If you’ve come to this site, there is a fair chance that you are at least flirting with the idea of teaching English abroad or you may just enjoy reading random blog posts. If you are contemplating jumping continents, it’s likely you have plenty of questions before going overseas. There is a ton of information online as well as thousands of companies that recruit or sell TEFL or TESOL certificates. Most TEFL and ESL companies tend to sugarcoat teaching English as a foreign language and basically tell you everything you want to hear and omit the underlined realities that could deter some from living abroad, which ultimately is bad for their bottom line. If you have been following this blog, hopefully you have picked up that I try to find a balance in the middle. As a former teacher, I can tell you that teaching abroad is an incredible experience. Not so much for the actual work, but for the fact you can live in a foreign country and support yourself financially while doing so. Unfortunately, this is something that many teachers fail to appreciate. Teaching abroad or living overseas in general is not for everyone and there are definitely times of adversity while existing outside of your comfort zone. On the other hand, such hardship is also intertwined with a thrill, adventure and surrealism that you won’t find back home.
One of the goals of this blog is to provide realistic information about teaching English abroad. I’m not going to display a brochure with a group of smiling models (a group of balding Western men would be more appropriate) nor tell you that you will get rich or be treated like a rock star. As a person that taught abroad for years and has traveled throughout South America and Asia, I can tell you that your experience entirely depends on who you are as a person. It doesn’t matter what race, gender or age you are, but what you can contribute as an individual. If you are open-minded, strong-willed, independent and sociable, you will have the time of your life. But don’t worry, if you aren’t any of these, you will probably still have a an awesome adventure.
Let me stop deviating and get back to the reason why you landed on this post via the black magic of Google algorithms. You want to teach abroad, but you are not exactly sure where to start, what to believe and who to trust. The ESL/TEFL industry is robust, often disorganized and at times quite unregulated. After all, it’s nothing more than a by-product of the intense globalization that has been sweeping the globe during the past few decades. Like it or not, your decision to get on that airplane and teach abroad will contribute in some way to the movement to further shrink the world. With that being said, here are 10 must-knows about teaching English abroad in 2015. Keep in mind that these are subjective according to my experience and knowledge of the industry. If you want to contribute to the discussion, please do so in the comment section. I would love to hear your thoughts. Even better, consider writing an article for JimmyESL
For more about the top places to teach read the Best Countries to Teach English abroad.
I’m not really sure how else to put it, but there are a lot of really shitty companies in the ESL/TEFL industry. I’m not referring so much about small companies, programs or schools, but rather most, if not all of the giant corporations that provide ESL instruction domestically or internationally. There are definitely some lousy small schools and companies that you should always be aware of, but there is overwhelming evidence to argue that almost every large chain school is awful, so don’t be duped by their brochures of smiling models. I am speaking from personal experience that companies, such as Education First, Kaplan, Disney English, the Princeton Review and a slew of other global entities not only pay lower wages, but price gauge their students.
How do they get away with it? These companies are brilliant at marketing and selling images that don’t really match up with reality. You don’t need much experience to teach for them, but you better have graduated from a top ten school if you wish to apply for a marketing position with one. In some circumstances, you may have little choice to work for one of these schools. If so, my advice is to not stay more than a year and move on to a mid-sized institute as soon as possible. The turnover rate at these types of schools is significantly high.
When I got hired in Vancouver, Canada to teach in Japan by a company called GEOS, I had absolutely no experience teaching ESL. Let me tell you that I was a terrible teacher during my first year and broke almost every rule at or outside of work. GEOS (now out of business), was one of those evil corporate giants I mentioned just before. I think I realized the first day what kind of company GEOS was and quickly found a position at a small school in Sapporo 4 months later. But I guess I have to be grateful since they sponsored my first visa and allowed me to get a foot in the door. Now that I think about it, I miss those first days in Japan.
I would say that about half of the available ESL teaching jobs in Asia require little or no experience. If you are over 30, it becomes increasingly more difficult to get a job without experience. However, there are always plenty of jobs throughout China for almost anyone so long as you have a university degree and a passport from an English-speaking country. Although it wasn’t the case even 5 years ago, most schools throughout China and other parts of Asia require a TEFL or TESOL.
While you can certainly land an entry-level job without much experience, the field is becoming quite competitive for the better teaching positions. This is particularly true in countries, such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Columbia. The days of just strolling into a country and demanding everything simply because you are a Westerner that happens to come from an English-speaking country are pretty much over. With a slowing economy in the West ,there are more people than ever teaching English abroad. What was once a highly unregulated ESL industry, has also seen it’s standards increase in recent years. Consequently, more schools are requiring experience and a TEFL or TESOL certificate. When applying for a job, remember to be professional in the same manner as you would back home. This holds true regardless if you are going through a recruiter or applying directly to a school. Even for a Skype interview, it is best to throw on business attire.
Do you need a TEFL or TESOL for teaching English abroad? It depends on the position and country. For instance, just about every province in China now requires a teacher to have a TEFL or TESOL regardless of prior experience. While it is still possible to get a job without one, it’s getting increasingly difficult to do so. Nevertheless, there seems to be a prevailing idea that TEFL and TESOL courses are scams and teachers are merely duped into buying them. Sure, there are fraudulent companies that sell TEFL courses, but there are also good ones, such the International TEFL Academy, Teaching House and i to i TEFL Course. If you have no teaching experience, completing a TEFL or TESOL course is also a great way to prepare yourself to teach abroad and build a more attractive resume. I landed a job in Japan back in 2007 without a TEFL, but looking back I wish I had gotten one. I would have been better prepared, which ultimately would have correlated into earning more money and fewer headaches in the long run. If you opt for an online course, make sure the institute you are taking it through is legit and accredited.
If your main motivation for teaching English abroad is money, then you might want to reconsider. It’s not about the money, but the experience and opportunity to see the world and meet cool people along the way. There are lots of recruiting/placement agencies that paint a picture of making enough dinero to pay off your student loans. If you plan on teaching English to pay off your loans, you are going to have a hard time doing so unless you lock yourself up in the apartment after work each day and never enjoy the incredible culture and nightlife just outside that door. While it is possible to save a fair amount in South Korea, these jobs are becoming more competitive as the economy there is slowing down. It is possible to save $25,000 or more a year in Saudi Arabia or the UAE, but you will need at least four years of ESL teaching experience and an actual degree in English, TESOL or linguistics. Salaries are on the rise in China and expect there to be the new hotspot for saving money.
For more on potential income read What Are the Real Salaries for Teaching English Abroad?
You would think that if a person of color left the borders of his or her English-speaking country, racism would not be an issue. Unfortunately, there remain plenty of racist schools, programs and companies throughout South Korea, China, Thailand and Taiwan which often discriminate based on skin color. Since most institutes rely on students of elementary and middle school ages, they tend to only want to hire White Westerners, including the socially awkward ones. The issue is that Private schools in these countries cater to parents fixated on the idea that their kid’s foreign teacher must be white. Fortunately, this is becoming less of a problem as younger parents tend to be more open. Another reason that racism is an issue is that a fair amount of Western White teachers are also racist or just don’t care enough to speak up about the issue. If you are teaching in Asia and are aware of blatant intolerance, please do your part to educate others. Anyone that is a native English speaker should have an opportunity to teach abroad so long as he or she meets the requirements.
If you are a person of color, then please don’t let issue of racism deter you. While racism remains a problem, there are plenty of non-white teachers throughout Asia, Latin America and Europe and that amount is growing. If you are looking to teach in South Korea or China, it is better to apply through a public school rather than to a private one. However, the idea that teaching English abroad is only for white applicants is not true. One of the missions of this blog is to expose the problems in the ESL/TEFL industry and discrimination is certainly a priority. Although none of the large recruiters or companies out there will admit that racism exist, my chief objective is to provide honest information. The other reality is that global society is changing quickly. While it is true that racial elements permeate Asia, these sentiments are on the decline as more and more individuals from those countries either travel or have lived in the diversity of the West.
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but if this is your first time living abroad, you’ll be surprised to see how some of your Western peers behave outside of their home countries. This is particularly true in parts of Asia, such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and even more typical of Western men. I am not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy yourself and that you can’t party until the wee hours of the night. All I am saying is to follow the same social rules as you would back home. Unfortunately, many Westerners let the charm and custom of flattery go to their heads when living in countries like Japan and South Korea. Individuals who would go unnoticed back home, suddenly experience recognition simply for being a Westerner. I have to admit, it can be quite enjoyable to find yourself in such a position. However, this doesn’t give one the right to act like a complete jackass in public. If you are a wanker in your home country, you will inevitably become one abroad as well. Remember that as a foreign teacher, you by default become a representative of the West.
While there are temporary and part-time jobs available, these are not ones that support working visas. These are positions for teachers already in country and do some part-time work to earn extra money. As a recruiter, I get quite a few people who ask me about seasonal assignments, which aren’t feasible for the most part. If you are coming to countries, such as Japan, South Korea or China to work, expect to work a fair amount of hours. In fact, you may have stretches where you find yourself working too much and needing to cut back. Teaching English abroad is a great way to see the world and support yourself while in another country, but it is also work and often of the tiresome kind. While you may only be wanting to teach for a year or two, there are a fair amount of Westerners who teach abroad for decades. For them, it’s just part of their daily life as if they were still back home.
There seems to be some confusion out there as to whether or not one can teach English abroad without a university degree from an accredited university. Except for a few exceptions, it’s not possible to teach abroad without a degree. It must also be a degree from an accredited university. Although any discipline, there are generally more job opportunities for those who majored in English, linguistics or TESOL. Some of the more lucrative positions will require a degree in these areas. In addition to having a university degree, you will need to have a passport from either the United States, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. While there may be a few exceptions here and there, 95% of the jobs out there require a degree and the correct passport. This is unfortunate for those qualified to teach, but don’t hold the proper passport. Keep in mind that these policies are not decided by recruiters and schools, but rather by immigration departments.
Teaching abroad can be an awesome experience, but don’t be duped by misleading information. If you are going to teach English abroad, it is best to have a realistic perspective of what to expect. You also shouldn’t let stereotypes, fears or minor nuances prevent from doing so. Keep in mind that jobs are more competitive than ever, so it is best to be prepared beforehand. If you are a current teacher or in the process of becoming one, I would love to hear your comments, so please feel free to add to the discussion about teaching English abroad.