision, and not one that should be made lightly. Before you decide to go abroad, there are several things you should consider.
1. Which part of the world do you want to go to?
The right answer to this question is very personal. Some ESL teacher hopefuls are interested in teaching in Northeast Asia. Other teachers may prefer Southeast Asia or Latin America, or they may be intrigued by the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and so on. Certain individual countries have strong followings as well. There are vibrant expatriate teacher communities in locales as diverse as the Hong Kong, UAE, Colombia, and Somaliland. As you consider teaching English abroad, research the countries you think you might like and decide which destinations are most likely to provide you with the experience you want.
2. Which countries can you get a good job in?
I taught in South Korea for four years. That my personal first choice of country to teach in. But once I got there, I met some teachers who originally would have preferred Japan or China, but ultimately chose South Korea instead. This is because economic reality at least partly dictates where you will you work if you decide to teach English abroad. For many teachers, Chinese salaries are simply too low. And Japan can be prohibitively competitive, with a much harder job market to break into. Research pay and job availability in different countries as you consider teaching English abroad.
3. How long of a commitment do you want to make?
Teaching contracts come in many different lengths. The most common contracts for teaching English abroad require a one year commitment. However, shorter terms are available. Summer camps in non-English speaking countries often recruit teachers from the US for seasonal positions. There are also companies that offer shorter English teaching contracts year-round (such as Japan’s Westgate Corporation), although this is a less common practice.
Considerably longer teaching contracts are available too. Contracts that are two or three years in length are not uncommon at international schools and are also offered by some overseas universities. In general longer contracts pay better and offer more job security. But shorter contracts can be a fun low-commitment way to see if teaching abroad is right for you.
4. What will your legal risks and obligations be?
Many overseas English education providers are reputable and ethical, extending contracts that are well-enforced and provide for good working conditions. But like in any other industry, there are also plenty of employers who are shady and try to cheat their workers. When that happens, some overseas countries offer workers good protection, while other countries have laws that favor schools over teachers or simply don’t provide substantial legal provisions for worker-management disputes.
Before moving to any new country to teach, study the labor practices and laws for immigrant workers very carefully. Some countries allow foreign ESL teachers to freely change jobs, while others give schools strict control over its foreign teacher’s visa and labor rights. It’s very important to know exactly where you’ll stand legally once you arrive on your teaching visa.
5. How will you handle culture shock?
“Culture shock” is the psychological term for the feelings of frustration, negative emotions or intense discomfort that people undergo when they relocate to a new place with a culture that is different form their own. Although you may not need to worry about culture shock if you’re teaching just for several weeks or a few months, psychological research indicates that culture shock is an inevitable part of long-term stays in an overseas country.
So if you do decide to teach overseas, research culture shock beforehand. Understand the stages of this stressful psychological phase. And be prepared to weather these emotional difficulties, understanding that feelings of homesickness, loneliness and cultural alienation are normal and ultimately end with acceptance and adjustment. While there’s no shame in going home if culture shock becomes too painful, you’re likely to be able to get through your culture shock if you are expecting it and understand how it works.
From there, you can become much more comfortable in our new ESL destination. Some Americans to go abroad to teach English even wind up staying for years… or for the whole of their interesting career!