In response to the crippling recession that has severely punked the American job market, thousands of men and women are exploring overseas teaching opportunities – some who wish bide their time while the market recovers, and others who desire a permanent re-settlement altogether. And many make a decent (if not highly lucrative) living by teaching English as a Second Language in countries where it is not the native tongue. Interested? Here’s how you can join the expatriate educator movement (without completely regretting your experience).
Step 1: Choose a country/region
If you wish to teach ESL overseas, the first thing you should decide is which sea you’d like to go over. Opportunities vary between Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, in terms of wage, accommodations, incentives and applicant requirements. Keep in mind that your salary (or hourly wage, in some cases) is reflective of the local economy, not standard U.S. employers. So while you might only make, say, $2,000 a month teaching in South Korea, that stipend will go much further there than it will stateside.
Also pay attention to incentives. Some establishments require you to pay your way, while others provide airfare. Some will make you pay rent, while others cover your lease. It all depends on the employer and (in many cases) the country or region you’ve chosen.
Step 2: Choose your certification
The required documentation for ESL teachers greatly varies between geographical regions. The general rule is that teaching gigs in Europe require higher levels of training, jobs in Asia require less experience and positions in Spanish-speaking nations require some degree of bilingualism – but there are many exceptions.
If you want to hedge your bets on being hirable in any country for an English teaching gig, the CELTA certification is the one to pursue. Generally a 4-week/120-hour course, CELTA offers something many other certifications do not – practicum classroom experience. Plus, it’s offered all over the world; you can travel to exotic locales like Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia or Oceania to acquire your CELTA, or (if money is an issue) take a U.S.-based course.
In addition to CELTA, prospective ESL teachers can choose from formal master’s programs, independent companies and distance learning organizations in order to acquire the necessary certification. It’s not a bad idea to contact a few schools located in the country where you’d like to work to see what sort of degree/certificate they require of new teachers (some simply require individuals with a bachelor’s degree whose native language is English). Please note that TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificates specialize in teachers who go abroad, while TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) involves immigrants to English-speaking countries who wish to learn the native tongue — but either one may be used to leverage a good job overseas.
Step 3: Finding a school
Many prospective ESL teachers contact schools directly, but most refer to helpful ESL job boards located online. Dave’s ESL Café, ESL Employment and ESL Base are some of the most popular sites of this nature. They list job opportunities located all over the globe, and many also provide tips for first-time applicants, such as how to prepare an effective resume or ways to spot a shady institution. What these sites often DON’T do is regulate job vacancies based on school legitimacy; it’s up to the applicant to find a school that pays fair wages, provides suitable accommodations and treats employees with fairness and respect (not all of them meet these requirements).
Highly qualified applicants are also encouraged to explore opportunities sponsored by the U.S. military in foreign countries. These gigs often provide relatively luxurious housing and much higher wages than other establishments in that country, regardless of where in the world the job is located. The catch is that you’ll most likely be teaching American students in these positions, not foreign ones – but you’ll get to see some new scenery all the same.
Step 4: Interviewing with a prospective employer
If you submit multiple applications, chances are you’ll be inundated with emails and phone calls from schools that wish to employ your teaching services. Generally, the quicker you receive a response, the less legitimate the employer; so if you submit an application and receive a reply hours later, you might want to strike that entry from your list. Also pay attention to the language in their responses. Is it literate? Is there a lot of ambiguous language (“you’ll get your own place” instead of “teachers receive a furnished apartment”)? Don’t be afraid to play detective during these initial recruitment stages.
When you’ve received a reply that meets your standards of approval, a phone interview is likely to follow. These conversations are another good opportunity to gauge the school/organization. Is the recruiter pushy, or patient? Do they want you to agree to sign a contract right then, or is there a standard protocol? If you’re planning to move overseas and live happily ever after, you have to be certain that the company charged with accommodating and compensating you is not a scam. We can’t stress this enough – for every great international academy, there is at least one illegitimate facility where ESL teachers are miserable.
Step 5: Get the necessary paperwork in order
While the requirements vary, most schools will require you to undergo some sort of federal background check. This is a relatively recent change, largely due to incompetent teachers who ruined the process for everyone else. This can take weeks, and many organizations will further require you to get the document notarized, which also takes time and can be somewhat costly (depending on where you go). Contracts, work visas and other documents may follow. During your interview, be sure to get a clear idea of every piece of paper you’ll need to obtain before you leave the country. Also keep in mind that acquiring a passport can take months.
Best of luck in your overseas teaching experience!
By Brad Nehring