What To Expect When Teaching English Abroad

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Being able to make a living while traveling the world seems like the ultimate in career aspirations to some. And, it really is possible – especially, for those wanting to teach English to speakers of other languages (TESOL/TEFL). So, let’s say you’ve done your job search, you’ve been offered a position, and you’re off on your new adventure. What should you expect when teaching English abroad?

Expectations are a tricky thing. Some people say keep your expectations low and then you’ll be pleasantly surprised when things turn out great. Other say, you should always go in with high expectations, but then, of course, you can find yourself sorely disappointed when things are just not as you imagined. I say keep your expectations realistic. Let’s look at some of my faves!


Teaching English Abroad- What’s going to happen?

Don’t Expect It To Be Like Home

I know…you’re saying to yourself, “Of course it’s not like home! I’m living in Country XYZ! It’s definitely different.” BUT, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “Oh, it’s definitely not like I thought.” No, it’s definitely not. Wherever you are living is not going to be like your home country. The food will be different. The people will be different. The customs will be different. And, you need to know this. Homesickness will occur. You won’t always find your favorite toothpaste at the store. It can be overwhelming to hear a foreign language being spoken all the time. But, this is part of the adventure.


Kids Are Kids

Kids are amazing. They are like little sponges and they truly want to try and learn. But, they’re still kids. I had a friend who emailed me after her first week of teaching English and she said that her students were C-R-A-Z-Y! I wrote back and said what were your expecting? Her response: Quietly seated, well-behaved children. I laughed out loud and wrote her back: Kids are kids. Some things don’t change.

If you are picturing rows of desks with well-behaved students sitting quietly in their school uniforms waiting for you to impart your English knowledge on them…well, think again. (If you do find this job, hold on to it and don’t tell your friends! You have found the Holy Grail of TESOL jobs!) You may be in a completely different part of the world, but deep down, kids are the same. They have good days and bad days, they have moments of greatness, and times of trouble. Be ready!

Adults Can Be Challenging

So maybe you’re not a “kid person” and you go abroad thinking that teaching adults will be the best option for you. After all, often the adults are paying for lessons (or their employer is), so surely they must be highly motivated and dedicated to learn, right? Not so fast.

Adults are…well, there are a million adjectives you could fill in. Busy. Motivated. Set in their ways. Gifted. Stressed. And, while the adult you’re instructing one day can seem highly motivated, totally on task and ready to grab the English language by the horns, the next time you work together, he/she may be stressed out and thinking about their kid’s little soccer match and the presentation that’s due tomorrow. I find that adults need a little more flexibility.

Whether it’s related to their motivation level (which can vary from lesson to lesson) or perhaps, that the lesson you chose for the day is just not what they want to learn as they are having dinner with an English speaking visitor, you need to be able to rise to the challenge.

What To Expect When Teaching English Abroad

This Is A Mutual Learning Experience

It’s so easy to say, “Oh, I’m going abroad to teach English.” But, the true reward comes from embracing that this is a mutual learning experience. That is an expectation you must hold true. For every phrase, grammar structure, or cultural remembrance you share, your students will share a million more.

I’ve been both the teacher of English to speakers of other languages and the learner of a foreign language, and, I can only say that the learning on both sides is amazing. It sounds so, well, for lack of a better word, cheesy, but you really must go into teaching with your heart wide open. Doing so will truly allow you to get the most from your overseas teaching experience.
So as you pack those bags and head off to teach English around the globe, we’d love to hear from you. What are your expectations? And, for those of you already teaching English in fantastic places, share what you’ve learned!

And, last, but not least, if you are thinking about exploring the area of TESOL/TEFL in hopes of moving abroad, check out International Open Academy’s TESOL/TEFL course!

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