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Teaching Abroad

While English is one of the most often-taught languages around the world, there are jobs available for teachers of other languages. If you want to teach a language other than English (which is what the article below discusses), feel free to skip down to the section that describes the general steps involved in finding a teaching job abroad.


Excerpted from Work Abroad by William Nolting and Anthony Hand, With permission from Transitions Abroad

The bulk of overseas teaching opportunities are for English teachers. As the world rushes to acquire the new lingua franca of international commerce, diplomacy, and higher education, your "credential" is simply being a native speaker of the English language. That may be all you need to obtain a job and a work permit in areas such as Asia and Eastern Europe. In addition to native fluency in English, many programs are now requesting experience in Teaching English as a Foreign (or Second) Language, known by the acronyms TEFL, EFL, TESL, ESL, or even TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Formal credentials in TEFL can be gained in a one-month course. Those with a master's in TEFL, available through one-year program at many US universities, can teach virtually anywhere.

Qualified teachers have still another range of options. Other teaching possibilities, some of which we list here, exist for those with knowledge of special fields such as business, health, math or science (through the Peace Corps and Teachers for Africa) or for graduate students (through the Civic Education Project).

Earnings can be very good in relatively wealthy countries like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. In China, Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Newly Independent States, pay may be high by local standards but not sufficient for savings. Africa and Latin America are primarily served by volunteer organizations.

In general, if your main motivation in teaching is to make a lot of money, you will most likely be disappointed. In some cases, the experience may even cost you more than you earn, but this is still usually far less than the cost of study or travel abroad. (Student loans can often be deferred during volunteer work; inquire through your loan and program sponsors.)

1. Before You Begin

Before you begin your search, determine what you hope to gain from your overseas experience. Are your goals to experience a different culture? Gain language proficiency? Try out teaching as a career? How important is money-do you hope to make a lot of money, is it okay to break even, or can you spend more than you might make for the sake of the cross-cultural experience?

The answers to your money questions may limit your choices. The highest number of well-payed teaching jobs are in Asia.

Next, try to narrow down your geographic preferences to a few countries or regions. Do you hope to tie your experience to career objectives? How does this affect the money issue?

About a year before you would like to begin teaching abroad, think about getting experience or a certificate. You will be glad you did when you face a class of students for the first time, thousands of miles from home. Opportunities are available as a literacy volunteer or through local language programs for international students or refugees. These are offered by colleges, schools, and religious organizations almost everywhere.

2. Choosing a Placement Program

Programs vary widely in the fees, services, and assistance they offer. When choosing a program, inquire about fees, salary, job placement, work permit, health insurance, housing, teacher training and materials, whether there is an orientation, and level of on-site support. It is better to be clear about these basics before you apply than to turn up and find you do not have a legal work permit.

  • Fees: What exactly do they include?
  • Placement: Find out who you will be teaching (elementary, high school, university students, or adults) and where (a state school, private school, or for-profit language institute).
  • Salary: How much and how often will you be paid? Compare your salary with the local cost of living.
  • Health insurance: This may not be provided by program fees, or you may be covered by socialized medicine available only in-country.
  • Materials and training: If they don't provide materials, what do they recommend you bring with you? Even if some training is provided, would it still be useful to get experience teaching or tutoring in the your native country?
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