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  • Writer's pictureBianca

10 Reasons to Embrace Expat Life & Teach English Abroad

Updated: May 8

I've been working as an English teacher since 2018 - at first living in China for five years, and now online from wherever I want in the world (currently exploring Santiago, Chile with my dog and moving through South America as I type this). While I never intended to be an English teacher, and actually started out as a media planner after receiving my bachelor's degree, it wound up being a life-changing experience in all the best ways. In this blog post I'll be covering the teaching English abroad lifestyle and what it really entails, both the good and the bad.


To start teaching English abroad, typically all you need is a college degree, teaching English as a second language (TEFL) certificate or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certification, and to be a native English speaker. However, you will often find that you can land English teaching jobs without it being your native language, so don't worry too much about that requirement as the other two are much more important.

The Pros of Teaching English Abroad

Location Freedom

Obtaining a TEFL certification opens doors to a range of teaching positions in foreign countries, as qualified teachers are always in high demand. Arming yourself with a TEFL qualification allows you the perfect opportunity to get teaching jobs in highly sought-after locations like South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

Alternatively, you can be like me and teach online so you can really work from anywhere. You can even choose a new environment every month if you really want to! There are so many advantages to living abroad and teaching English is a great way to do that.


New Skills 

Being an ESL teacher will help you gain valuable teaching experience, from honing your skills in creating lesson plans, mastering classroom management, and adapting to diverse learning styles. I found that in five years of teaching I'm now way more in tune with students and can identify & navigate their pain points with learning English as a second language. 

The skills gained from teaching abroad also provides opportunities for certified teachers to enhance their resumes, making you more competitive in the job market upon your return to your home country or when pursuing further education like graduate school!


Cultural Immersion and Personal Growth

Teaching English abroad allows you to immerse yourself in the new cultures, languages, and customs of a foreign country, fostering personal growth and expanding your worldview. Before moving to China, I had such a limited knowledge of the country, but being immersed in the culture for five years really gave me a new appreciation of it - I even walked away with a new name and language under my belt!


Financial Benefits

ESL teachers often enjoy higher salaries, free housing, and additional perks like health insurance, which provides financial stability and the opportunity to save or pay off student loans (looking at you, USA). Asian countries in particular tend to offer the best salaries for foreign teachers. While in China, I was making enough that I could save, travel, and live in a decent apartment downtown - this is rarely the case for teachers back home (in the U.S., where I'm from).

Lifestyle Opportunities

Whether you're teaching English physically in a new country, or teaching online, teaching ESL offers a pretty unique lifestyle which directly ties into the financial benefits. Since the cost of living is usually quite low in relation to the salaries of English teachers abroad, you'll be able to live quite well. For example, I was able to have a cleaning lady and in-house washer & dryer which is unheard of in New York on my salary. I also lived downtown in a high-rise with a terrace and still managed to travel every month (mind you, I wasn't making a crazy high salary and actually made less than at my corporate job back home).


Vacation Time While Teaching English Abroad

Depending on the country, you will be getting a lot of time off. For example, in China you'll get all the Chinese holidays off (a couple of which are an entire week off) plus winter break. If you happen to work at an international school, you'll get the national holidays of your school (American holidays if it's an American school or British holidays for a British school, for example) on top of the holiday's of the country you are teaching in and summer.

All this vacation time makes it so easy to travel which is a big reason why so many travel lovers opt to teach English abroad as their primary form of income.


All in all, teaching English abroad offers so many benefits, from professional development, to cultural immersion, to financial stability, and lifestyle opportunities. Whether seeking to advance your careers, or simply experience life in a new and exciting way, teaching English abroad is undeniably one of the best decisions for someone with an open mind and a passion for education and exploration.


The Cons of Teaching English Abroad

While Teaching ESL abroad has many advantages, it also presents its fair share of challenges. It can't always be sunshine and rainbows! Let's dive in to the negative side of being an English teacher in a foreign country.

Cultural Adjustment and Language Barrier

On the flip side of cultural immersion comes culture shock. Adjusting to a new culture, language, and way of life can be daunting, especially for those who are not fluent in the local language. It takes a lot of patience and resilience to step out of your comfort zone! While I don't think it's enough of a deterrent to stop from teaching abroad (obviously), some days everything can feel so overwhelming and it can just be too much.


Communication Barrier with Students

It's important to remember that your students are learning their second or even third language - communication will sometimes be tough. Just as you might feel frustrated with your students' behavior, they might express frustration if they are not understanding certain concepts and falling behind classmates. 


Long or Unusual Work Hours

This isn't always the case, but teaching English abroad can often entail working long hours - Hagwons in Korea are especially notorious for their rigorous work hours, sometimes even requiring work after hours. 

Training centers in places like China, Vietnam, and Thailand usually have lesson plans pre-made and ready for you, which lightens the workload by a lot. However, that being said, the schedule is very unusual and you'll be out of sync with your non-teaching friends. Training centers are typically focused on one subject and students go to these after their regular school or on the weekend. Personally, I didn't mind the weird hours because I hate waking up early so starting in the afternoon on weekdays and ending late was perfect for me. 

Time Differences

Whether you decide to teach in person or online, chances are that time zones are going to be an issue. It can be difficult figuring out when you and your loved ones back home have shared free time that isn't bed time for one of you.

On the other hand, if you are teaching English online, the time difference between you and your students could be killer depending on where your students are based and where you've decided to use as your homebase. I know I've questioned my choices numerous times after having to wake up at 3am to start teaching!


Isolation and Homesickness

 This is probably the biggest con of being an expat English teacher. Living far away from family, friends, and familiar surroundings can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and homesickness, especially if it's your first time being an expat. This coupled with a language barrier can be a tough feeling to overcome.

Adjusting to a new social environment and forming meaningful connections with locals and fellow expats may take time and effort, exacerbating feelings of alienation and cultural disorientation.


Pro tip: To combat isolation, sign up to teach English with a well-known company as they usually have large onboarding groups starting at the same time - these will be your built-in new friends! At least until you find your community. 


Advice for Prospective Teachers Abroad

Familiarize yourself with Work Visa Requirements

Each country will have their own work visa rules. Some countries require you to apply before entering the country, while others will need you to enter on a different visa and apply for a work visa after arrival. China in particular has a bit more of a complicated process but I wrote a post where you can find everything you need to know about jobs as an expat in China.

Don't Let the Bad Days Keep You Down

As mentioned above, there are plenty of cons to teaching English abroad, but it's important not to wallow in them. Some days are really bad, but there are so many advantages to living abroad. Focus on these to remind yourself why you made this choice in the first place!


Learn at Least a Little of the Local Language

Trust me, this will make your life SO much easier. In my experience, most of the problems I had abroad came from the language barrier. Plus, not only will learning a new language help mitigate this problem, but it opens doors for you in the professional world as well once you get to a conversational level.


 

Teaching English abroad presents a variety of challenges, ranging from cultural adjustment and professional strain to logistical hurdles and emotional isolation. However, with resilience, adaptability, and a positive attitude, you can overcome these challenges and reap the rewards of a transformative and enriching experience abroad.

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