English Speaking? Educated? You’re Hired!

by Bridget Zapata

If you speak English fluently and have a college degree, you can stop worrying about employment post-graduation, pre-grad school, or when you are between jobs — because you will always have a career opportunity in teaching abroad. There is an ever-increasing demand for English teachers in countries in Asia and South America, and in many countries, a college degree and English language fluency are the only two requirements to fulfill. Are you afraid to commit to living abroad? In some cases, you only need to sign up for one semester of teaching, and have the option to extend your contract if you choose.

My English class in Thailand.
My English class in Thailand.
Photo courtesy Bridget Zapata

No teaching experience? No problem. In some teach-abroad jobs, you are not required to even know how to say “hello” in the local language — though, as an English teacher in Thailand, I strongly recommend you learn as much of your students’ language as you can. It will make your teaching job and life abroad easier, and being able to learn a new language is one of the major benefits of living in a foreign country.

How To Find A Job Teaching Abroad? There are many organizations that work with the governments and schools in countries with a demand for native English speakers — their services range from English as a Second Language teacher training to job placement and in-country support.

The benefits of working through a third-party program are that they find a pre-screened job placement for you, with a school that usually arranges your living situation as well. Most organizations give you some type of orientation once you arrive in the country. This is great for inexperienced travelers, and those who want to meet people who are also new to teaching abroad and are in the same circumstances. The company also takes care of your teach-abroad visa and other needed documents prior to your departure. Teach-abroad program fees vary from organization to organization, as do the services they offer.

If you want to skip these fees — and you feel confident making your own arrangements and securing your own documents — you can look for a teaching job abroad on your own. This can be a daunting task, when many schools abroad do not have websites or available contact information online. Showing up at the school’s office and asking if they need an English teacher can pay off, though it sometimes takes a few attempts.

Where Should You Teach Abroad? Everyone has different preferences that shape the places they want to travel to. It is important to research the countries you are interested in beyond one website. Talk to people who have traveled or taught abroad in the country or countries you are considering. Think about the type of tourists who usually frequent the places you are interested in, and what they like to do when they go there. Does it fit your interests and personality? How does the country’s culture affect the way professional work is done? I had only heard wonderful things about Thailand, before I started teaching there — and it is a wonderful place — but I should have looked more in-depth at the reality of Thailand. The country attracts endless amounts of Western travelers, which can be frustrating when you live there but look like all the tourists. I was told the education system and work style in Thailand were very “laid back,” which is true in many ways, but could also be described as extremely inefficient. These are the types of things you should be well aware of before living and working in a different country.

How Will Teaching English Abroad Help Your Future? Maybe you’re not planning to return to your home country and become a teacher, so what do you have to gain from teaching abroad? I can guarantee it will be a learning experience for you in one way or another, so you are sure to benefit from personal growth. More and more employers have begun to value employees who have traveled or lived abroad for an extended period of time. It tells them that you can adapt, that you are flexible, that you are interesting, and maybe that you are a more caring person for teaching in a country that is not your own. You will stand out more than if you had stayed at home. This is especially true in the U.S., where a relatively small percentage of people work and travel in other countries. Your teach-abroad and travel experience will set you apart from the crowd.

Of course, there are tons of career opportunities based on your teaching experience. For some people, this is a way to gain valuable skills for a teaching job back home. Others plan to stay only one or two semesters in a country, and then decide to extend their teaching contracts, or find another teaching or tutoring job in that country. Others will try teaching in a new location, and continue to hop from country to country or even continent to continent while teaching English. Others fall in love with a place — or maybe with a person living in that place — and settle down permanently.

Even if you do not have a concrete plan for when you return home, you can relax. You still speak English and you still have that college degree, so if you go home and things don’t pan out — you know that somewhere out there in the world is a job opportunity for you.