Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Teaching English abroad: where to start?

One of the most frequent type of question I received when we were offering advising was about prospects for teaching English abroad. Many folks had friends teaching abroad or, even more basically, had "heard" about teaching English overseas and understood it to be an "easier" way to get abroad and to get abroad without a specific skill set (other than a native facility with the language).

Well, over the years I pulled together a fairly solid set of introductory resources that I would recommend to folks starting out exploring the field. So what follows isn't exhaustive but it will, I trust, offer folks an entryway to learn more about the ins & outs of teaching English abroad as well as possibly offering those already familiar with the basics with some additional "hidden gems".

But let's start with a couple important reminders:

You don't need to be "passionate" about teaching to be a success teaching English abroad but you do need to be at least interested in it. It's a good idea to try to get some experience locally before diving too deeply into an international search. Try tutoring with local literacy organizations or in K-12 schools. Many US colleges & universities offer English tutoring programs for international students -- sign up, get some training, and get some experience. You won't necessarily get classroom experience but it can give you at least some sense of whether working with struggling (or non-native) English speakers is something you have a taste and/or talent for.

If you tutor one hour a week and within a couple weeks you feel it's a chore or you dread it... then teaching English abroad is most definitely NOT for you and that's important to know before shipping yourself, potentially, halfway around the world...

If you enjoy the work then you might want to start looking at options.

The best searches are those that are focused. The resources below are meant to help narrow the scope of any search but it pays to have a sense of specific interests going in.

If you can, narrow your search to particular countries (and even cities) of interest. You'll also want/need to get focused on the sort of students you're interested in working with (kids, business people, high schoolers, etc) and how your background/experience/training matches with those more specific interests. Once you've educated yourself about the general field & possibilities, a series of narrow, focused searches will be far more useful than a single generic search (try Googling "teach English abroad" – oy!).

Certification is not a requirement to teach abroad. There are all sorts of reasons to get certified as well as reasons not to, but in general you can find opportunities teaching English abroad without being certified.

Teaching abroad is one way to get abroad and to get paid while being abroad. That said, it's important to realize that if you are graduating with student loans the mere fact of being out of the country does not exempt you from making the required loan payments!! Depending on your circumstances and how large the outstanding loans are there are workarounds (for instance, banking a few months worth of payments and then having loan payments automatically deducted from a parked bank account). Remitting money from overseas can be ridiculously expensive.

There are a LOT of different options. You can go with placement firms, certification organizations (some will guarantee placement, some just assist), direct contact with schools... It's a maze out there.

And with those pearls of wisdom out of the way, let's get to the resources:

Two good basic introductory sites I like pointing folks to who are exploring teaching English opportunities are:

Dave's ESL Cafe also has region & country-specific discussion boards that are well worth browsing (though they are tucked away  in the navigation). You can find them at:

Neither of the above sites is tied to any particular commercial provider or school (though you can get lots of information on providers through the stories, resources, and links on the Transitions Abroad page in particular, as well as exploring questions such as whether to get certified and the like).

If you're looking to explore connecting with English-language schools directly you can explore:

There are links to other regions/countries in the header of the first link above.

I always suggest holding off on direct contact with schools until you've educated yourself about the field a bit (and perhaps have a better sense of the sort of work you're looking for and where you'd like to go).

There are a number of government run/sponsored programs out there:

Cultural Ambassadors: North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain

English Opens Doors Program (Chile)

Japan Exchange and Teaching Program

Teach and Learn with Georgia

Teach for China

Teaching Assistant Program in France

Sandy Arfa here at the UW-Madison coordinates the Teachers to Gyeonggi-do program. Unfortunately, the website is rather badly out of date – – but those in the upper Midwest should contact Ms Arfa directly if interested in this program.

There is also GoinGlobal, a commercial resource providing country guides for living & working abroad – including information on opportunities teaching English (where appropriate):

That's the commercial front door. UW-Madison (and I am sure many other schools) career centers have purchased site licenses allowing students to access the full resource for free. Check with the  career services office at your school for information.

UW-Madison students & alumni should be able to get free access to GoinGlobal through BuckyNet:

I am also a big proponent of not trying to do everything online. There are two books I usually suggest to those of a similar bent (and who are interested in going into slightly greater depth as to the issues involved in teaching English abroad beyond just tracking down teaching jobs):

Teaching English Overseas by Jeff Mohamed

Teaching English Abroad by Susan Griffith

For those in the Madison area we have copies of both books available for browsing in our library in 301 Ingraham Hall.

And... if you develop a specific country interest contact your alumni association and see if they have a directory of alumni abroad or even overseas chapters that you can contact. For example, the Wisconsin Alumni Association maintains a list of chapters & contacts around the world:

Finally, be sure to keep an eye on where we post announcements of the latest opportunities to work, teach, intern, and volunteer worldwide.

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