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Six Truths About Teaching Abroad

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Guest post: Patricia Evans

These days, practically everyone is hurting from poor job prospects. The millennial generation is notorious for staying with their parents longer and not wanting to have children because they can’t find employment from which they can get sufficient income. Similarly, many teachers also find it difficult to find suitable jobs in their own country. And because of horror stories about the soul-crushing nature of corporate employment, more 20-somethings are choosing to travel and study abroad. So to satisfy their needs and desires, millennials, educators, and career students are looking at one solution: teaching abroad.

Being a teacher gives you the chance to touch many lives; doing it in another country can let you have an even greater impact. Maybe you’re already dreaming of crossing borders and oceans to educate young minds, but there are lots of things you need to know before signing up to teach abroad…

1. Relaxed hiring requirements could be a red flag Research the company

The first hurdle most people face when considering teaching jobs abroad is the issue of qualifications. Not everyone is trained to become an educator. Some individuals may not have a teaching degree or they may not have the required certifications. Most would think that’s an automatic deal-breaker. The truth is that educational institutions differ in their requirements for teaching positions. The market for teaching abroad is very wide, so you can find different opportunities. For example, some institutions will require you to have a TEFL certification before they hire you, while others will not demand this. If you’re lucky, your employer may even help you get the certification as part of the job.

Beware, though: while certain schools may not require certifications, they are more likely to require you to work unreasonable hours for low pay. To protect yourself, ask questions about compensation, clarify leave policies, ask for the contact details of current teachers working for the organization, and check out their reputation online.

2. Being a native speaker isn’t enough Grammar

One of the main reasons to consider teaching overseas for many people, particularly those looking to teach English, is that it’s seen as an easy paycheck. All you have to do is teach your language to another person. You’ve been speaking it and writing it all your life, so how hard can it be?

It can be pretty hard, as a matter of fact. While you might not need to have a degree in education or formal qualifications to be a teacher, you’ll still need to master the rules of grammar. Students will write or say things that you know are mistakes, and you need to be able to explain the proper form or rule to them. In your everyday experience as a native speaker, you won’t need to know when to use the subjunctive past tense, nor will you be expected to be able to diagram a sentence, but as a teacher, be prepared to address such higher-level questions.

3. Bonding with other teachers can be a mixed experience Bonding with other teachers

For people who teach abroad, programs and difficulties differ depending on where they are. Teaching in a country such as Tanzania presents challenges of poverty, such as miles-long walks to school. In Korea and China, challenges may arise in the policies of the educational institution you work at. You may be required to teach classes while being monitored, or present a doctor’s note for every sick leave you take (or maybe you won’t get enough sick leave credits). Making friends with other teachers can be great because you can give each other emotional support through tough times.

The flip side, however, is that you may develop an unhealthy codependent relationship. While habitually going to the closest eating place to dine and discuss the good, the bad and the ugly in teaching abroad, you may not realize that you’re spending your paychecks faster than you can cash them. In addition, staying in a bubble with your peers can bring about an unhealthy “us vs. them” mentality, which may prevent you from treating your employers and students with the proper respect expected from a professional educator. So even though you’ll want to have work buddies, you must make your ties weak enough so that you don’t get dragged down into a toxic atmosphere.

4. Students want to learn for all kinds of reasons Teaching seniors

Maybe in your mind, you equate teaching abroad with volunteer teaching. In reality, overseas education jobs cater to many different types of students with very different motivations. You may wind up with Korean students whose parents want them to eventually attend an Ivy League university. Perhaps you’ll deal with French or Japanese adults who need additional education to move forward in their careers. You could even have sessions with senior citizens who are just looking for something to do to take their minds away from their empty nests.

Teaching abroad is not always an act of charity, and you’ll have to adopt a teaching style to suit the needs of your students. If you’re teaching underprivileged children, try to make the lessons encouraging and fun. If you’re dealing with honor students being pressured to get an academic edge, be firm yet nurturing. Adult students are less vulnerable, so you can deliver constructive criticism without having to sugar-coat it as much.

5. Traveling will become a primary motivation Wanderlust

Even if it’s not the mindset you start with, you’ll eventually think about teaching to travel, rather than traveling to teach. Being in a foreign land can get lonely and frustrating, and homesickness will take its toll at times. You can stay in the place you’re renting all day and feel miserable, but it’s better to take the situation for what it is: an opportunity.

Traveling while teaching overseas is a more immersive experience compared to being a mere tourist. You get a shot at seeing the true culture of your host country, and not just the mainstay attractions tour guides recommend. Getting to know this strange new land little by little, day by day, will give your soul a much-needed jolt. At its core, education is an exercise in exploration. When you take a job teaching abroad, that concept can take on a deeper and more literal meaning.

6. You’ll learn more than you can ever teach Self-discovery

Aside from learning about a foreign culture, experiencing the pros and cons of teaching abroad firsthand will give you valuable life experience. You probably won’t know the local language, so you’ll be forced to learn it, or at least make friends with someone who can. A lot of teaching positions offer just enough compensation to let you either save money or live large, but not both. In the worst cases, you may not get your salary on time (if you land in a less-than-reputable educational institution), so be ready to take side jobs just to pay your dues. Interacting with foreign students and managing classes on a daily basis will help you realize local nuances and universal truths about people, teaching you valuable social skills. If you’re lucky, you’ll form a deep personal connection with a student or two. If you’re miraculously fortunate, you’ll be close to all of them.

Bottom line: teaching away from your own country is a path to self-discovery. By leaving behind your friends and family, making your own decisions and taking your own risks, you’ll find out more about yourself and what you’re capable of. So unless you already lead a life that’s worth turning into an Oscar-winning biopic, teaching abroad is likely to be one of the most challenging and rewarding things you’ll ever do.

Patricia Evans is an interior designer, residential designer, art crafter, DIYer, freelance writer and a full-time mother. She writes about interior decorating, lifestyle, education and anything under the sun. She is also into green and simple living, and she loves cooking and having tea.

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