If you are in the beginning stages of teaching English abroad and just getting started then chances are you may be confused. You might not know where to begin or maybe you have heard some horror stories.
Chances are you have a lot of questions. I spent 6 years teaching in Asia and while there I had the chance to interview many teachers about their experience teaching English in Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan. One of the questions that I asked them was if they had any advice. So I thought I would share that advice here and also offer some of my own.
First here's the video where I interviewed those teachers. After that I paraphrased much of what they said and added some of my own.
26 ESL Teachers Offer Their Advice On Teaching Abroad
1. Don't look for a job first
Consider visiting the country first as a tourist before you sign a contract and commit to a year. Then you will get to check it out in person. This allows you to start off as an explorer versus someone who just committed a year of their life to a school and a place that they are unfamiliar with.
2. Research the country
Make sure that you learn about their culture. Knowing before hand can help you avoid some problems later on. Maybe they don't drink because of religious reasons and maybe you like to drink or vice versa. Maybe they like spicy food and you don't. Maybe you won't like their language.
A lot of cultural problems and bad experiences can be avoided by doing some research before hand on the country, its customs and culture.
3. Research some cities
You might not like one city. Maybe it is too big or just rather hum drum. There is probably a better option out there for you. Check it out and explore your options.
4. Research the school
Your job is extremely important and if you don't like it then you will be unhappy. Some teachers have bad experiences teaching abroad and this is often because of the school.
The thing is that most of these problems and horror stories can be avoided by asking the right questions. Make sure that you talk to several of the teachers working in the school that you are applying to. Get their emails or phone numbers. If you don't then you are taking a risk.
5. Learn some of their language
Not knowing the language can make for some difficult times. Learning their language can make your time abroad more enriching. You can get by without learning any, but you are going to feel a little isolated. Learning the language is going make you feel more connected. Life will be better. It's worth it.
6. Be resilient
Life is challenging and living abroad can also be challenging. You'll be in an unfamiliar environment, with unfamiliar people, speaking an unfamiliar language and acting in unfamiliar ways. Know that there will be ups and downs, but don't let anything take you too low. Stay strong and be positive.
7. Have an open mind
Things are different abroad so you have to be prepared. You are going to encounter many new things. You can't have too fixed of a mindset. Be adaptable as well as flexible.
8. Don't focus exclusively on the benefits
In some places teachers can make pretty good money, get free housing and other benefits. Just don't make this your exclusive focus. Teaching abroad isn't a vacation abroad. There is the opportunity for fun and travel, but keep in mind that it is work too.
9. Be a good role model
When you get abroad you'll learn that some of the locals don't necessarily have all positive thoughts about foreign ESL teachers. Many people will be curious about you and you may receive some special treatment, but just remember people will be watching so it's wise to set a good example.
10. Make friends
In this day and age you can use the internet to meet other foreign teachers in the city where you'll be going before you get there. Living abroad can be isolating at times, so it's a good idea to make friends with both foreign teachers like yourself and the natives.
11. Pick the right school
There are a lot of different kinds of schools such as international, public, private and more. They all have different systems, students, working hours, requirements, etc. so take some time to decide which might be best for you.
Don't assume though that all schools of a certain kind are good or bad. You have to judge them one by one. See #4.
12. Make a list
Make a list of what you want and don't want. What do you want to experience? What kind of job do you want? Make a list of the things that you want to experience while you are abroad. If you are clear about your goals you are more likely to reach them.
13. Be prepared for your lessons
What do you know about teaching English? Sometimes things don't go as planned, so you have to be able to respond to that. You'll need different activities or a back up lesson plan just in case things don't go as planned. Count on that as it will happen.
I would take some time to learn about teaching and do some training. It will pay off in the long run as you will have a better year if you and your students are enjoying their classes.
14. Be humble
Things are different abroad and you may wonder why people do things the way they do. Don't think that they should necessarily do it your way. Don't think that your way is better just think that it is different. Remember that you are a guest in their country.
Be able to accept cultural differences. It's a chance for you to learn about their country and for them to learn about yours.
15. Take off the rose colored glasses
In the video a teacher says "Don't believe everything your recruiter says". Some people have fine experiences with recruiters and some do not. The same can be said of schools and the general experiences of teaching abroad. Recruiters are in fact selling you a job. If they can't sell you a job then they won't get paid whether it's by you or the school.
Keep in mind that things are not always as told and the only way to find out is to do your research.
16. Get out and explore
Since this is a once and a lifetime experience I would recommend that you get out and experience the rest of the country and environment that you are in.
17. Enjoy it
Most people only teach abroad for a year or so. So considering it is a once and a life time experience - make the most of it.
So what are the two that I really need?
It's all good advice, but if you are looking for a safety net then it is this:
- Have an open mind
- Do your research
Those are two things that I believe you need to have a good year abroad.
The first one is a state of being. It's maybe something you have or don't have to start with. Maybe you can change that or maybe you can't as it's ingrained in you.
The second is something you must do. It starts with the macro level and you can narrow it down to the micro level. There are specifics on how to do that above.