The need for English teachers across the world is always high, so teaching English as a second language to learners of all ages can provide you with the opportunity to earn an income, have a rewarding career and travel to new places in an immersive way, all at the same time. Many teachers are even digital nomads who live in other countries and teach U.S. students online.
And one of the coolest parts? You don’t even always need to be a certified teacher to make it happen!
We caught up with 3 English teachers who left the United States to travel and teach all over the world! Here’s a bit about them.
Upon graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering, she decided not to jump into engineering and instead, volunteered as an English teacher in Turin, Italy. After three months in Italy, she was hooked and knew she wanted to continue living as an expat and working with kids. After her trip to Italy, she received her TEFL certification and has now taught in Italy, Senegal, South Korea, the United States, and, currently, Haiti.
Becoming an ESL teacher was about exploration and finding answers for herself. “I really wanted to explore what life and education was outside of the US,” she explains. “I knew I had to explore other parts of the world to find the place that feels the most at home.” She’s currently on an E-2 Visa, teaching in South Korea and plans to continue teaching abroad. Follow her journey on Instagram @celitravelss
Danielle is a Learning Specialist at a private school in San Francisco and founder of Hombro a Hombro/Arm in Arm. She volunteered with the Peace Corps and taught ESL in Comarca Ngäbe-Buglé, an indigenous reservation in Panama for 13 months, before she was evacuated early due to COVID. Follow Danielle on Instagram @DanniLeetheRPCV
Read on to find out more about teaching English abroad and if it might be right for you.
What is an ESL Teacher?
Simply put, an ESL teacher is a teacher who teaches English as a second language.
- Teaching English in the U.S. to non-native English speakers
- Moving temporarily or permanently to another part of the world to teach English as a second language.
The main requirements are that you need to be a native English speaker and hold a bachelor’s degree.
ESL teachers can teach both children and adults and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s also a common part-time occupation. The BLS lists the average wage for an ESL teacher as $55,350 in May 2020 and notes that job expectancy is expected to decline about 10%. However, the outlook for ESL teachers abroad remains strong.
How to Become an ESL Teacher
Some people may set out to become an ESL as their primary specialty, while others may make the decision to teach English abroad later on in their teaching careers. That means that, fortunately, there are three main pathways to teach English abroad:
- Get your teaching certificate and undergrad specifically in ESL
- Earn your Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification or a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certification as an add-on to your teaching speciality
- Earn your TEFL or TESOL with a bachelor’s in another field, providing you are an English native speaker
In some cases, you actually don’t even need a formal teaching degree in order to teach ESL abroad.
You don’t have to be bilingual to teach ESL either, but the skill is obviously a helpful one, depending on where you plan to teach. And as Jash points out, becoming an ESL teacher can help fulfill your career plans, no matter what you’re looking for. For instance, she suggests it for people who may be interested in:
- a short time experience
- gap year
- semester abroad
- volunteer experience
- full or part-time career
Try it Out by Volunteering
If you aren’t quite convinced that teaching ESL abroad professionally is the right path for you, don’t overlook the option to volunteer. Volunteering can be a great way to “try on” teaching ESL abroad, as well as a rewarding experience in a new place.
With volunteering, you may not officially need your TESOL license in order to qualify. For instance, the Peace Corps only required a bachelor’s degree and experience working with children. There are also major benefits of working with a larger volunteer organization like the Peace Corps because they handle all travel and visa arrangements and some posts even offer volunteers the opportunity to earn a TESOL certificate during their training.
Let’s Talk About Remote Opportunities
While English teachers abroad are in demand more than ever, the pandemic has certainly complicated things as some countries have closed their doors or put restrictions in place. However, that means that there are now more remote opportunities for teaching ESL as well.
Teaching online can provide you with experience, a stable source of income, and if traveling becomes something you want to try in the future, you’ll have a background of knowledge to draw from as an educator. If you’re interested in exploring teaching English online to kids, Celi recommends VIPKid.
Challenges to Overcome
While becoming an ESL teacher will certainly be an adventure, that’s not to say it will be without challenges. For instance, Danielle points out that it was an adjustment getting used to the hot, humid climate she was placed in, frequent water and power outages, lack of cell service, as well as a bug bite that caused her to need hospitalization and a few weeks of recuperation before she could get back to work.
Jash also explains that living and working in another country means going completely outside of your comfort zone. This could include everything from navigating the subway to communicating food allergies to reading menus to even figuring out how to style your hair. “Living abroad is not an extended vacation,” she notes. “I am constantly facing challenges, but each one is a learning opportunity and a chance to grow.”
Connect with ESL teachers
If you’re interested in learning more about becoming an ESL teacher abroad, be sure to follow the inspiring teachers we featured on their platforms to see their journeys up-close.
- Instagram: @DanniLeetheRPCV
- Blog: http://dannileethepcv.wordpress.com/
- Organization: Hombro a Hombro/Arm in Arm
- Instagram: @celitravelss
Advice For Those Considering Teaching ESL Abroad
Our ESL teachers have some words of wisdom before you plan your first trip to keep in mind:
- Decide ahead of time what you hope to gain out of your experience. Danielle suggests you do this in order to help you narrow down the program and location you choose. Consider if your main priority is learning a new language, experiencing a totally new culture, making money, giving back, or lying on a beach somewhere. “All are fine,” she says. “You should just know what you are looking for so that you can make an informed decision.
- Do your research. She also suggests thoroughly researching the locations you are thinking about, talking to people who’ve been there or are from there, and reading blogs or travel stories about the location.
- Give yourself time to adjust. Danielle admits that she wishes she would have given herself more time to adjust rather than pressuring herself to integrate immediately. “I am a naturally shy person, so it takes me a little while to warm up to new people and places–and that’s okay!” she says now.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. “It’s okay to make mistakes and be awkward,” says Danielle. “You should expect to find yourself in awkward situations when you are living in a new country, and even try to embrace it. Sometimes those moments make for the best stories!”
- Be open-minded about your location. While there’s nothing wrong with having a plan to travel to a certain location in mind, Jash also encourages future ESL teachers to keep an open mind about where they may land. “Each time I decided to go abroad, I didn’t have a specific country in mind. I follow opportunities and what I think best fits my current situation at the time,” she says. “When I was looking for short term experiences my heart was not set on going to Eataly. It was just the best opportunity for me at the time.”
- Familiarize yourself with the country’s language, etiquette, and respectful gestures. “This will get you a long way when it comes to interacting with locals and getting to know the country,” says Celi.
- Leave your expectations behind. Despite your careful planning, Danielle advises one last piece of advice: do your best to leave all your expectations behind. “The experience will likely be different from all the scenarios you envisioned, so just lean in to the unexpected and do your best to create a positive experience for you and those around you,” she says.
How to Tackle Travel
Travel considerations–especially in the wake of the pandemic–are also an important consideration to take. You will want to thoroughly investigate all of the required steps, paperwork, and any testing requirements you need before you travel. For instance, Jash explains that traveling to Korea required completing a lengthy visa process, as well as a background check, document authentication, and paperwork that had to be sent ahead of time.
Depending on the country you choose, you may also have to consider vaccination requirements, as well as getting tested or mandatory quarantines.
3 Steps to Get Started Teaching Abroad
Ready to take the next step towards exploring if teaching ESl is right for you? Here’s what you need to do:
- Get your TEFL certification
When you’re ready to get certified, you can visit the International TEFL Academy for a free informational brochure to learn more.
2. Connect with other teachers who a living and teaching abroad
There are entire online forums and facebook groups dedicated to teaching abroad!
3. Go for it!
In the end, whether you decide to turn teaching into a permanent career or teach ESL temporarily, the experience will be one that will profoundly impact your life–as well as your students’.
“This profession has allowed me to travel to almost every continent and to experience numerous cultures on a deeper level. There is no other experience like living abroad and working with kids,” says Jash. “Making the choice to teach abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”