“So… what are you doing after graduation?” is a question seniors and recent college graduates hear all too often. Cue the Psycho violins. While it’s never fun admitting that you have absolutely no idea, you do know that you want a meaningful, fulfilling job, and traveling the world doesn’t sound half bad. The solution to this dilemma?
Enter: Teaching English Abroad. It’s the answer to all your adventure-filled dreams. They say those who can’t do, teach, but those people have clearly never been teachers. If teaching were easy, everyone would do it.
Teaching English internationally is no easy feat. It requires copious amounts of patience, but it’s endlessly rewarding, and can be the perfect transition into the “real world” post-graduation. Sure, you can go for any run of the mill desk job, OR you can continue your global education!
Here’s why teaching abroad is a solid personal and professional post-grad plan:
1. You get paid to travel.
You heard right. Instead of slaving away at a coffee shop and saving your tips for that weekend getaway in Cancun, why not get paid to teach there and actually get to know the locals? If you teach English in economically richer countries, like South Korea or the Czech Republic, you’d most likely earn enough to save up for travel outside of those nations, too.
You don’t have to teach in the sticks to save money, either. Cities like Lisbon and Prague have a lower cost of living than most other European cities. Almost any teacher can afford to go out for dinner half the week, and not just for TGIF. Another bonus of saving up while abroad is that you can pay off those pesky and looming student loans while doing the work-life balance thing right.
2. Hello post-grad gap year!
Okay, so you’re not exactly sure what you want to do for the rest of your life, but here’s a secret: no one can ever really be sure what they will do for the rest of their life. Things happen. People change. Your interests change. Some people are just more open about admitting they don’t have a life plan than others are.
Having a post-grad gap year will give you the time to reflect and recalibrate before jumping onto a set career path.
If you’re nervous about teaching right after college, breathe and take it easy. You already have a college degree, which is already more than many English teachers abroad have. Having a TEFL certificate won’t hurt either, though. But even without one, you’ll have different classroom management strategies, activities, and teaching methodologies that you observed your teachers use in class to guide you. You’re more qualified than you think, just don’t make naïve ESL teaching mistakes, like thinking you’re “saving” your students.
3. A life of semi-nomadism? Yes please.
Putting the obvious implications of nomadism aside (living abroad, traveling frequently, etc.), you’ll also be nomadic in the sense that no day will be the same. Teachers abroad often do not have their own classroom, and are moved from classroom to classroom depending on the day or the hour. You may even be asked to teach a community class outside of your city on weekends, so step up to the plate! You’ll be traveling in every sense of the word, but with the concrete purpose of teaching others one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
4. New perspectives, priorities, and goals.
Meeting people from all walks of life will help you figure out who you are (and who you aren’t). Exchanging stories with those who’ve taught abroad in 30 different countries may convince you to go into international education, or steer clear from teaching when you go home. Either way, surrounding yourself with others who have different personal and professional passions will help you solidify your own.
You’ll not only meet other English teachers abroad, you’ll also form unforgettable relationships with your students. Whether you’re the first teacher of color your elementary schoolers have had or you volunteer at a community class for seniors, teaching will enrich your life abroad. When you move to a new country, adapting to the new foods, language, and sounds is difficult enough as it is, but teaching gives you a more sustainable, purposeful connection with the locals than just blowing your savings at a souvenir shop would.
5. Capitalize on free time.
That’s right, even with all the lesson planning and grading you’ll be doing, you’ll actually have free time! You can use this free time to your advantage by teaching private classes on the side (for all you workaholics), joining a rugby team (for all you jocks), blogging (for all you wordsmiths), or relaxing guilt-free. While your classmates back home might be making more money, they’re also probably working 50 to 60 hour weeks and falling asleep on top of the pile of papers they’re grading on a Friday night. Meanwhile, you’re laying under the stars on a desolate Cambodian beach after a long yet rewarding week of teaching.
6. It prepares you to face any challenge, and teaches when to ask for help.
Say you’re teaching English in China and facing numerous challenges you hadn’t faced back home, like wondering why your paycheck is late or why you’re called into staff meetings with just a minute’s notice. It will take a while to acclimate and really learn the ins and outs of your host culture, and your work culture. Take the time to observe how things work in your school and see what your fellow teachers are doing. How do your colleagues call 60 students to attention? Maybe their tactics can (and likely will) work for you too.
Learning to roll with the punches will give you peace of mind, just remember you’re not in it alone. It’s an important professional move to take initiative in reaching out to other teachers. They’ll help you understand and navigate the cultural differences you face. By sharing how your college or high school was run as opposed to how things work at your new school, teachers will see where you’re coming from and will be better able to help you. Do this sparingly, though. Starting every interaction with, "Well in MY country" or "At MY school back home we would..." is a turnoff. Be culturally competent.
7. You’ll plan lessons like a boss.
The beauty of teaching abroad is that you can adapt your lessons to your students’ needs and experiment with them daily. Maybe your 17-year-old high school students are sleeping through English pronunciation drills, but just watch them light up as they play pin the tail on the donkey. They’ll practice English and have fun as they guide their blindfolded classmates, laughing and yelling at them to “Go up! No, left!” Not too cool for school anymore, are we, kiddos?
Adapting your lessons to your students’ interests will take trial and error, but your flexibility will come in handy at your next job. Planning meeting agendas or a seventh grade science curriculum will be no sweat in your home country after you’ve gained experience teaching abroad.
8. Transition smoothly into your next position, no matter the field.
After your stint abroad, you will be prepared for any profession, whether you know you are destined to teach for thirty more years or you never want to see a classroom again. As a teacher you’ll be adaptable, ready to go with the flow and problem-solve at a moment’s notice. You’ll be a leader, comfortable taking charge and offering support to your colleagues. Don’t even get us started on your out-of-this-world presentation skills!
Not only is teaching abroad a great resume booster, you’ll also have unique stories to tell your future employers when you’re networking with them at your next job fair or conference. They’ll never forget the candidate who semi-successfully haggled a serious steal at the night market in Marrakech, Morocco.
Teaching English abroad will grant you the semi-nomadic, adventurous lifestyle that you lacked within the confines of your university’s walls. As you learn how classes are planned and run elsewhere, you’ll learn to patiently navigate a different educational system. Not only will teaching English help your students open new economic and cultural doors, you’ll learn infinite amounts about how to make your lessons engaging and fun in a new country. Not knowing exactly how your life will look like after college doesn’t seem so scary now, does it?