Teaching Overseas: My Story + How You Can Write Yours

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Despite the hours of preparation invested scrolling through blogs, reading about former ESL teachers’ experiences in the classroom, and weighing the pros and cons of teaching overseas in different countries, there is no single universal image that encompasses the English teaching experience abroad. Hours of research can leave you right where you started. As a first time English teacher abroad, you’ll have to rely on common patterns experienced by seasoned teachers to stitch together a rough idea of what you might encounter on the job.

Young Buddhist monks studying


Nothing can prepare you for when you first stand in front of 30 pairs of inquisitive eyes before you’re even able to string together a sentence in your students’ native language. There’s no manual explaining what to do when a 10-year-old student has an emotional meltdown in the middle of your meticulously planned lesson. Regardless of what little classroom surprises loom across the horizon, English teachers abroad can agree on a few shared cornerstones of the business that cross cultures, oceans, and the roughest terrains.

My takeaways from teaching overseas

1. When teaching overseas, school supplies are a privilege, and not always a given. 

Classrooms may only be equipped with a simple chalkboard, tables, and chairs. Technology and even capabilities to print out worksheets are luxuries that not every school may have. Ingenuity and resourcefulness are vital skills to teaching English overseas in many rural areas.

2. Your students will come from every imaginable background. 

It’s not unusual for students in remote areas to travel several hours to school daily. From young Buddhist monks to orphaned children, an incredibly diverse student body will challenge your understanding of the traditional classroom.

School boys in front of a chalkboard

Photo by Ludi, teaching overseas in Rwanda

3. Learning won't be confined within the four walls of a classroom. 

Your role as a teacher doesn’t end when the bell rings. School festivals, events, and breaks outside of class are equally important opportunities for students to learn about your culture and home country. In return, student-teacher interactions will teach you a thing or two about your students’ cultures.

4. No matter how tough your day is, a single smile can make it better. 

There will always be days that leave you mentally exhausted or doubting if you’re having an impact at all. However, all it takes is a reassuring smile or handwritten letter to remind you why you’re there.

When teaching English overseas, you WILL have free time. Teaching abroad isn’t all work and no play. Your free time can be spent getting to know your students OR your new home better. Decompressing between lesson planning and facilitating is an important part of sustaining your energy for your students.

English class of young children

Photo by Chelsee, teaching overseas in Thailand

5. Always expect the unexpected while teaching overseas. 

Regardless of how much time you invest in lesson planning, always expect to improvise at the drop of a hat as you teach English overseas. Children and adults alike are unpredictable, and a lesson might never run exactly as you imagine. Working cross-culturally also leaves room for misunderstandings that you can’t plan for.

6. Your students abroad will definitely remind you of your students back home. 

Just because you’re in a new time zone and zip code doesn’t mean your students needs necessarily vary. Students need attention, structure, a variety of learning outlets, and an approachable teacher to feel inspired and engaged.

7. Every day will be different when teaching English overseas. 

No two days teaching overseas will be the same. Both students needs and your ability to meet them will evolve over time; that’s why it’s important to commit as much time as you can to your teaching post abroad. You never know what new layers you will peel back or insights you’ll uncover the longer you stay!

How you can find jobs teaching overseas

If you think you might belong to the rare breed of adventurers who thrive off spreading the joys of the English language to a group of strangers in far-off lands, there are a few ways to catalyze your search for the perfect English teaching job:

Smiling boy

Photo by Serafima, teaching overseas in Cambodia

1. Consider your availability.

After deciding on a suitable timeframe to teach abroad, you can narrow down the type of organization by their program offerings. Are you able to pick up an unpaid short-term volunteer placement during your next vacation or do you want to open a new chapter in your career with a long term teaching contract?

[Short Term TEFL Jobs vs. Longer Ones]

2. Check off your qualifications.

Do you have a degree in education, a TEFL certification, or prior experience? Before you start hyperventilating and close out of this window, we have good news to share—if you’ve made it this far into the article and have understood all the English, you’re probably a qualified candidate to teach English overseas. No degree? No problem! Teach job requirements range from having fluent English skills to possessing a bachelor’s degree in any field. Ultimately, the desired qualifications depend on each opportunity to teaching overseas.

[The One Quality All Successful ESL Teachers Have in Common]

3. Research the heck out of teaching English overseas programs.

Before closing your eyes, turning around three times, and deciding on whatever location your finger lands on the world map, research as much as possible. Education systems, teaching resources, and methods can vary drasticly between countries and even regions, and might greatly affect your teaching experience. Gather as much information as possible on placement providers and schools as well. Support services, accommodations, and the degree of involvement with the local government are all important factors to consider when making decisions about teaching overseas.

[How to Compare & Evaluate Teaching Jobs Abroad]

Make checking teaching job boards part of your regular morning routine to make sure an opportunity isn’t missed. Then be sure to read reviews of teaching placements overseas before you make your final choice! P.S. if you're already on the hunt for teaching English overseas programs, you're going to looove the next section of this article.

Recommended programs for teaching overseas

If you’re itching to capture some inspirational shots of your own best teaching moments abroad, you can get right down to business. We’ve selected a few outstanding programs from our extensive database to help find jobs teaching overseas ASAP.

  1. WorldTeach – Teach in Morocco, Namibia, or South Africa for a summer (there’s also placements in Brazil, Ecuador, and India!).
  2. CIEE — Paid teaching placements in Rabat, Morocco

  1. Good Teachers Union – Placements across China, no degree required.
  2. Amity Corporation - Teaching English to Children in Japan

  1. Maximo Nivel — Placements in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru
  2. API — Minimum three-month commitments to teach overseas in Costa Rica or Colombia.

  1. Premier TEFL — Get TEFL certified and teach abroad in Poland
  2. Frontier — Say “Bula!” to paid teaching jobs in Fiji

[The Best Teach English Abroad Programs This Year]

Teaching overseas is YOUR calling

teaching overseas

Photo by Minke, teaching overseas in the Gambia

Whether you fill the role of a teacher for a week or an entire year, the meaningful connections and relationships that arise with your students will never be forgotten. As you teach English overseas, you’ll provide students with the rich benefits of cultural and language exchange, without them ever having left the classroom, and that means something in the world!

Get Matched with 5 Programs for Teaching Overseas for FREE

Topic:  Before You Go