Teaching English Abroad: Part 2
Teaching English overseas is a great opportunity to see the world while earning a little money, but as one teacher points out, you have to really love teaching in order to make a real go of it.
If you are 1) a native English speaker, 2) an educator, and 3) a traveler, and you want to know a little more about what it's like to teach English in another country, keep reading.
Continue reading to learn about four other countries in which you can teach English as a second language.
Colombia and South Korea
Ahmed is from Canada and has taught in both Colombia and in Korea, as well as his home country.
Did you prefer teaching in Colombia or Korea more?
Canada definitely has the best organization and curriculum, but it's also more difficult in terms of the students and coworkers sometimes. Korea was a lot easier but the work culture can be difficult.
Did you teach in private schools or public school?
I taught in public, private, as well as joint programs between the government and chamber of commerce.
Do you speak other languages? Do you think it is beneficial to speak the local language where you are teaching?
I spoke almost conversational Korean in Korea but that didn't matter at all at work. In Colombia knowing Spanish helped a lot, but not necessarily a requirement to get hired.
Did you have a co-teacher who was a native of the country?
Only in Korea public schools.
Did you feel that it was beneficial to have a local teacher there with you, or was it more of a hindrance?
It really varied. Some local teachers didn’t show up to class, some of them did the whole lesson and wanted me to help just with pronunciation. The best were the ones who attended but only helped with classroom management or the occasional translation.
It seems that if they aren't terribly reliable, it would be less disruptive to not have them there at all.
On one occasion a co-teacher who didn't show up routinely, came in and criticized my lesson preparation, so that was definitely irritating, though it only happened once... Otherwise they were always welcome, if not really needed. Except for when I had to teach very young learners (combined gr.1 and 2, big class), who barely understood instructions in Korean let alone in English, and those teachers routinely didn't show up...
What were some of the best things about teaching in Korea?
The best thing was having relatively low teaching hours and a lot of office hours.
What is something that would be helpful to know ahead of time for someone who is thinking of teaching in Korea?
Public schools usually respect employee rights, but in general foreign workers have almost no rights in Korea. Korean employers break the law all the time and Koreans know this, and have much easier access to resources that can help them.
Do you have any general recommendations for someone who is considering teaching English as a foreign language overseas?
Unless you care about teaching English don't bother, because it's a demanding job at times and people who just do it so they can travel make it harder for those who actually enjoy teaching.
This is such great advice, and I am SO glad you said this. Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. Just because you speak the language does not mean you have the ability to teach the language to other people. And unless you really love teaching, you are much better off working a higher-paying job and taking holidays or finding a remote work you can do from anywhere.
Spain, Thailand, and Colombia
Eric is from the U.S. and, in addition to teaching here in the U.S., he also taught in Spain, Thailand, and Colombia.
Which of the three countries was your favorite in terms of the country itself and for the teaching experience?
There were things I loved about all of them, but I would say Thailand was my favorite in both of those aspects. I loved living there for the food, the culture, the travel opportunities, and more, plus I really loved my teaching experience there!
In which country do you feel you were treated with the most respect from administrators, parents of students, and students themselves?
I think in both Colombia and Thailand, teachers are very highly respected. Culturally, both of these countries seem to recognize the importance of teachers and that respect shows at all levels, from students up to administrators, as well as the community in general.
Did you teach in private schools or public schools?
In Thailand I taught in a private school, but that experience was very different from what most people probably imagine (it was a huge school and much more affordable and accessible than private schools in the US). I taught in public schools in Spain, Colombia, and the US.
Do you speak any other languages besides English?
Before moving abroad, I spoke very basic Spanish. After 4 years living in Spanish-speaking countries, I would say I was relatively fluent. In my 3 years in Thailand I learned to communicate at a pretty basic level and taught myself to read - mostly for restaurant menus!
Do you feel that learning the language was beneficial for finding jobs or making the most of your time in the country?
I think speaking another language can be beneficial for finding teaching jobs (and learning the local language will make the experience much more enjoyable and meaningful). But in most of the world, it's not that necessary - a native English speaker can pretty easily find a job teaching English regardless of their other language skills.
Did you ever have a co-teacher who was a native of the country?
Yes, in all 3 countries I taught alongside local teachers at times. It was challenging sometimes but it could also be one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
Roughly how many students were in each class?
This varied a lot in my experience. In some of the immersion programs I had as few as 15-20 students, but I also taught classes with 60+ elementary students in Thailand, which could absolutely be as chaotic as it sounds!
What were some of the best things about teaching in each country?
In Thailand, I loved how the joyful culture permeated into school and just created a fun, happy energy with my elementary students. I had a lot of creative freedom to teach in my own style, a manageable workload, and awesome coworkers. I also had great work-life balance, tons of time off to travel all over Southeast Asia, and I really loved daily life outside of work too.
In Spain, the English program I taught in did a great job of integrating English instruction with other subjects and cultural exchange. Living in Madrid was also an amazing experience and my job was part time so I had plenty of time to study Spanish and just enjoy living in an incredible city.
In Colombia, I loved how much the local culture was part of everyday life in the school. Students and teachers took a lot of pride in things like celebrating Carnaval or Colombian independence. Despite all the conflict there, Colombian people were so friendly and hospitable and truly made me feel like a part of the communities where I lived.
What are some things that would be helpful to know if someone is considering teaching in any of the countries in which you taught?
In both Thailand and Colombia, the heat was brutal and a lot of classrooms did not have AC. Also, in both countries there were frequent changes to regular schedules that were either totally unexpected or just not communicated to international teachers. I would show up to school and find out it was a teacher workday or plan an elaborate science experiment but then have no classes because a 30 minute assembly took 4 hours. This drove some international teachers crazy but having a flexible attitude and approach was really important in both countries.
Did the countries you taught in offer a balance between providing curriculum but allowing for some teacher autonomy?
In my own experiences teaching abroad I think more often I had a lot of autonomy but not as much support with resources or curriculum. I think this probably varies more based on the school than the country in general.
In which country do you feel you had the most difficult workload?
Well the workload in the US was way heavier than anywhere else I taught by far. But I guess the most difficult while teaching abroad was probably Thailand. I had very limited resources and in some cases had to basically create a complete curriculum. But I was given plenty of planning time throughout my workday and it was never overwhelming. It was a challenging but amazing job.
Do you have any general recommendations for someone who is considering teaching English as a second language overseas?
#1 - Do it now!! (the next semester in Thailand starts in mid-October)
#2 - If it's your first time abroad, choose a good school/company or at the very least a place with a supportive community. Having people to support you through all the challenges can be the difference between an amazing experience and a bad one.
#3 - A piece of advice I will pass on from my first day in Thailand - "Just say Yes!" Be open to all the new opportunities and soak up every moment you are there!
I love that! Flexibility, adaptability, and spontaneity are so important when traveling and living abroad!
Thank you to Ahmed and Eric! I so appreciate you offering your insights into teaching English as an additional language overseas.
I will leave you all with my final tips for teaching English abroad.
1. Get intimately familiar with Visa requirements for the countries you are considering. How do you acquire a work Visa? How long does it last? Can you get it before you arrive in the country, or do you have to apply for it once you get there? How long does it take from the time you apply to the time you actually acquire the Visa?
2. Next, find out if the schools where you are applying will help in obtaining the necessary Visa. If Visa assistance is not in the original agreement, request that it be included. If possible, talk to the person who will be assisting you in obtaining your Visa to get an idea of whether or not they know what they are doing.
3. I am all for being immersed in the culture, spending time with the parents of your students, and making friends with locals. But being away from your family and friends, especially if you are moving to another country completely alone, can be challenging and isolating. If it's your first time teaching, consider cities that have a strong expat presence. Then balance your time between expats and locals.
4. Get certified to teach English as a second language. For more information on certification options, check out this YouTube video by Evgenii Permiakov.
5. Paul (from Part 1) added, "If you [as an American] want to teach in Europe I would recommend looking at Spain or Italy, as they usually want teachers who are willing to teach all ages from 3 upwards. Check out TEFL.com for jobs abroad."
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