If you haven’t heard about teaching ESL overseas yet then you’ve probably been living under a rock or, most likely, you were simply too young. But now that you’re here and reading this article, you might be wondering what all the hype is. How do all of these travellers make the money to go abroad? Teaching ESL is one way to help pay for your travels abroad. In this article I hope to outline the various regions you can expect to find work as an ESL teacher along with some of the benefits and drawbacks of going there.
Money is often one of the foremost questions on people’s minds when they consider teaching ESL overseas. After all, money, or at least the job benefits, may cover your transportation costs alone. To be sure, each region (most are continents unto themselves) discussed below offers a unique cultural experience and a chance to broaden your mind about the global stage. If you take the opportunity to go abroad, at the very least you’ll gain a broader perspective of the world around you and
The money is good and the contracts lengthy, but you’ll have to prove that you’re worth the price of flights, visa, accommodation and the other amenities that are offered to teachers. Many schools will require you to have more than just a university degree, you’ll also need a Master’s degree and often another certification such as TEFL or CELTA. It’s not impossible, however, to land jobs without these qualifications, you’ll just have to look a little harder, or maybe befriend someone who is or has taught in the Middle East. Your salary is tax-free, but men often earn more than women due to male-dominated religion (Shari’a law). Religion is one thing to consider. Although most locals won’t bother you because of your religious beliefs, you will be perceived to have certain benefits being a different skin colour than the local population. This is common in many parts of the world. As a foreigner you probably won’t be expected to follow the local religious customs, but you will be expected to respect them regardless of your personal beliefs. Further, the Middle East gets a bad rap from the public media so it pays to search around for some first-hand accounts. A lot of people work in the Middle East because there are plenty of jobs there (not just for teachers, but for engineers, miners and others) so it shouldn’t be too hard to find out a few different opinions on what it’s like to live and work over there. As for contracts, expect to commit 2-3 years in a school or city. Not to worry, often round-trip flights are supplied on an annual basis. Finally, your accommodation is provided but will often be located within a compound which means armed-security. If that doesn’t tell you what the region can be like, then maybe you’re better off looking elsewhere.
This is the hotbed for ESL teachers. From Japan, South Korea and China all the way down to the tip of Indonesia, the Asian region thirsts for education, especially in English. The population of this part of the world is over 3 billion people and they’re all looking to step on the world stage either in business, travel or simply for interest’s sake. Qualifications range from nothing (if you show up and are willing to teach) to university degrees and/or ESL certifications for those sought-after international and university positions. Freelancing is also an option, whether online (read more below) or in-country as additional income to your regular pay or on your own. Whatever the case, southeast Asia is quickly becoming the new home of the so-called “digital nomad” who are able to work with only their computer and an internet connection yet want affordable cost of living combined with access to state-of-the-art facilities (just visit Singapore!) Finally, some areas of southeast Asia have a bad image because of fighting, namely the border between Thailand and Malaysia, within Cambodia, and also in Myanmar. Yes, there do exist pockets of religious extremists and inter-tribal fighting, but much of that is off the beaten track and rarely affects the tourist industry or the expat community. Use your head and if the people you meet say don’t go there, then don’t go. If you’ve never been to Asia, now’s the time to go either as an ESL teacher or simply as a traveller.
It’s a dynamic and growing region that is undergoing changes every day. Made up of formerly Soviet or communist countries, these places (Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Georgia, etc.) offer a glimpse of countries-in-transition. Some countries, such as Ukraine, are almost a step back in time as their ability to develop is limited by various factors. Although you’ll find some folks who speak English in these areas, knowing a Slavic language (such as Polish, Ukrainian or Russian) or German would prove useful in your search for a job. The salaries offered are good enough to travel around the region but not good enough to save up very much. Many of these countries offer a very affordable cost of living but lack a few of the amenities more developed countries have, such as good health care or hospital coverage.
The same desire of learning English as you would find in Asia but often with the pay of Eastern Europe. That is to say, the demand to learn English is huge but you won’t be making as much as if you were to go to Asia or the Middle East. Many placements are volunteer or offer a modest salary (around $1000/mth) and may include round-trip flights from your home country. Places such as Brazil, however, offer better pay but come with a price, a lot of corruption. There are a few notable recruiters who can help you in your search but it pays to have an idea of where you want to go. A teaching job in Brazil that pays well may require much more commitment than a job in Chile, where the pay isn’t as good but the cost of living, and the standard you can buy with your money, may be comparable. Brazil, the largest country on the continent, hosts the World Cup in 2014 and, as a result, is rapidly modernizing itself to deal with the influx of tourists and attention on the global stage. Other countries, such as Argentina, offer a unique cultural experience from north to south (it’s a long country) but you’ll see sides of life (eg, poverty) that you may make you feel uncomfortable.
For certified teachers Africa offers some great placements especially in places such as Egypt, Morocco and Ghana. However, those with no experience will still find plenty of opportunities to teach all over Africa, but often those placements will be volunteer. You may choose to use a program such as the Peace Corps in the USA, BUNAC in Europe, or maybe another NGO you can find online. You could also show up and and lend a hand wherever you’re needed. Much like parts of southeast Asia, orphanages and small, local schools would love the opportunity to have a foreign teacher in their classroom. Another thing to consider is that, due to European imperialism in the last few hundred years, many parts of Africa still speak French in addition to their tribal language. In other words, although English is the new global language, it’s not found everywhere.
North America, Eastern Europe or Australia and New Zealand
The main problem with these markets is that they require more qualifications than other markets around the world. The pay is better and you have access to better health care and standard of living, but sometimes the contracts are even shorter than those offered abroad and the jobs don’t offer the same benefits as other placements. Further, some countries won’t recognize your experience teaching abroad, at least that was the case a few years ago. However, as more teachers want to return to their homelands after having taught abroad, that experience is paying off in the classroom not only for new immigrants, but for new teachers who want to learn more about going abroad to teach.
I put this last but it’s certainly not least. It’s the newest entrant to the education field and becoming increasingly important. Teachers new and experienced alike can find work online by offering products and services to students. Be it a free website in combination with paid-tutoring, teachers are able to work “flexible” hours (only in the sense that you don’t have to leave your house, you still need a good internet connection and accommodate the time zones of your students), while also creating their own course work. If you choose to go the solo route, you’ll have to also devote time and energy to marketing your products and services. If you choose to be employed by an online school, then you’ll have to learn their system and follow their rules for engaging students. Whatever you choose, don’t rule out teaching online before, during or after your time in the classroom.
I hope that helps you decided where you want to go or at least gives you some guidance in making your choices. Keep an open mind and give yourself permission to go. Be safe and have fun!