What does Teaching Overseas Look Like?

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How to teach English overseas?

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.'

What does Teaching English Overseas Look Like?

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.

School supplies are a privilege, and not always a given.

School boys in front of a chalkboard
“Somewhere in Rwanda, a rural farmer is dreaming of providing an education for her children. Not just high school, but maybe even a university degree. Such a dream used to seem out of reach.” -Sylvia Mathews Burwell

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.

Students come from every imaginable background.

Young Buddhist monks studying
“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” -Malala Yousafzai

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.

Learning isn’t confined within the four walls of a classroom.

Elementary school festival in Japan
“I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.” -Lily Tomlin

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.

Always expect the unexpected.

English class of young children
 “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre.” -Gail Godwin

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.

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

Smiling boy
“Peace begins with a smile.” -Mother Teresa

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.

You will have free time.

Boy taking a selfie abroad in Brazil
"This is the secret to life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play." -Alan Wilson Watts

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.

Your students abroad will likely remind you of your students back home.

Asian teenage girls in glasses
"A good teacher must be able to put himself in the place of those who find learning hard." -Eliphias Levi

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.

Every day will be different.

small boy in Gambia
"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." -William Arthur Ward

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 to Find Teaching English Overseas Jobs

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:

Timing.

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?

students researching on laptops
You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home to discover the perfect teaching job abroad.

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.

Research.

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.

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!

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.

Chinese students in a large classroom
Give the deuces to your uninspired life. Teach abroad!

Teaching Overseas in Africa

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

Teaching Overseas in Asia

Teaching Overseas in Latin America

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

Teaching Overseas in Europe or the South Pacific

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

Read our full list of Best Teach English Abroad Programs for more options.

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!