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Is ESL Teaching Right for You?

esl workshop

ESL group workshop. (photo by rtlibrary)

[O]ne of the easiest answers to anyone (that speaks English) who is looking for ways to long term travel these days is to teach English abroad.

I'm guilty of tossing this one out there, too, to all the readers looking for more information on how I did this in the past.

Truth is, however, that teaching English abroad is not the job for everyone.

So, before packing up your life and moving over to random country X that liked your smile and ability to form a sentence in your native tongue, you might want to consider some of these thoughts to see if this opportunity is actually the best option for you.

1. Do I like teaching?

I know, seems pretty obvious, right? If you've taught before in any capacity, then this one is easy, but others might need to think about the parts that are involved with teaching.

More specifically:

  • Do you enjoy talking in front of small groups?
  • Are you capable of being patient with students that might be struggling?
  • Do you have the ability to explain yourself clearly using dumbed-down language, or choosing different words/phrases?

Imagine yourself running into a person on the streets who is in your country as a tourist and speaks very little English. His need for help requires you to search for other ways to communicate your answer, whether it be drawing pictures, using gestures, or using very basic language.

When that person finally understands you, did you get joy from the assistance and challenge? If so, you could enjoy yourself as a teacher!

esl game

ESL game in a classroom. (photo by goldendragon613)

2. How do I cope with new living situations?

Take it back to age 18, possibly when you moved away to college. Now that was a completely new and crazy living situation, was it not?!

How did you feel then? Did you go through some down moments where you just wanted to have your own space and old life back?

Well, multiply that feeling by 10 because living in a foreign country (depending on where you go) can be extremely stressful.

If you don't speak the language, or if you don't enjoy the local food, home can scream for your return louder than you thought possible – ultimately causing you to break your teaching contract early.

3. Am I prepared financially?

Some travelers choose the option of teaching English abroad because they are low on cash and want to make some money. Unfortunately, it is just not wise to pick up your life and move overseas if you still don't have some money in the bank.

Several situations can occur that require additional funds:

  • You might not get paid for several weeks after arrival.
  • Your pay might not cover your daily living expenses (transport, rent, food, etc.).
  • Unexpected illness, injury, or crime could result in extra expenses.

My personal preference, if anything, is to have at least enough money put away for a plane ticket home – just in case.

esl class

A potential ESL classroom. (photo by cambodia4kidsorg)

4. Am I willing to fulfill my contract length?

Teaching contracts come in all shapes and sizes with the majority of schools hoping for the longer term employee.

There is a big difference between 4 months and 2 years when it comes to living abroad, so it is important to think long-term to whether or not this move might be right for you.

Not only does breaking a contract cause issues for a school that has spent time training you and getting you set up, but it can also cause you to lose out on benefits, like a return flight home or bonus pay, or to get a bad wrap when applying to future schools.

5. Have I done my research?

Do not accept — I repeat – do not accept a job until you've done your research. This includes researching the local customs and culture, the school you're working at, and hopefully interviewing past teachers at the same location.

It is also good to find out the teaching style at your school of choice in advance. Some schools may require you to prepare your own lessons on your own time, which can mean you are working for less money per hour than you initially thought.

Even if the situation or the school might not be the best, at least knowing about possible struggles in advance can lessen the stress while abroad.

And less stress often means a teacher is happier and more likely to stick around longer.

Good preparation and research is key to having a successful time as an ESL teacher abroad. Do you have any additional questions to add to this list?

Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:


Thursday 2nd of August 2012

Great post! I definitely intend to teach English abroad after college and I'll keep these tips in mind! I already know that I love helping people learn and teaching after the experience I had in Guatemala, so I think it'll be the perfect fit!


Monday 16th of July 2012

I know many people abroad teaching and they are loving it, great way to travel and give back to a community

Eric Bynum

Thursday 5th of July 2012

Nice article. I've been in SK for almost 2.5 years and I can't tell you how many people that come out here violate #3 and #4. Too often someone comes out because they are broke at home and can't find a job. Okay, but they don't realize most jobs here you don't get paid for a month. Then a lot of people travel half way around the world to spend a year teaching while they have a significant other back home. These folks make up about half the people who pull a runner and leave not only screwing the school but other foreign teachers if there happens to be some at the school. Some people just don't put enough thought into it before making the jump

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