The “Do”s and “Don’t”s Of Teaching English Abroad

I am a free spirit. Wanderlust is my middle name. I’d spent a large chunk of time traveling the world, around Africa, Latin America, and Europe. Eventually that time came to an end. I ran out of money, had visa issues, and emotionally I just needed a break. Eventually you give up on instant coffee packs, crave a vegetarian meal that consists of something other than bread and cassava and a night’s sleep without a mosquito net.

You go home.

A week later, you wonder what rash decisions you made and you get that itch again to leave. As a matter of fact, you tell yourself you’d do anything to leave your home country again and travel around the world.

This time, you’re going to do it right. Your work is worth value; you can no longer be a volunteer. You can’t rely on your parents’ bank account. Actually that should have ended long before you turned 26. You can still be a free-spirited backpacker but you need some income and stability at the same time. Maybe you’re not setting out to get that pension or 401-K but you surely need to fuel your body mind and spirit with (financially measured) capacity.

The job situation for youth in your home country is already shit. You’ve lost hope on getting any kind of decent job until the damn baby boomers retire and free up some space in the workplace. If that’s the glum situation at home though, what is the competition like in the global market? Meek at best. You know you have all star qualifications, experience and education to back up your resume. Mainly you have faith in yourself. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like employers have that same faith you do. You’re not willing to settle for a minimum wage service or retail industry job so you weigh out your other options.

You’ve resisted the urge for so long to do the standard teach English abroad. You’ve criticized it for long as such a right of passage for a white Westerner. Mainly you think you’ve passed that stage. Shouldn’t you have jumped on that bandwagon when you graduated university? The ship has sailed.

But it hasn’t.

Logically you can’t think of any other way to medicate that bite from the travel bug and you succumb to the idea of teaching English abroad for a year.

There are many platforms that offer teacher-training programs like TEFL/TESOL but you choose one that comes with a guaranteed job placement. It costs you a grand but you’ll make that back easily in one month’s salary so it’s worth it.

South America is calling your name. Your newly acquired Spanish-language skills want to be put to the test. You crave a relaxed vibe, good and cheap beer and happy-go-lucky people. Then you find out Colombia will pay you $500/month — barely enough to cover rent and Ecuador will give you $6/hour — just enough to cover breakfast, but barely.

Asia has never appealed to you. As much as all your friends and recruiters have pressured you into going to South Korea or China because you can make so much money, have all your expenses paid, and be amongst many other expats you just don’t want to settle on going to a pumped up on steroids version of America: a super fast-paced, capitalist, consumer country with far too many people and far too little space. But you’ve taken your course; you don’t want it to have been a waste of time or money.

Thailand has always sounded nice to travel to. Maybe not live in but definitely travel worthy. It becomes your happy medium between the shit pay of South America and the overdrive lifestyle of Korea and China. The deal is set in stone. You book your flight. No looking back.

Upon arrival, things may not be what you hoped. So I present to all you wanderers and potential ESL teachers out there a list of dos and don’ts if you’re contemplating teaching abroad.

DO: take a leap of faith. Don’t burden yourself with the what-ifs. Be fearless.

DON’T: feel too confident in your fearlessness. Don’t be stupid. Be aware of the culture you’re about to enter and respect it. Learn some key phrases like ‘hello,’ ‘please,’ and ‘thank you.’ You’re not at home anymore and few people will appreciate your arrogance and Western values. Just because you’re white doesn’t mean your right and don’t hold your English language as the most prized possession.

DO: ask a lot of questions before you leave. Will there be other Americans at your school? Are there accessible services like a hospital near by? What about your living arrangements? As a matter of fact, almost go so far to ask for a Skype tour of the premises so you can see for yourself.

DON’T: let it bother you that there’s not a big nightlife scene in your new town. No kitchen? No problem! The street food will be delicious and easily accessible, and cheap to boot!

DO: know your value. Say you’re getting paid $1000/month. How much more could you possibly be making? Is there a middleman taking a cut? Was there a one-time referral fee or is there a monthly deduction? Some places are so corrupt that you’ll snag you of 33% of your income per pay cycle. Your best bet is to sign a contract directly with a school and skip out on any agency that might promise you the sun, moon, and stars. Likely they’re using and abusing you. If you find out this is happening, STAND UP FOR YOURSELF!

DON’T: let one little bump in the road deter you. If it doesn’t work out at your first school, you don’t feel valued or you’re not getting paid on time, LEAVE! You have the advantage of marketing yourself in country to ANY other school. There is such a dire need/want for native English-speaking teachers that you can find yourself another position easily. Don’t see this hindrance as a failure, don’t pack up and go home. Move along, sashay away, and say BYE FELICIA! TC mark

featured image – Shutterstock

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