Monday, May 27, 2013

Should You Teach Abroad?

There are a lot of things to consider before you take the leap to teach abroad. When I finally decided to take the plunge and move to Thailand to teach, it was a decisions years in the making. I always had a reason not to go and it took me a long time to understand that there would always be reasons not go. I just had to decide for myself when the time was right. Now that I’m back stateside, I want to share some things to consider before deciding to teach abroad.

  • Do you have a genuine interest in teaching? I’m not asking if you have experience or a degree in education, just whether or not teaching appeals to you. Remember, you are going abroad to teach. Most countries don’t require you to have any teaching experience, but you should have a desire to gain experience. I recommend anyone that doesn’t have teaching experience to volunteer as a tutor/teacher in his or her hometown prior to teaching abroad.
  • Can you afford it? This is one of the biggest factors to consider. Some countries like Korea and China will pay for your airfare and housing, plus offer a generous salary. SE Asia, Europe and South America don’t offer these kinds of perks, but in every country you will need a cushion of savings. You may not get paid until the end of your first month of work, and expenses will add up quickly. Plan on having at least $1,000 available because emergencies can (and do) happen abroad. Besides the obvious expenses abroad, think about the bills you have back home. Student loans? Unpaid medical bills? A mortgage? Bills don’t disappear when you leave the country and a teacher’s salary may not be a feasible way to cover all your expenses.
  • Consider your reasons for wanting to teach abroad. Escaping your ex-boyfriend, hating your job, wanting to get out of your parents house or just having no clue what to do with your life are certainly reasons people leave to teach abroad. Several years ago when I first thought about teaching abroad I was just looking for an escape from my job that I hated. I was at the point where I didn’t care what country I went to, I just wanted out! Looking back, I’m glad I waited until I had money saved up and actually did some research on what country I would be happiest teaching in.
  • Do your homework before picking a country. There are many factors to consider when choosing a country to teach in. I chose Thailand because I wanted to teach somewhere more laid back with great travel opportunities. I thought I hit the jackpot when I found out I was teaching 60km from Bangkok until I realized I was in fact in the middle of nowhere, and with traffic I was still 3 hours away from the city. It’s important to look up average teacher salaries, cost of living, languages spoken and cultural norms. One country may pay a few hundred dollars more, but if you can’t afford food and housing then you’re out of luck.
  • Can you handle being alone? Some schools may be loaded with expat teachers and you’ll have an instant circle of friends in the community. I ended up in a school alone and spent each night in my apartment by myself. There’s no guarantee you will teach with other native speakers or that you’ll have a support system when times get tough. I went into the experience expecting the worst and I knew I could handle lonely nights far away from home. When I was one of the only people at orientation that got placed alone it wasn’t a shock to my system. I was lucky that I made friends to meet up with each weekend, but I could have easily been placed hours away and been forced to entertain myself all weekend as well. Consider the worst possible living situation – if you think you can handle that, you’re probably good to go.

This post wasn’t mean to deter anyone from teaching abroad. Even though I went through a program (CIEE) that organized my school placement and did a lot of the prep work for me, I still faced all of these issues. There were people in the program that went home early because they didn’t like their schools or couldn’t be away from their families. Some participants were shocked when they saw how little money they would earn each month and that weekend beach getaways weren’t possible.

Take the time to make an educated decision about teaching abroad. You should be excited and nervous about leaving, but you shouldn’t feel totally in the dark.

Is there anything I’ve left out? Have questions about teaching abroad? Email me anytime! JuliaKristinSummers{at} gmail {dot} com

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