What Teaching ESL Abroad Can and Cannot Do For You

I feel it’s necessary to write a little about what teaching ESL abroad can and cannot do for you as a follow up to my recent post on teaching abroad.

I’ve spoken with a few folks about the prospects of teaching English abroad. After a few minutes it’s usually apparent that they are concerned about two things: their career and the stigma of teaching abroad. Often, teaching ESL abroad is seen as an “escape” from reality, a break from your career, or worse, something only directionless, wandering vagabonds do. In this article I’d like to outline some of the things teaching English abroad can and cannot do for you.


In North America and the United Kingdom, there is a greater emphasis placed on building your career over several decades. You get an education, you find a job, start small and then work your way up the ladder. That method of career development worked best in times when you could be sure that the company hiring you would hold on to you for a long time even if only as a regular employee. However, as companies look to save costs, they are hiring more contractors (who don’t receive benefits) or are cutting back their work forces and asking those who remain to do more. So what does teaching English offer?

Teaching English, however, can be a career unto itself. In many countries ESL teachers are now expected to have a university degree AND a TEFL certificate thus making them more dynamic and versatile as employees. Although teaching ESL is usually done on a contractual, year-by-year basis, many benefits are attached to that contract. Similar to contract work elsewhere, there is no guarantee your employer will renew your contract. The main benefit of this contractual method is that you can visit and live in many places around the world, not only adding to your resume, but to your travel experience and personal development.

Teaching English can help pay for your travels abroad. If you decide to just take off, finding a job as an English teacher can be one of the most lucrative jobs you’ll find. That being the case, unless you actually like teaching, it, too, will become “just a job” that you do for money, much like all those “just a job” jobs back home. You might have some idea in regard to whether or not you’re cut out for teaching, and it pays to listen to your intuition. However, you shouldn’t completely dismiss the idea either. It might make a good fit for a little while before you find something else.

What Teaching English abroad CANNOT do for you, however, is replace or even take away responsibility of forming a goal or direction in your life. Teaching English is often associated with those who “need a break” from “real life.” But you should understand that teaching English, for many people, isn’t a break, it’s a new start. Do those who go teach English have less responsibility than those who stay in their hometowns and don’t leave? Consider the university students or college kids who leave their smaller hometowns and live in dorms in their early 20s. There becomes a greater responsibility to keep in touch with folks back home and often weeds out the weak relationships and makes stronger the ones that matter most.


Yes, teaching English can be a lucrative thing to do but you still have to love your job or else you’ll feel like a slave to “the man”. One of the main benefits of teaching English abroad is the adventure of working and travelling abroad. The first six months of your first teaching contract will fly by and you’ll have a blast. By month seven, you’ll know whether or not you’ll stay in that country. At the end of your contract, you’ll know if teaching English is for you. There’s nothing saying you can’t keep teaching English abroad, but it doesn’t mean you have to do it in the same place. Many places in Asia, such as South Korea, pay very well and have attractive benefits packages. Other places, such as Eastern Europe, don’t have the same pay or benefits but offer a glimpse of countries in transition.

Aside from money, teaching ESL is a privilege. You’ll probably learn more about yourself and the world than the kids will learn English from you. But what you offer is hope and a glimpse of the outside world. That’s why those kids are learning English anyway. They want to travel just like you. They have hopes and dreams and by learning English those hopes and dreams become that much more attainable.


Just because you go abroad and teach English doesn’t change the fact that you need to come up with some sort of direction in your life, whatever it may be. Teaching ESL is simply tool in helping you lead an interesting life. Living and working abroad adds a little bit of excitement to your daily life since you will have to figure out how to order certain items in the local language, how to get around, acclimatise yourself to the weather, and get used to the local customs.

I hope this post has been helpful to you, particularly in understanding that teaching English abroad isn’t a fix for your life but one of many opportunities. There is a certain thrill to finding work in a foreign country but it can’t replace personal responsibility for taking control of your life and doing what you want to do. Teaching English abroad merely combines two bucket list check marks in one shot.