How to Teach English Overseas and Travel the World
Everyone knows somebody that has taught English in a foreign country. Teaching English overseas is a fantastic way to see the world, gain valuable work experience and immerse yourself in new cultures.
It’s one thing to visit a foreign country, snap a few photos of its landmarks, drink its local beer, sample its cuisine and head back to airport. It’s a completely different experience to actually live abroad, riding local transit to work every day and having daily routines.
So how does one go about teaching English overseas? To answer this question, we turn to fellow travel blogger Nomadic Samuel to learn about his experiences teaching English abroad.
Teaching English Overseas – 5 Questions with Nomadic Samuel
Before we get started, please introduce yourself and tell us about your recent travels
My name is Samuel Jeffery. I’m from Canada but I’ve been living overseas now for six consecutive years. I have a travel blog that documents all of my adventures and misfortunes. I’ve recently completed a two year backpacking trip across South America and Asia. I’m now based in Asia, once again, working on several different projects.
Oh, I almost forgot – I’m a HUGE Chicago Blackhawks fan!
**Cam here – we’ll try not to hold that against Samuel, but no promises!**
Q1 – You have taught English as a way to help fund your travels around the world. What do you like most about teaching English overseas?
I love being able to stay in one particular place and really get to experience what it is like to be a part of the local community. I often forge friendships and relationships with locals which affords the opportunity to have highly personal encounters. For example, when I visit one of my favourite restaurants, I can interact with the server by name and they’ll often remember some of my favourite dishes.
When I’m backpacking, I’m constantly stimulated by moving on from one place to the next, but I sometimes feel as though I’m not getting to experience a place fully before I move on.
I’ve come to discover that I really enjoy teaching and it allows me to save up quickly for my next adventure. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work and live abroad and I never take that for granted.
Q2 – Can you walk us through a “day in the life of an English teacher”. Share the good, the bad, and the ugly!
A typical day can vary wildly depending on where you are teaching and what level. I’ve had experience teaching kindergarten all the way up to mature adults.
A typical day teaching adults would involve having to wake-up very early in the morning to teach classes before that adult goes to work, with classes continuing until midday. The afternoon is free with several more hours of classes in the evening.
When I’ve taught children in a public school the hours are usually the standard nine to five schedule. I’ve found that working in a government position allows me to experience more reasonable working conditions with less teaching hours. I wrote an article about the pros and cons of teaching different ESL age levels.
I’ve been most happy in situations where the students are well behaved and eager to learn, which is a wonderful experience. On the other hand, when you have a challenging and unmotivated class it can be torturous.
Personally, I’ve found the majority of my students and classes to be excellent. When I’ve had problems it’s mostly been with administration and other co-teachers. During my first year in Korea, my contract was not honoured properly and I wasn’t assertive enough, at the time, to properly deal with it. Now I’m far more selective about where I work and when something regarding my contract or working conditions is not being met I deal with it immediately.
Q3 – If our readers are interested in teaching English overseas, where should they start? Are there education or work experience requirements?
If you’re interested in teaching overseas, I would suggest you start researching where you like to go. In certain countries one can teach without a degree, and in others it’s a requirement.
Application procedures and Visa processes are quite different depending on the country. Generally speaking, taking the time to do a bit of volunteer work related to teaching ESL and investing in a TESOL or TEFL certificate are going to make one more desirable to companies and institutes overseas. A TESOL/TEFL certificate, in many cases, actually qualifies one to earn a higher monthly salary, which is well worth the tuition.
The website most recognized with ESL teachers is called Dave’s ESL Cafe or simply ESL Cafe. It has numerous forums that cover everything from expat activities to finding jobs all over the world. I’ve personally used it to secure teaching positions overseas.
Another option is to go with a recruiting service, such as Footprints, that helps place teachers all over the world taking care of the small details. Using a recruiter is a good way to find your first job, but for those with experience it’s best to try and find jobs directly from an oline job board or by using personal connections.
For anybody seriously considering teaching English overseas, I would say – go for it! It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
Q4 – Do teaching assignments dictate where you will travel next, or do you look for teaching opportunities after you have arrived in a new country?
I’ve always taught in South Korea, where securing a Visa is bit of a cumbersome process. I’m not only limited to a certain school, I’m also not able to change jobs freely without obtaining a release letter, which is typically not granted.
Moreover, the entire Visa process is completed externally. Hypothetically, if I was unhappy with my current position I’d have to leave the country and return with a new Visa for another specific job. However, the perks of teaching in Korea include big ticket items that many other countries do not offer, such as free housing and return airfare.
For those looking at flexibility and a decent salary, Taiwan is another great option. Not only can you arrive without a working visa, you’re also able to change jobs. Although airfare and housing are not typically provided.
Q5 – Can you share some tips that might help a first time English teacher? What should a newbie look for when researching teaching assignments?
My number one suggestion for someone interested in teaching English overseas is to be very flexible and patient. It can be intimidating getting up and leading a class for the very first time and/or dealing with cultural differences in the classroom. But if you are confident and patient, you’ll become a natural in no time.
I would also highly recommend obtaining a TESOL or TEFL certificate. You will have an opportunity to plan lessons, learn about culture shock and go through a practicum with real classroom experience. It can make a world of difference if you arrive somewhere new with some experience under your belt.
I wrote an article entitled 4 tips before signing an ESL contract that offers the following 4 pieces of advice:
- Don’t believe everything your recruiter tells you
- Confirm your living conditions with photographs
- Don’t settle for anything less than what is stated in your contract
- Have a back-up plan
The more preparation and research you do before heading overseas, the less likely you’ll have a bad experience or a dud school. It can be exciting to be offered a position, but accepting your first offer is not to one’s advantage.
**That reminds us of our Number One Rule for Travel!
Working conditions such as overtime, salary, holidays and housing are the most important things to consider. As mentioned previously, I would suggest starting at ESL Cafe to find more regional/country specific information and to search the job boards and put out lots of inquiries. If you’re persistent enough, you’ll find an ideal position.
Big thanks to Samuel Jeffery for sharing his experiences teaching English in Korea!
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