Top 7 Misconceptions About Teaching Abroad

by Fae Esperas

Teaching abroad is definitely one of the best experiences you can have in your life. You not only get to live out your passion to mold young minds towards success, but you also get to do that outside your comfort zone.

How often does someone get to travel while simultaneously living out their calling?

While a lot of teachers are living life abroad, there are also a lot of aspiring teacher/travelers who are having second thoughts about this kind of career. A lot of misconceptions are brought to life by the idea of teaching abroad but frankly it all boils down to saying yes to a great adventure.

Art is always a child favorite.
Art is always a child favorite. Photo by Elsa Thomasma

1. Living abroad is a dangerous life.

You may think that teaching in Central America is dangerous because of the supposed presence of crime syndicates, drug lords, and political conflict, or in Israel because of the ever present terrorist groups in media reports. But face the facts, a lot of countries across the globe have lower crime rates than the country you currently live in. For example, there are plenty of countries with lower crime rates than the U.S., and those same countries also have less problems involving guns.

So rather than stress yourself out about safety, it may be better to learn more about the country you want to teach in and see what kind of life it has to truly offer you (Insider tip: check out expat blogs for accurate living conditions).

2. You won't get lost in translation.

Well, you should expect that going to another country will definitely put you at risk of language-related confusion. But that's the beauty of traveling, you learn new things through the journey. 

It is important to learn a few local words used in the country you plan to teach in, just so you won’t get completely lost in translation. You can learn by studying beforehand or conversing with the locals (i.e. your students). By the time you return to your homeland, you may even speak the language fluently.

3. You'll be teaching English only.

Most aspiring travel-teachers think that when they go overseas they'll only teach English to non-native speakers. The thing is, many other subjects are in need of teachers as well. 

If you intend to teach in elementary and secondary schools, then you should expect to teach in other subject areas, such as Math, Science, Art, Physical Education, History, and Geography. You may be assigned to a subject based on your specialization or experience, or you may not, so be prepared for any subject.

A volunteer teacher

4. You can teach for a few days and then fly away.

It used to be the case a few years ago, but now most countries have implemented more strict guidelines for accepting foreign teachers. Applying for a position teaching abroad takes time and a lot of paperwork. You cannot fly immediately to your chosen country and teach there, you will need to fulfill both your employer’s and the embassy’s job requirements first. The average time of processing for all necessary documents is at least one month, but it is often even longer.

So you will need to be very patient when applying for a position abroad to avoid unneeded frustration. Just make a list of the requirements and check them off one by one.

5. You can fly empty-handed.

A popular myth in ESL teaching is that you can secure a job overseas and then the company who hired you will give you a plane ticket and funds to get you started once you get to the location you are assigned to. This isn't true.

Becoming a traveling teacher requires an investment. You may have to pay for everything on your own, from the plane tickets to the paperwork to your housing needs, just like other jobs overseas. Be prepared to pay for your transportation and relocation needs and the experience you’ll gain will be well worth the investment.

6. You are resilient to culture shock.

You may be all in for a new experience, but embracing a different culture takes time, effort, and patience. You'll still get homesick, miss your loved ones back home, and even cry at times because you're miles apart.

But getting over the culture shock phase opens doors to greater opportunities, not only in the location you're in, but in the places you intend to teach in the future. Try to focus on your work, your students, and exploring the new culture with an open-mind and you will be on your way to pleasant cultural immersion.

A class

7. You're READY to teach abroad!

If there’s one secret you need to know about being a first-timer teaching abroad…you will experience anxiety and it is best you try to enjoy it. Feel the thrill and excitement as you are about to explore a new environment once you’re there.

You can never be fully ready for a teach abroad adventure, there will always be bumps in the road ahead in some way. But the decision to teach abroad is all yours, so keep your eye on the prize, which in this case is your goal to successfully teach abroad.