Folks often ask me about the prospects of teaching English abroad. After conversing with them for a few minutes it's usually apparently that they are concerned about two things: their career and the stigma of teaching abroad. Often, teaching ESL abroad is seen as an "escape" from reality, a break from your career, or worse, something only directionless folks do. In this article I'd like to outline some of the things teaching English abroad can and cannot do for you.
Your career. In North America and the United Kingdom, there is a greater emphasis placed on building your career over several decades. You get an education, you find a job, start small and then work your way up the ladder. However, that method of career development worked best in times when you could be sure that the company hiring you would hold on to you for a long time as a regular employee. However, as companies look to save costs, they are hiring more contractors (meaning no benefits) or are cutting back their work forces before you can make any noticeable progress within their organization. So what can teaching English do that working in another career can't?
Teaching English, however, can be a career unto itself. In many countries ESL teachers are now expected to have a university degree AND a TEFL certificate thus making them more dynamic and versatile as employees. Unlike a career-type job, however, teaching ESL is usually done on a contractual basis, meaning you sign on for a certain perdiod of time, complete with benefits, but there is no guarantee your employer will renew your contract. The main benefit of this contractual method is that you can visit and live in many places around the world, thus not only adding to your resume, but to your travel experience and personal development.
Teaching English can help pay for your travels abroad. If you decide to just take off, finding a job as an English teacher can be one of the most lucrative jobs you'll find. That being the case, unless you actually like teaching, it, too, will become “just a job” that you do for money, much like all those “just a job” jobs back home. You might have some idea in regard to whether or not you're cut out for teaching, and it pays to listen to your intuition. However, you shouldn't completely dismiss the idea either. It might make a good fit for a certain time of your life before you find something else.
What Teaching English abroad CANNOT do for you, however, is replace or even take away responsibility, the concern for money, or the need for some sort of direction or goal. Teaching English is often associated with those who “need a break” from “real life." But you should understand that teaching english, for many people, isn't a break, it's great learning experience, something that only you have the choice to continue or stop at any given time. Do those who go teach English have less responsiblity than those who stay in their hometowns and don't leave? Consider the univeristy students or college kids who leave their rurual homesteds and live in dorms in their early 20s. There becomes a greater responsibility to keep in touch with folks back home and often weeds out the weak relationships and makes stronger the ones that matter most.
Concern for money. Yes, teaching English can be a lucrative thing to do, but you still have to love your job or else you'll feel like a slave to "the man". One of the main benefits of teaching English abroad is that you're not just working abroad, you're having an adventure of a lifetime! The first six months of your first teaching contract will fly by and you'll have a blast. By month seven, you'll know whether or not you'll stay in that country. At the end of your contract, you'll know if teaching English is for you. There's nothing saying you can't keep teaching English abroad, but it doesn't mean you have to do it in the same place. Many places in Asia, such as South Korea, pay very well and have attractive benefits packages. Other places, such as Eastern Europe, don't have the same pay or benefits but offer a glimpse of countries in transition.
Aside from money, teaching ESL is a privilige. You'll probably learn more about yourself and the world than the kids will learn English from you. But what you offer is hope and a glimpse of the outside world. That's why those kids are learning English anyway. They want to travel just like you. They have hopes and dreams and by learning English those hopes and dreams become that much more attainable.
Direction. Just because you go abroad and teach English doesn't change the fact that you need to come up with some sort of direction in your life, whatever it may be. You would still need to come up with a direction if you stayed at home, but the mundane details are taken care of: where to get food, hot water, coffee, what are you eating, who will you hang out with, etc. But when you're teaching ESL abroad, your life consists of trying to figure that stuff out and you very quickly to formulate an idea of what you need and don't need in life.
In conclusion, teaching English is not a fix for you life, it's one of many opportunities for you to live a full and exciting life. There is a certain thrill to finding work in a foreign country, but it can't replace personal responsibility for your actions and their consequences. Lastly, it is very important to make enough money to support oneself and family and teaching ESL is no different, earning money just happens in a different location.