Ten Questions to Ask Yourself Before Teaching Abroad
Thinking about teaching abroad? Before you jump in, make sure you take some time to do your research, know what you’re getting into, and ask yourself if you are deciding to teach ESL overseas for the right reasons.
1. Do I enjoy spending time with children?
This might not be the very first question that pops into your head when you think about teaching abroad, but it’s a big one. Because you’ll more than likely end up teaching children, and if you don’t genuinely enjoy spending time with, teaching, and learning from kids, you’re going to find your year dragging on.
2. Am I comfortable being in front of a classroom?
You don’t have to be a pro at teaching, but you will have to be able to stand up by yourself in front of a couple dozen people on a daily basis without too much anxiety.
Of course, you’ll get much more comfortable being in front of a classroom as your year of teaching goes on, but teaching might not be the best option for those with major anxieties about public speaking, or who really hate being the center of attention.
3. Do I have a teaching certificate?
You don’t have to have a four-year degree in education, but having some sort of training is going to help you a lot. For a lot of schools, it’ll be a requirement to get hired.
Plus, feeling confident that you know what you’re doing will make a big difference when you step into the classroom. If you’re serious about teaching abroad, take some time to invest in a TEFL or TESOL certification, and get some classroom teaching hours back home.
4. Am I looking for a vacation, or for a chance to learn, grow, and live abroad?
A lot of people want to travel and see the world. A lot of people love the idea of living in another country. And a lot of people love the idea of having long chunks of uninterrupted time to explore, travel, and relax. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But teaching abroad isn’t a vacation. Yes, you will be seeing another country and getting to know the country and its people to a depth that you would never experience on a vacation.
But you will also be working, renting an apartment, and dealing with the mundane aspects of truly living a life abroad, instead of just passing through. How will you react in those moments when the excitement of travel wears off and the day-to-day takes over? Take a minute to ask yourself if that is what you are really looking for out of your travel experience.
5. Have I put a lot of thought into my finances?
Yes, it’s relatively easy to make enough money to live on while teaching abroad. Depending on what country you go to, it can be very lucrative. But there are start-up costs – your flight, your visa, the deposit for your apartment, the cost of living during the first month or more until your first paycheck comes.
And then there are your costs back home. Are you spending money each month on student loans? Car payments? Put it all down on paper, get educated about the costs you will have while abroad, and seriously consider whether you are in a financial position to teach abroad.
6. How open am I to other cultures and new experiences?
Teaching abroad is so much more than just travel. It’s taking a year or more to immerse every aspect of yourself and your life in a new culture and new experiences.
You’re not going to another country to take some photos of the popular sights and then go back to normal. You’re going there to see all the side streets that most tourists miss, to make life-long friendships across language and cultural divides, to experience a completely different way of life, and to be deeply changed by it all. Are you truly open to those sort of life-changing experiences?
7. Have I experienced culture shock and do I know how to deal with it?
You can be the most open-minded and adaptable person in the world, and culture-shock will still knock you flat on your back at some point or another. If you understand what you’re going through and are able to put it in perspective, that alone can be the difference between spending a few weeks in a funk vs. spending months or even your whole time abroad in frustration and disillusionment.
8. Do I enjoy meeting new people and forming new friendships?
You don’t have to be a social butterfly, but if you are someone who needs lifelong friendships and who has a difficult time connecting with people that you have only known for a short while, you could find yourself feeling kind of lonely during your time abroad.
One of the best things about teaching overseas is the people that you will meet. Being able to embrace those friendships and connections, as fleeting as they may be, is going to be one of the most rewarding parts of your time abroad.
9. Am I really willing to leave everything behind and spend a year abroad?
Most contracts last for a full year, and that’s a long time. That’s a long time to be away from family and friends, a long time to take a break from your career or school, a long time to spend in a new country, homesickness is very common.
And while Skype is great, it can’t substitute for real face to face contact. Think about everything you love in your life right now – your friends, your apartment, your job, your favorite cafe…are you willing to let go of all of that for a year or more?
10. Do I want to be challenged and pushed outside of my comfort zone?
Teaching abroad is not for the faint of heart or the faint of spirit. You will be pushed and challenged to grow, and sometimes that growth will be difficult. Ask yourself if you are willing to embrace the challenges that will be presented to you, and if you are willing to change and grow as a person.