Taking a year off to backpack through Europe used to be the ideal, and in many ways, it still might be. But with fewer and fewer graduates able to afford such luxury, the past decade has seen an explosion of grads taking a year off to teach in a foreign country.
It’s the perfect compromise for young adults looking for a bit of adventure and/or unable to immediately find employment in their chosen field. Think of it as a paid vacation of sorts. ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching provides all the basics for virtually anyone, so long as they’re a native English speaker, to live and travel abroad. But how do you do it? With that in mind, here’s a few tips and tricks for teaching overseas.
Narrow It Down and Start the Search
The world is a pretty big place. Deciding where to go is the first major decision. You want it to be someplace a) you’d love to experience and see, and b) relatively close to other places you’d like to see as well. Think of your location as homebase...chose one that offers plenty of great places within a few hours drive or flight. Overseas teaching generally provides a lot of “down time” via national and international holidays, both political and religious. And you’ll want to travel during these little breaks. Living in a location without an airport or travel hub (train or bus station), for example, severely limits your options.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a handful of top picks, get googling. Using the keywords “ESL teaching jobs” and your selected city/country will provide you with multiple starting points. Then, get clicking.
A great source for job listings, posting your resume, and articles on teaching and living overseas is TIE Online. It’s a subscription service, but an affordable and well respected one. The basic service - which includes access to their massive jobs database - will cost you just $39/year. You can pick up a subscription to their paper publication, The International Educator, for an additional $10-20/year (depending on where you live). TIE Online is probably your best choice for variety of listings, price, and name-brand recognition. Schools both large and small often post with them. Job requirements - education and experience - will vary depending on the country and school, but you can usually find options no matter what your background. Hiring is usually done via email and/or Skype.
China, South Korea, and Japan are your best bet for ESL teaching, as these countries require a steady stream of teachers. That said, ESL jobs are available virtually anywhere.
You may also want to look into membership with TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). This paid membership community offers plenty of resources, forums, advice, and training opportunities throughout the year.
International School Jobs
If you are a university or college trained teacher, you can set your sights a bit higher and look to international schools. They cater to diplomat and executive families, as well as wealthy locals if their license allows it. These institutions require a degree in education, and a two-year contract, but you will be paid a much higher salary and benefits package.
Hiring for these schools generally starts in January for the following school year, and the bulk of it is done at job fairs across the next few months and around the globe. Some of the biggest ones include Bangkok, London, Boston, Toronto, Dubai, and Hong Kong. You need to register with the organizers, get yourself to the city, and attend the 2-3 day fair, during which you will meet with recruiters and interview multiple times. With luck and a decent resume, you should end up with a few job offers to consider by the end.
The two main overseas recruitment firms are International School Services and Search Associates. Finding and getting an international school position without utilizing one of these companies is not impossible, but it certainly is more difficult. Each is well known and offers plenty of opportunities. But there are costs involved in addition to the travel costs of attending one of their job fairs.
Search Associates has a registration fee of $225 (unless you live in the U.K.), but this is good for three years and includes attendance at one of their fairs.
Membership with International School Services costs $195 for two years, but you will need to pay an additional fee for each recruitment fair you attend.
Do Your Homework
If and when you receive a job offer, whether it’s from an ESL/language school or a big international school, you need to do some follow-up work. Check out their reputation online. Go to overseas education forums and see what people are saying about them. One such service is International School Review. This website provides information on living and teaching overseas, and most importantly, is a forum for both teachers and students to review and give feedback on their experience with a certain school. Take everything with a grain of salt, of course, but if a school has overwhelmingly negative reviews, you may want to look elsewhere.
Read the Fine Print
Once you’re comfortable that a school has a good reputation and treats its students and teachers properly, you’ll want to take a close look at their package. Obviously, the international schools are going to offer more, but even the smaller ESL schools should provide the basics. At a minimum, make sure your contract clearly states your monthly or yearly salary (keeping in mind that cost of living is usually much lower, so you can get by with much less), what, if anything, will be deducted for tax purposes, and that your visa and housing is provided for you. Your contract should also include at least one round-trip airline ticket home, and health insurance or subsidy. Beyond that, many schools offer additional benefits to attract potential teachers, such as memberships at fitness or country clubs, a professional training sum, free laptop, and so forth. Beyond that, if the contract does not already explicitly explain it, ask for details on their expectations - how many contact (actually teaching in the classroom) hours per day, office hours, and if there are other requirements, such as conducting “English Corners” (informal conversational practice). Know exactly what your typical day, and teaching load, will be.
If it all looks good, sign on the dotted line and prepare for what will undoubtedly be a fantastic year or two. In fact, many people that plan to teach overseas for only a year or two end up staying indefinitely, as they fall in love with the lifestyle. If your chosen profession is teaching, it may very well end up being your entire career. As teaching jobs become scarce, and competition becomes fierce, a career spent teaching in exotic locations with a much lower cost of living and (in many cases) higher salary than you could ever hope for back home has a great deal of appeal. Finding the perfect school to work at for 30 years, or moving from one dream location to another every 2-4 years, are both not only possible and enviable, but quite common.
Whether you’re looking to try it for only a year or two, or for the next three decades, a position teaching in a foreign country provides rich opportunities for travel, adventure, new friendships, new experiences, and a remarkably satisfying professional life.