Is Teaching English Abroad Right for Me?

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5 minutes


Teaching English abroad is great way to experience another culture while helping others. By doing so, you provide local students with an opportunity to practice communicating with a native English speaker - something they otherwise might not be able to do on a regular basis. At the same time your experience abroad could very well alter your very way of looking at the world.

Teaching abroad should be an adventure but a big step in your professional development, too. That being said, teaching English abroad is not for everyone. It takes a lot of preparation and dedication to provide the quality of education that students deserve. Not to mention preparing yourself to live and work in a completely new environment, which is best not taken lightly.

Teaching English is a great way to immerse yourself in another culture!
Teaching English is a great way to immerse yourself in another culture!
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

If you’re thinking about moving abroad to teach, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

Do I have teaching or tutoring experience?

Yes. Your past experience is valuable, as you’ve likely honed strategies to engage students and deliver lessons. Knowing how to work with students, even if English is their native language, is helpful.

No. Not all teach English positions require applicants to have prior teaching or tutoring experience. Some schools only require that teachers have a bachelor’s degree and native English fluency. Experience working with students is preferable, though. If you can teach or tutor - even in a volunteer capacity - before going abroad, you’ll be better equipped to help your new students.

Prior experience with kids can give you a leg up in your program.
Prior experience with kids can give you a leg up in your program.
Photo courtesy of Tara B.

Am I up for presenting lessons and do I enjoy helping others?

Yes. Great! Presenting lessons to a class of 30, or even just 12 students, can be nerve-racking, whether you’re in your home country or abroad. You’ll need to confidently and clearly explain lesson objectives, patiently answer questions, and be engaging with your young students.

No. It’s okay to be a bit nervous. You can find a ton of great (and free!) resources to help you succeed in the classroom, and InterExchange will provide you with some material before your departure. But if you’re not open to leading a class and assisting students, teaching abroad is not a good fit.

Do I have an English or teaching degree?

Yes. Sweet! Having studied the ins and outs of the English language, in addition to being a native speaker, is an asset. If you have a teaching degree, even better.

No. Don’t worry, an English or teaching degree isn’t a requirement for many teach English abroad positions. Schools will often request that you focus on developing students’ conversational skills (speaking and listening) and as a native speaker, you are well suited for this! Many schools will require that you have a bachelor’s degree, though, but it can often be in any subject area.

You’ll have the opportunity to bond with your students!
You’ll have the opportunity to bond with your students!
Photo courtesy of Kristin K.

Have I completed a TEFL certificate?

Yes. A Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certification is certainly an asset. You’ll have tools under your belt to specifically help students who are learning English.

No. TEFL coursework prepares you to work with students who are learning English in an environment where it’s not commonly spoken - meaning they don’t have much opportunity to practice their skills outside the classroom. Though it’s not a requirement, becoming TEFL-certified can help with your skills and your confidence in the classroom.

Am I flexible person?

Yes. You possess an essential trait for this role! Much of teaching is trial and error. If you’re flexible, you won’t break a sweat when you have to modify a lesson or change classroom management tactics. You can roll with the punches when schedules change (which may happen more than you are used to) and/or when directions are a bit unclear (which can happen in cultures with indirect communication styles).

Not so much. Every student is different in terms of learning style and English-language ability. You will likely be modifying lessons to suit different learners, which requires deviating from the original plan. In addition, many cultures are less direct in their communication style than what Americans are used to. Sometimes the answer to a question may not be as straightforward as you’d like, and a reply may take longer to receive than it would in an American workplace. If you crave routine and clear-cut instructions, this may not be the right program for you.

You might learn just as much from your students as they’ll learn from you!
You might learn just as much from your students as they’ll learn from you!
Photo courtesy of Ashley L.

Do I have basic proficiency in the host country’s language?

Yes. Woo hoo! Navigating your new neighborhood, ordering food, and interacting with students and other community members will be a bit easier than it would be if you didn’t have any knowledge of the host country’s tongue.

No, but I’m willing to practice. Knowledge of the host country’s language is often not a requirement. That said, having basic proficiency will help immensely in your day-to-day life abroad. Consider taking a course or finding a language partner.

Living like a local in Thailand!
Living like a local in Thailand!
Photo courtesy of OEG

Am I open to living like a local, either with a host family or in a local community?

Yes. This is important, as schools often provide teachers with local-style housing. Some programs offer home-stay accommodation, which is a great way to experience the culture like a local. You’ll dine on authentic, home-cooked meals and see how natives really live.

No. If you’re not open to experiencing the host culture by living like locals or with locals, then teaching English abroad is probably not a good fit for you. Most positions include local-style accommodation and/or a salary that will afford local-style housing. For example, it’s uncommon to have an oven in apartments in Thailand, so teachers there shouldn’t expect to be baking cookies!

Still unsure and have some more questions? Contact us and we’ll be happy to chat with you! We want to help you find the best program for your interests and qualifications.

Ready to take on a teaching English position? You can participate on our Language Homestay Program in France, Italy, or Spain for 4-to-12 weeks. Or you can take on one or two semesters as an English teacher in Thailand and spend more time integrating into your welcoming host community.

Ashley Lulling

After earning a M.A. in Diplomacy & International Relations and teaching English in South Korea, Ashley joined InterExchange to promote cross-cultural understanding and help others have amazing experiences abroad.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation