You might have read a few articles recently from me that addressed getting away and working and living abroad. I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about teaching abroad in a foreign country a bit more in depth. This is what first got me started traveling the world, and I am thankful for the experience I have had. Teaching abroad is a wonderful and rewarding opportunity to get away from home and to participate in a position that makes a difference in people’s lives while giving you the option to live a better life. Teaching overseas is a remarkable opportunity for virtually any native English speaker out there. So if you think you can handle a room full of chatty students and actually teach them something, while keeping an open about living in a foreign country and experiencing new things, then teaching abroad might be for you. I gathered some pertinent starting information for those of you serious in making this happen.
Are you the right person?
There are certainly some questions to be answered before you hop on that plane and plan to teach.
First, why are you going? It can’t just be because you don’t know what else to do with your life right now. You have to be wanting and willing to learn about another culture, completely immerse yourself, have the ability and desire to speak and teach others and have patients doing so.
Are you open minded? Things will certainly be different in your new country. Let’s not think it won’t be at least slightly shocking once you get there. Be open about everything and take things as they come. Not everything will always go 100% according to plan and that’s OK. Just work it out.
Make sure you have all of your bases covered back home. Get your bills paid off, sell off what you need, and don’t bring over a worry or responsibility. It will only stress you out and inhibit you from being yourself and giving this your all.
How do you start?
So how do you get the ball rolling on nailing a teaching position? Most places require or at least strongly prefer teachers to have the following:
- Native English speaker
- Bachelors degree in any subject.
- TESOL certification
Some other requirements that might need to be met:
- Some institutions require a background check.
- Under the age of 60.
- Experience in the classroom
Just to quickly expand on the TESOL requirement, this is a certification that you will likely want to obtain. It certifies you to teach English as a second language. Look for a reputable website and receive this certification online or go through a certification abroad program and receive your certificate in another country.
As for the requirements- It all depends on the country, and then the actual institution that you end up working for. It’s also important to keep in mind that you will likely need your original documents. Order another official copy of your degree from your university to bring along with you. It will get tattered and torn, but it’s often necessary to have with you for work permit reasons.
Brief run down on salary and cost of living
Here are the three most popular destinations for ESL teachers in Southeast Asia. Keep in mind when you are reading that the amounts paid per month might seem minimal, but the cost of living in these countries is too. The amount paid is usually enough to live on and even save a bit. It all depends on your lifestyle as well. You might have a hard time saving if you are the type that wants a lavish dinner every night along with a few drinks. So depending on how you live, you can put a decent amount of money away for your future travels if you budget carefully. All the amounts listed below are in USD.
In the “Land of Smiles” is where I started my ESL teaching experience. You can get jobs anywhere from $500 to around $1500 per month. The average I would say is around $1000 per month.
Just to give you an idea:
Milk – $1.50
Bread – $1.30
Dozen eggs – $1.45
In city public transport – $.60
Apartment in the city / outside the city – $400+/ $250+ per month
Draught beer – $1.50
Coke – $.50
Local meal – $1-2
Mid-range restaurant – $5-8
Random notes on Thailand:
- The people are Buddhist and respect for their temples and other religious objects should be observed at all times.
- No loosing your cool. They are pretty chill people so take a step back and figure things out with a cool head.
- Thai food can get spicy! They often will tone it down when they see a foreigner, but sometimes they want you to have it just the way they like it. Learning “mai pet” (not spicy) would probably be a good thing if a kick in the mouth isn’t your thing.
- You will have the opportunity to wander about ancient temple ruins in numerous cities, walk on the some of the nicest beaches in the country in Krabi and Trang provinces, camp and hike in any of their stunning national parks, rage all night at a Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan, dive in Koh Tao, trek in the mountains and meet hill tribe people in the Northern regions, experience Bangkok city life, and much more.
ESL teachers average between $1000- $2000. There are thousands of islands to choose from. Pretty much anywhere would be considered a paradise!
Just to give you an idea:
Milk – $1.30
Bread – $1
Dozen eggs – $1.45
In city public transport – $.50
Apartment in the city / outside the city – $400+/ $200+ per month
Draught beer – $2
Coke – $.70
Local meal – $2-3
Mid-range restaurant – $5-8
Random notes on Indonesia:
- Eat and pass your food with your right hand only.
- Speaking of hands, it’s not uncommon for people to eat with their hands here.
- Check out their world-class beaches and surf before you leave, go to Sumatra to see the indigenous Orangutans, climb volcanoes, trek through their lush jungles, visit untouched Borneo, and eat some fresh caught fish while on the beach.
Growing in popularity, many ESL teachers are coming to Vietnam for work. Here you can expect an average of $1200- $2000+ per month.
Just to give you an idea:
Milk – $1.40
Bread – $1.10
Dozen eggs – $1.40
In city public transport – $.30
Apartment in the city / outside the city – $460+/ $270+ per month
Draught beer – $1
Coke – $.50
Local meal – $2.50
Mid-range restaurant – $6-8
Random notes on Vietnam:
- While eating soup, hold your spoon in your left hand.
- Yellow flowers and anything colored black are not to be given as a gift.
- Let the oldest person sit first at the table. Wait to be shown your seat.
- The famous Pho soup is a must try, wander the beautiful beaches of Hoi An, float across the water while admiring Halong Bay, get in deep with the rich history and make sure to see a sunrise before leaving.
Keep in mind there is a possibility other benefits are offered. Check each job to see if they include paid holidays, a plane ticket, reimbursement for work permit costs….etc. Each school is also different. There are opportunities at public schools, private school, universities, language schools, international schools, private tutoring, and business tutoring. If you have other skills, that could be beneficial, such as a degree in math or sciences, that’s great. Some schools want other subjects taught in English as well. There are plenty of opportunities and each school and country is different.
What’s teaching like?
So you might want to know what a teachers life is like in another country. Well, the main difference that you might notice is that your job will likely be a lot less crazy and stressful then your current job. It’s not to say teaching English is an easy job, it gets challenging at times, but there aren’t demanding and strict guidelines or expectations. English learning should be fun and games are very much a part of what you will be doing. Make your classes light and not too serious or you will lose your students interest.
Most likely you will be focusing on conversational English. You can’t throw a worksheet at the students and call it day. Make sure you get them talking. Speaking of talking, don’t talk to them like you do with your friends. Speak nice and clear. Speak slowly and don’t use crazy vocabulary.
Your classes could consist of 40, 50, and possibly 60 students. You could have completely free reign over what to teach, which sounds great but can also be challenging when you are given no guidance or a starting point. Some schools will provide workbooks, or some kind of program and some won’t. Some classes you will only see once a week, some more. Again, it all depends on the school. The bottom line is to be prepared for anything.
A popular teacher schedule will usually consist of 20-25 teaching hours per week. This isn’t to say those are the only hours you work. Some school make you come in and stay for the day regardless of how many classes you have. Some schools might have a bit of an odd schedule like giving you a three hour gap in between classes. It’s important to remember to use your time wisely. So try getting some idea downs and lessons planned during those down hours to take advantage of your time at and out of school.
This is again only an idea of what teaching could be like. Hours differ depending on the schools, requirements may not be the same, and classes could be smaller or larger. It’s a good idea to always ask questions all the time. Before you start the job and while you are working the job. Sometimes things can be a bit too laid-back in these countries and you may have an unexpected surprise here and there.
Day-to-day teacher life
After making your lessons plans for the week and getting your schedule down, just live like a normal local. Go to the markets and try new food, visit their shopping malls and wander the streets. Get to know your surroundings and get acquainted to your new town. Try to look out for familiar faces around town so you can start making friends. Go to the local cafes and restaurants, you will be guaranteed to run into another teacher in town.
Once you make some friends, get to know them, take in their advice and start taking this useful information and putting it in to action. Get the lowdown on the nearby activities you can do on the weekends to get away, find out where the best local produce can be bought, the cheapest fried rice in town, or any other awesome tips they might be willing to divulge to you.
Your every day will be pretty low key as your responsibilities are minimal. It’s popular to have holidays off; they have holidays often and you can probably expect at least one long weekend every month. Go off and travel a bit, that’s a big part of the reason why you’re there anyway.
Checklist for teaching abroad:
Here are just a few things to make sure you have checked off before leaving your life behind and going to a far away land to start teaching!
- Documents- It couldn’t hurt to bring your transcripts just in case, bring your original certification and degree. Make copies of your passport, ID, and all documents to give at interviews. You originals will be needed for visa purposes, however a school could request to see it as well.
- Don’t bring everything with you. You might be moving for a decent period of time but there is no reason to bring most of your closet, 12 pairs of high heels, your jewelry collection, and 10 pictures frames of you and your friends and family. Tone it down, be minimal. If there is something you really want, you will likely be able to find it there. Don’t regret bringing too much because it could be expensive to send it home when you realize you don’t need it.
- Bring some teacher appropriate clothes to start you off. Again, nothing too crazy or too much. Just a few outfits that can be mixed and matched. Make sure it’s comfortable and appropriate for the weather in that country. Ladies should stick to knee-length or long skirts and dresses, nothing showing too much skin. Nice blouses that cover the shoulder and aren’t too low. Men should wear nice button down shirts and slacks with a belt. A tie or two would be smart to bring as well.
- Open mind for everything. Things will be confusing, weird, new, and challenging at first but also fun, exciting, and adventurous. Just be sure to chill and take a breath first. Everything will work out just fine.
- You might have came here to teach, but you also came to travel! If you go to the country, live in the country, and work in the country, you better make time to travel it too. Don’t come all this way and only see the one city you lived in. Make sure you leave time for exploring the country and possibly it’s neighbors.
Now that you have read a bit about what teaching is like, what your responsibilities might be, what you might earn and what it would cost to live abroad, do you think this is for you? Can you be an English teacher abroad? Are you open minded enough to do this? Do you need a job that is rewarding and allows you the opportunity to travel? Think about everything and let it marinate. Don’t make any rash decision, there is plenty of time. These opportunities aren’t going anywhere. Good luck!
Great websites for finding ESL jobs around the world:
Thailand job board: Ajarn.com
ESL Cafe’s International Job Board: www.eslcafe.com/joblist
Mark’s ESL World: www.marksesl.com
ESL Job Feed: www.esljobfeed.com
ESL Connections: www.eslconnections.com
TESall.com’s Worldwide Job Board: www.tesall.com
TEFL.net’s ESL Job Offers: www.tefl.net
ESL Job Find: www.esljobfind.com
ESL Employment: www.eslemployment.com
Photo by Official U.S. Navy Imagery