International Education

Tips for Teaching Abroad

TravelThis week, I ran a workshop for college students thinking about teaching English abroad after they graduate. It’s been a wile since I was on the teaching abroad circuit, but for those interested in this life-changing opportunity, I hope this information will be helpful.

For those more up to date than I, is there anything I missed? (Keep in mind this workshop was directed toward newly minted college graduates with little to no work experience.)

Take Your Teaching Career Abroad! 

Congratulations on your decision to consider teaching abroad. My name is Chris Bacon. After college, I did the Peace Corps in Morocco, taught ESL in South Korea, and tutored my way through South America and the Middle East. 

The information below is based solely on my own experiences – so definitely do more research for yourself. But since the possibilities can seem endless, hopefully this information will help you narrow down the field. 


How long should I go? 

Programs vary, but worthwhile programs often want a commitment of at least a year. (This is a good sign – you may not want a “revolving door” program that’s ok with people coming in/out as they see fit.)

Be warned though, many people tend to love this lifestyle and extend for multiple years in multiple countries!

Will this look like a “gap” in my resume?

Absolutely not. No matter what field you enter, employers will be interested in talking to you about this experience. It’s a powerful way to differentiate your resume from everyone else that also has a college degree, a high GPA, and countless extracurriculars. I did the Peace Corps almost a decade ago and it’s still comes up at almost every job interview. 

Will I be safe?

Yes. Do your research on regions/programs and, of course, be smart, but most places you’d work and live are just as safe as living in the U.S.

Do I need any sort of certification (e.g. a TESOL certificate)?

Rarely. If you have no teaching experience whatsoever and have never worked with young people in any capacity, it may help. Check job postings, but certifications are rarely an absolute requirement, so save yourself the time and money.

Finances are tight right now – is there anywhere where I can actually make/save money?

South Korea is generally seen as the champ in this regard – high demand, high salaries, and low cost of living. Japan and Taiwan have comparable salaries, but they’re both rather expensive countries to live in. China and Vietnam tend to have lower salaries, but with a lower cost of living, things tend to even out.

Compensation in the Europe and the Middle East can be quite good, but schools in these regions tend to require more teaching experience. It’s also difficult for U.S. citizens tough to land a job in the E.U., as European countries can get plenty of English speakers from the U.K. without sponsoring a work visa.

Can’t I just do this later in life? I’ve got a lot going on right now and might do this in a couple of years. 

Maybe, but you probably won’t. It only gets more and more difficult as you get more “strings” attached in your personal and professional life.

I’ve meet hoards of people who’ve said, “Oh, I really wanted to go abroadt after college, but then XYZ came up…” However, I have not met a single person who has said, “Wow, I really regret spending that year or two abroad after college.” Even those who disliked their program or had a difficult experience are still glad they got out of their comfort zone and tried it out. It’s rare to get this high of an endorsement for anything in life, so why not give it a try for yourself?

So many choices! How do I choose?

This will actually be the biggest barrier – there are so many options out there that one Google search can send you into choice paralysis.

You need something to narrow it down. It may be a country/region of interest, a length of time, a type of program you want to do – honestly, anything to slim down the choices. If you really don’t have a strong preference and just want someone to tell you where to go (this was where I was at) – do one of the “big programs” (e.g. Peace Corps) that will place you somewhere based on your strengths/experiences and where there’s the most need.

Types of Programs

Below are a few general types of programs to consider, and some possible advantages/disadvantages to each.

1. The “Big” Volunteer Programs (e.g. Peace Corps, JET Program, Fulbright)
Advantages Drawbacks
– Well Established programs with “name recognition” on the future job market

– Usually given some training in language, teaching, etc.

– Needs taken care of (e.g. housing, health insurance)

– Social Support – surrounded by peers in same program

– Tend to at least “break even” financially

– Less choice in where you go or when to start (though this could be an advantage if you have no idea)

– Extensive application processes

– Organizations can be a bit paternalistic (e.g. needing permission to leave your site, etc.)

2. “Small” Volunteer Programs: E.g. Individual NGO’s, religious organizations, etc.
Advantages Drawbacks
– More independence

– More say in where/when you go

– Can partner with an organization you believe in

– Require research to avoid more unstable programs (search blogs and talk to current teachers in these programs)

– Often require your own funding or fundraising

3. Applying Directly to Schools: Mostly East Asia, Middle East
Advantages Drawbacks
– More independence

– More say in where/when you go

– Generally higher salaries, depending on region.

– Can usually have a much better idea of your work hours, vacation time, work conditions, etc. before you sign on.

– Require research to avoid more unstable programs (search blogs and talk to current teachers in these programs)

– Often less of a social network than full-on programs (though you’ll meet plenty of folks once you’re there!)

4. Individual Tutoring: “Hanging your shingle” and working “under the table.”
Advantages Drawbacks
– Maximum independence/flexibility

– More say in where you go, how long you stay, and the hours you work

– Depending on region, you can be well compensated (see more info below)

– All “under the table” work. May actually be less-than-legal in many places.

– No one to sponsor your work visa (check how long you’re allowed to stay in the country)

– Can take a long time to get set up/established.

– Much less of a social network upon arrival.

And there you have it. Old Pro’s – anything I missed? Those on the hunt – any more questions?

Feel free to comment below of visit the blog’s Facebook page.

Follow on Twitter @chriskbacon

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