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Post-Graduate Travel

How to travel smartly, safely, ethically, and independently after college.

Teaching English Abroad: Pros, Cons, & How-to's

Teaching English can be a great opportunity for those who want to experience living abroad for an extended period of time. Living and working in another country offers the chance to build relationships with colleagues, neighbors, and new friends through everyday cultural immersion. It also means that real responsibilities and commitments to your students and fellow teachers will supersede the more leisurely aspects of travel. Teaching is a job with ethical and professional standards — it does not mean getting paid to go on an extended vacation. If this sounds appealing, the following resources detail the hows, pros, and cons of teaching English abroad. 

How to Teach English Abroad: A Step-by-Step Guide: This is a site for English Teacher Certification courses, but their step-by-step guide is serves as a starting point for those who are contemplating teaching abroad. Sections 1 and 2 give a good summary of the qualifications and requirements for being an English teacher and the regions where teachers are most in demand.

Pros and Cons of Teaching English Overseas: What is a typical workday for an English teacher in abroad? Daniel Baker writes about the different types of teaching (freelance, ESL centers, and publics schools) and how they determine a teacher's time and budget. Baker weaves his own experience of the ups and downs of teaching English at a Vietnamese school into a general discussion of the pros and cons of teaching abroad. 

Worse than Broken Chalk: My Biggest Challenges of Teaching English Abroad: Mary Ellen Dingley describes the main obstacles she and her fellow English teachers face while working abroad, as well as the appropriate and not-so-appropriate ways to handle the demanding aspects of the job.  

In the following video, English teachers share words of advice for those considering teaching abroad.

Getting Certified

Some English teaching programs and jobs ask for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, or TEFL, certification. Other variants include Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), English Language Teaching (ELT), and teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). These certifications are not always required, but they do make candidates more competitive, especially for jobs in private schools and language institutes. 

Anyone considering TEFL certification should make sure that they select an accredited course. Well known TEFL / TESOL accrediting bodies include: Training Qualifications UK, the Asian College of Teachers, and the Accrediting Council for Continuing Educaion & Training. One popular option among long-term travelers is to obtain TEFL certification abroad, in the country where they plan to teach and live. If this is appealing, this guide lists the top courses offered in different countries. Others prefer to get certified online. Browse this page for information on accredited online TEFL courses, including their websites, reviews, and prices. For more guidance, check out the 7 Key Tips to Choosing the Best TEFL School.

The Neocolonial Dilemma

While it may feel motivating and rewarding to imagine living in another country and building relationships with one's students, teaching English abroad has not always been about fostering communication and intercultural exchange. For a long time, some say even today, Anglo-American countries have relied on linguistic dominance as a method of neocolonialism, i.e., one country's use of economic, political, cultural, or other pressures to control or influence another country. Below are some sources for prospective English teachers who are concerned about reinforcing outdated and unjust power structures.  

Native Speakers in Linguistic Imperialism: Robert Phillipson is one of the most prominent scholars to call out global English teaching as integral to corporate-led globalization. He believes it is ethnocentric to claim that English is the sole language of science, economy, and politics and explains that many studies contradict that knowledge of English is key to economic development. Many countries run successful economies in their own languages. Also, in many regions English is not a lingua franca, but only used for tourism and by elites. Phillipson argues that English teachers should be multilingual, multicultural, and have a teaching background.

Teaching English Abroad: A Guide for First Year Teachers - Neocolonialism: There is no one-size-fits-all approach to ethically teaching abroad, but prospective teachers can start by learning about the unique context of the country where they plan on working: what is its history with the English language, if and how it was affected by colonialism, and whether or not English is valued above its indigenous languages. Also to consider is whether or not they have enough teaching experience to justify competing with local teachers who have achieved English fluency and have a pedagogical background.

How to Teach English Abroad and Not be a Neocolonialist: Alyssa James recommends that English teachers show respect for their students by learning their native language and the rules and customs for teaching in their country. She promotes using Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy, such as making lessons relevant to students' lived experience, to undermine neocolonial structures. 

Linguistic Imperialism and Volunteer English Teaching: A Neocolonial Practice: In the past, entities like the Peace Corps sponsored English teaching abroad for colonial purposes. Sarah Hamburg's brief history of imperialistic foreign policy and its socioeconomic effects explores the tensions inherent in volunteering abroad and the English teaching market.  

Government-Sponsored Teaching Programs Abroad

Many countries sponsor programs that bring native speakers to their schools as volunteer English language assistants. These programs will arrange volunteers' visas and other travel documents for the duration of their service. In addition to variable compensation, some programs provide other benefits, like health insurance. Volunteers work in public schools and usually live with host families, which offers great cultural immersion opportunities. And, since most of these programs are part time, volunteers can squeee in some travel on the side — provided they are fulfilling all of their teaching responsibilities. 

There are a few factors to consider before applying to a program: 

  • Does your educational background and teaching experience meet the program requirements? 
  • How well do you speak the host country's language and are you comfortable living somewhere where you do not speak the language at all? 
  • Are you able to live on a small monthly stipend or are you looking for an actual salary that will allow you to save money? Different countries provide different types of compensation. Within each country, different communities will also pay different rates. 
  • Do you prefer an urban cultural center or somewhere rural and traditional? You may not get to choose — these programs place volunteers in the areas that most lack English teachers. 
  • Do you have time to apply? Check the program's deadlines and make sure you are able to gather, complete, and submit all of the application documents. 

U.S.-Based Programs

Many Peace Corps volunteers teach English abroad and the organization also has its own TEFL certificate program.

The Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program sends recent graduates and young professionals as English teaching assistants in primary and secondary schools or universities abroad. In addition to teaching, assistants may also pursue their own research. 

Government-Sponsored Programs in Other Countries 

Europe Asia South America
Cultural Ambassadors: North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain

Japan Exchange and Training Program (JET)‚Äč                                        

English Opens Doors Program - Chile                                                       

U.S. English Teaching Assistantships at Austrian Secondary Schools Interac Network - Japan English Teaching Fellowship Program - Colombia 
Teaching Assistant Program in France  English Program in Korea (EPIK)  
Study Intercultural Training Experience - Lombardy, Italy Teach and Learn in Korea (TALK)  
Language Assistant Program - Switzerland  Teach for Thailand   
Teach and Learn with Georgia  Native-speaker English Teacher (NET) Scheme - Hong Kong   
Teaching English in the Czech Republic     
Central European Teaching Program - Hungary    

In the English teaching industry, "native English speaker" means being fluent in English AND having a passport from one of the following countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. Aspiring teachers who are fluent in English, but do not have a passport from one of these countries, are considered non-native English speakers, even if they are graduates of Anglo-American universities. This puts them at a disadvantage in many countries, where the English teaching job market favors native speakers. The video below advises non-native English speakers on how to navigate the unfair and sometimes racist restrictions set by the industry.  

Independently Arranged Work Opportunities

Some travelers might prefer to teach English as contracted employees. This works well for those who want to be more selective in where they teach, what the terms of their contract are, and what compensation and benefits they earn. It does mean that travelers are entirely responsible for arranging their housing, obtaining their work permits and immigration documents, and paying any associated fees. The following sites can help launch the search process. 

Dave's ESL Cafe has international job listings for English teaching positions of all different levels. It also allows user to post their resumes and join forums where they can get advice on the job search process.

Bridge TEFL Jobs has job listings from around the globe. Users can also search for jobs in Map View. 

ESL Jobs is another online job board where schools can post listings and users can post their resumes. 

International TEFL Academy's Job Index provides country profiles with useful information like peak hiring months, the typical hiring process, average monthly pay, and monthly cost of living that are helpful for anyone seeking an English teaching job.