Should I Teach Abroad Or Stay Home?13 min read
If you have ever asked the question ”should I teach abroad” you are not alone in your dilemma. Every year thousands and potentially tens of thousands of people around the world from new university graduates to retirees looking for adventure ask themselves this very question. The main issue? Whether or not it is reasonable, safe, or even worthwhile to teach English abroad. I’m going to take you through a few of the upsides and downsides to traveling abroad to teach English as well as examine a few of the different people who may be prime candidates for teaching abroad in order to help you make a more informed, and ultimately, less stressful decision.
What are some upsides to teaching abroad?
For many people, it may be hard to pinpoint exactly why they would want to move abroad to teach. There may be a large number of reasons but none that can be clearly formulated in a way that will justify such a massive transition as moving abroad. Others may feel that the constraints on the budget or lack of experience can hinder finding any truly meaningful work. Let’s’ take a look at a few of the major benefits to help you better the question of “should I teach abroad”.
The chance to experience a new culture is unparalleled
The idea of shrugging off your belongings and responsibilities and booking a one-way ticket to adventure is not something new. Since antiquity when the élite classes were known to travel for extended periods of time, the idea of forging a new path and discovering the unknown has been a driving force in the lives of a great number of people. In our modern-day, we are inundated with news stories and blogs of people who have done just that. Quit their jobs, sold their possessions and journeyed abroad. However, for many people, simply traveling from place to place in week or month-long bursts and following the trail of other travelers can become both tedious and disheartening. Many travelers have discovered that a great way to truly experience new countries while also preserving their budgets is to teach English.
The difference between spending a year or more in a country and getting to truly learn the culture and the people, and simply going from one tourist haven to another is astounding. Teaching English abroad allows you to stay in one place and easily move around during your free time (of which you will have plenty) to see the surrounding cities and countryside and, depending on where you are, the surrounding countries also. Aside from that, you will have a more rich understanding of the culture so that as you do travel around the country things will make more sense and therefore you can appreciate the finer details more than someone who stays for a few days or weeks before moving on to the next place.
One last aspect of this is that you will have plenty of opportunities to learn about the country you are in from the students who you will see almost every day. Each interaction will afford you the opportunity to see things from and will open opportunities that wouldn’t be available if you were simply staying at a hotel or at a youth hostel with other tourists all looking for the same experience.
You don’t need a lot of experience to get started
While it may be true that you will need a certain level of qualifications such as a bachelor’s degree (don’t discourage if you don’t have one there are teaching jobs abroad for those without a degree) and a TEFL certification in many cases there are few barriers after you obtain these things that will stand in between you and finding work in one of many countries abroad. This isn’t to say that you can qualify for every ESL teaching job. There are some countries where schools will require other things such as teaching certifications and prior experience. However, for the vast majority of people looking to teach abroad, you will easily be able to find an entry-level job that pays well enough to cover your costs (and even save a little money if you do it right).
Countries all over the world are looking for native English speakers to help raise the level of English proficiency across their student population. This means that if you are fresh out of university and are having trouble finding a job because of a lack of experience, or if you are looking to switch fields and are struggling to find something you will easily be able to find a job teaching English abroad. There are new markets opening up quite often as governments in developing nations seek to help their population become more competitive globally so no matter where you want to work you will most likely be able to find a job teaching.
However, if you do have the experience…
If you do have prior teaching experience and a teaching license then you are also in luck as there a number of countries such as Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates where experienced and licensed teachers are in high demand and the salary and benefits are greater than you may find even in your home country. Many teachers have traveled to these countries and have been able to save substantial amounts of money. For teachers with other skill sets such as business, aviation, engineering, etc. and who are native English speakers the demand is also high to help provide additional instruction to non-native English-speaking professionals in these countries in order to better help them communicate in their respective fields. If the idea of experiencing a new culture while having the opportunity to save large amounts of money over a short period of time is something you are looking for then teaching abroad may be the right decision.
What are some downsides to teaching abroad?
Just as there are plenty of upsides including many that I didn’t list above, there are going to be some downsides that are best to understand before you travel abroad to teach so that you aren’t caught off guard. Many of the downsides are counterparts to the upsides such as a new culture you may not relate to. However, by understanding what these downsides are you should be able to more easily alleviate any negative impacts they could have if you do decide to travel abroad to teach.
You may not like the culture
Experiencing a new culture is all well and good but being stuck in a place that you hate for a year is no fun for anyone. Not all cultures are created equal and to be quite frank some places just suck. But, this is going to be different for everyone. There are places that I have traveled to that I couldn’t wait to leave and others that I can’t wait to get back to. I am certainly glad that I didn’t go to any of those places I hated in order to teach. You never really know about a place until you are there and if you are signing up for a job before you have visited a country then you run this risk. So before you commit to a contract that you have to stick to (or potentially get blacklisted from working in that country again) it is wise to examine all of the different aspects of a country you are looking at. Go to expat forums and see what others have to say about a place. Don’t let anyone’s negativity prevent you from trying something new but at the same time don’t let unchecked optimism get you into a situation that is going to cause you misery for a period of time.
You may become homesick
Are you really ready to travel abroad and be gone for a year or more without seeing your friends and family? For many people, the answer to that question is no. Our modern technology is wondrous and you can easily stay in touch with friends and family no matter where you are on the planet, however, nothing can replace human contact and the more time you spend abroad the further apart you will grow from your friends and the less you will find having in common with the places you used to call home. This is generally more of a problem with people who spend longer times abroad. Before you commit to a year or more abroad you must ask yourself if you really are prepared to leave your life behind and forge new connections in an unknown place or is desire you are feeling to move abroad a passing fancy. The answer to this will be different for everyone but it can be a bad experience getting abroad and spending your entire contract counting down the days till you get back home.
You may find it hard to save money
I’ll be one hundred percent honest here. Most of the expat teachers I have met are unable to save money. Some of it is their own personal habits, sometimes it’s because of a poor salary, sometimes life and emergencies just happen that people aren’t prepared for. No matter, you may find that you are unable to save money and are scraping by while teaching abroad whether in a cheaper or expensive country. It really depends on your personal habits, however, many teachers travel abroad and can’t resist the temptation to always be going and always do something new. Which cost money. On the flip side of the above statement is that most teachers I’ve met are perfectly happy not having money to save. However, if your goal is to do things like pay down student loans or save money for the future you may have a hard time doing this teaching abroad if you do not approach it with the correct mindset (for some tips to help you save money teaching abroad you can read this).
Who is a good fit for teaching abroad?
Since we’ve listed some upsides and downsides to teaching abroad that can point you in the right direction in helping you to make your own decisions, let’s take a look at some of the types of people who generally find great success teaching abroad. Just because you don’t find yourself on this list doesn’t mean you shouldn’t teach abroad if it’s something you really want. This is simply a list that includes many of the types of people I have observed over the years who seem to fit in well teaching English abroad.
New university graduates
One of the most prominent demographics which you will find teaching English abroad is new university graduates. It is a very natural fit for many. You haven’t started your career yet and are looking for a bit of adventure after three or more years of hitting the books and being disciplined. Many new graduates choose to teach English abroad as a way to fund their travels and try something new before they begin working in their chosen field. Some of those that choose to teach abroad even end up staying and becoming long-term expats. The reason this works so well for new graduates is that they generally have few commitments beyond student loans. Most new graduates don’t have a house, a career, kids, or other things that can tie a person to a specific location. If you recently graduated from college or university and have been feeling the itch to travel and try something new, then teaching abroad could indeed be the perfect fit for you.
Retirees seem to be a natural fit for teaching abroad. Aside from not having the free time they also have the life experience that can be useful when teaching a classroom full of students. I have met a number of individuals who started out on a retirement visa in a country and then ended up on a work permit because they enjoyed teaching students as it gave them something rewarding to do. This isn’t to say that everyone who is retired will enjoy teaching. It is work and sometimes it can be a challenge. But, I have found that the people I have met who are teaching abroad as a retiree are generally quite happy with their decision. It should be noted that not all countries are going to allow people who fall into this demographic to work and teach. Japan, for example, has a mandatory retirement age of 60 which has now begun to change. There are a number of other countries with similar laws and restrictions so if you wish to teach as a retiree just make sure to look into the laws surrounding the hiring of foreigners and the issuing of work visas and permits so that you don’t find yourself in a bad position later on. Remember that you can’t always trust the schools to give you the right information so the burden is on you to make sure you are qualified in each country you are interested in teaching in.
Individuals between jobs
For many people, being in between jobs whether because you were laid off or because you are looking for something new can be a nightmare. The feeling of not working and worrying about when you will be hired again can be nerve-wracking. However, for the right type of person, this can be a golden opportunity to realize a dream of trying something new and traveling abroad. Many of the teachers that I have met while traveling and living abroad had professional lives in various fields before deciding they wanted to try something new. Some immediately knew they wanted to teach abroad and some stumbled onto it after they had been laid off or after they had quit their job. Regardless, many of them claim that it was the best decision they ever made. Though many of them weren’t making the same level of money they had been prior, almost all of them claimed that the reward was in the new experiences away from the humdrum of corporate and professional life. This is going to be different for everyone. But, if you are in between jobs for whatever reason it may be time for the change of scenery that teaching abroad can provide.
So, should I teach abroad?
This is a question that only you can answer for yourself. Hopefully, the above list of upsides and downsides can point you in the right direction if you have been on the fence about making the plunge. Each person is going to have different reasons for wanting to teach abroad and each person is going to have a different experience. I have met people who absolutely loved teaching abroad and others who couldn’t wait until the moment they could book a return flight home and be done with the experience. Figuring out which category you might fall into is going to involve looking at your own personality and what you enjoy and seeing if that aligns with traveling to a new place and constantly being around new people. Not everyone is going to enjoy the experience but for those who do the rewards can be great both personally and in some cases financially as well.
I want to help you find an awesome job in the ESL industry and then excel at it. I’m a TESOL certified teacher with over two years of experience working both online and offline. I have worked with students ranging from young learners to advanced level university speakers and have worked in recruiting and hiring, teacher training, and content creation. I’ve seen the good and bad of the ESL industry and I’m here to tell you about it.