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A Student’s Guide to Teaching Abroad How to Make a Difference & See the World Before & After Graduation

As the world’s population increases each day, so does the demand for qualified teachers. In order to reach the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 4 — global literacy by 2030 — nearly 69 million teachers need to be recruited worldwide. Because English is an international language, native speakers can find a huge array of opportunities to put their skills to good use. Students and graduates curious about teaching abroad can use the following information, resources and insights from experts with international teaching experience to learn about teach abroad opportunities, destinations, financial aid and more.

Meet the Experts

Chris Backe Travel Expert
Pat Mills Educator Abroad

Written By:

Why Teaching Abroad Benefits Students & College Grads

Every teach abroad experience has something different to offer, but students and grads who take their teaching overseas can count on reaping personal, professional and global benefits along the way.

Gain teaching experience

Teaching abroad gives students and grads practical classroom experience, often without requiring extensive prior experience or credentialing. This can be extremely valuable for students who want to give teaching a try but aren’t sure they’re ready to commit to a full degree program, prospective teachers who need to get classroom hours for licensure or credentialing and students who are looking to gain professional skills in a unique environment.

While many teach abroad opportunities don’t require proficiency in the local tongue, most international teachers aren’t going to lock themselves away once they’re done with work. Talking with coworkers and locals, exploring their surroundings and going through the motions of day-to-day life allows teachers to tighten up their foreign language skills–or learn the language for the first time.

Teaching abroad also lends itself to improving interpersonal and improvisational skills. Instructors may not have access to the resources they are accustomed to, and teaching norms vary widely across the globe. Being flexible and making an effort to communicate with those around them is important.

Some prospective international teachers may hope to incite change and progress by teaching in impoverished areas with limited access to education. This is a rewarding endeavor that can bring personal growth and opportunities to see the world from a new perspective.

However, prospective educators working in depressed and developing areas should be prepared for frustrations as well. Many impoverished regions come with educational roadblocks, like lack of resources, bureaucratic mazes, corruption and differences in ethics and cultures. These roadblocks can keep teachers from feeling they are doing everything they can to help students. But whether they’re in low-, middle- or high-income areas, teachers can take heart in knowing that they can have a positive impact on students and communities by adding structure and routine to daily life and serving as mentors and friends as well as educators.

Teaching internationally exposes educators to different parts of the world, which allows them to learn about other cultures firsthand while gaining professional experience. Because international teachers live and work within their communities, they live the culture and are affected by the area’s politics and social intricacies in a more meaningful and impactful way than if they were vacationing. This deeper understanding of other people, areas and ways of life helps build a global community and gives college students and grads a fuller awareness of their place in the world.

It’s something Pat Mills, an experienced international educator, notes as one of the best parts of teaching abroad: “Immersing yourself in a new culture, learning about the world in a way you can’t really do stuck in your hometown, meeting people from around the globe… If that’s what you’re after, you won’t fail to get it.”

Usually traveling abroad means paying for airfare, a place to stay, food and activities on top of having to take time off work. Those who take on paid teaching positions abroad earn a steady income while traveling, which helps offset–or completely takes care of–these expenses. Some teach abroad programs even cover the cost of travel and rent, allowing educators to pad their savings accounts or stay on top of student loans while teaching.

While working and living abroad, international teachers are bound to build relationships with coworkers, members of their program cohort, students and locals. Teaching abroad puts people in a unique position where the combination of wanting to explore and needing to be an effective educator pushes them to reach out to those around them for assistance and companionship. Sharing experiences and cultures is an excellent way to foster lifelong relationships.

Chris Backe, a former computer teacher who discovered teaching abroad when looking for a change of pace, says that meeting so many awesome artists, musicians, poets and travelers was one of the high points of teaching abroad.

How to Choose a Teach Abroad Program

College students and recent grads starting to make teach abroad plans may be overwhelmed by the number of opportunities around the world. All things considered, having a lot of options is a good problem to have, but it can make choosing the right teach abroad program a little tricky.

Here are some factors prospective international teachers should consider when narrowing down their program options.

Credential requirements

Not all overseas teaching positions have the same requirements for educators, and even positions within the same teach abroad program can have different expectations of foreign instructors. Prospective educators should carefully read the position description to make sure they meet all requirements.

If you are a college student who has a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certification but the position also requires a bachelor’s degree, count that position out. Having a clear understanding of education and credentialing requirements can greatly help students and grads pare down their options.

Time commitment

It’s common for teach abroad positions to have a one-year commitment. Some programs, like many in the United Arab Emirates, require commitments of up to three years. Students looking to teach abroad for a semester or a summer might consider volunteer opportunities or teaching at summer camps.

Program credibility

Hopeful educators don’t have to look hard to find blog posts filled with teach abroad horror stories related to disorganized programs and scams. Doing extensive research, reading reviews and, if possible, talking to people who have gone through a particular program before applying can help students avoid a bad experience. Students and grads who notice any red flags with job postings or teach abroad programs can take those positions off their lists.

Location

Prospective teachers should look at countries that appeal to them, but they should also decide whether they would prefer to work and live in an urban or rural setting.

“When looking at jobs, be suspicious of locations that say ‘near Seoul’,” cautions Backe. “’Near’ a big city can mean ‘it’s an hour away by subway’. Ask for the specific subway station or specific district of the city to help clarify its location.”

It can also pay to keep your options open. “Everyone wants the jobs in the big cities. Look past them to the rural areas for a more authentic cultural experience and a lot less competition. In some cases, there’s a little bump in salary for moving to the less-desired area,” says Backe.

Costs and wages

When considering a position, make sure that any wage earned can cover the cost of living, if that isn’t already included in the position. Factoring in perks offered by potential programs, like stipends, rent assistance, plane tickets, health benefits and paid vacations can be useful in choosing the right teach abroad program.

Political and social climate

Sometimes the areas that need teachers the most come with their fair share of political unrest. Wars, persecution, severe ideological differences and high instances of crime should be considered, especially as a foreigner in an unfamiliar place.

Students and grads may also want to take into account social differences that can cause tension, or an unpleasant or even dangerous teaching experience. For instance, some areas are not as open to women or LGBTQ teachers, especially in positions of authority. Prospective educators would be wise to figure out with what living and social conditions will make them safe and feel comfortable and avoid areas that don’t meet those conditions.

Program support

Some teach abroad programs offer guidance throughout an educator’s entire teaching experience, from filling out the application and arranging housing to facilitating lesson plans and extracurricular activities. Others are relatively hands-off. Those who choose to go through a teach abroad program rather than searching job boards and going it alone can read about how much program support to expect on program websites and in brochures.

Educator demand

Not all international educators will be able to use this criterion to narrow down their options, but those who are more experienced or credentialed should look into how in-demand teachers are in an area of interest. In areas with great demand, educators can afford to be more selective, since the first job offer they get likely won’t be the only one.

Top Destinations for Teaching Abroad

The wages and amenities available in these areas make them top picks for students and grads looking to teach abroad without breaking the bank.

Between a large, growing population and a trend in schools requiring English language training, China has a high demand for English teachers. Not only does this mean that prospective educators can afford to be a bit more selective, it usually means that teaching jobs in China come with some great perks. The low cost of living paired with relatively high wages often allows international teachers to save a little money while abroad. Some programs will even cover the cost of airfare and provide housing or a stipend to help with rent.

Education requirements for teachers in China used to be fairly lax, but it’s increasingly common to need at least a bachelor’s degree. A TEFL certification may be required by law in some areas.

While most of their teaching will be done in English, life outside the classroom will likely call for some understanding of Mandarin or Cantonese, which are notoriously difficult languages to learn. However, those who dive in and give the local language a try will better experience the deep history and rich culture China offers.

Spain has been gaining popularity amongst international teachers. While the compensation likely won’t rival that found in some Asian countries, Spain offers an extremely dynamic experience thanks to the country’s mix of cultures, cuisines and landscapes. Government-sponsored language schools offer designated areas for international teachers to find work. And outside the classroom, educators can expect an active, enriching life. The visa required to teach in Spain is also handy for seamless traveling throughout Europe on days off.

Teaching jobs in Spain don’t have the highest wages, but they also tend to have fewer education requirements. A TEFL certificate is typically all that is required to teach in Spain, and prospective educators can even find TEFL programs on site and jump straight into looking for teaching positions.

Getting the permits necessary to teach in Spain can be a challenge, however. Those who aren’t citizens of the European Union need both a living and a work permit before they can teach in an institution. If possible, prospective educators should look for teach abroad programs that sponsor these permits or help teachers acquire them.

Programs Available

South Korea has a long history of hiring foreigners to teach English, and the country shows no signs of ending that tradition. Prospective educators can find myriad teaching opportunities–there are over 1,000 language schools in Seoul alone–in both public schools and private hagwons.

The compensation is usually great, too. Low taxes and salaries ranging between $1,800 and $2,000 a month make South Korea a nice choice for teachers looking to save some of their earnings while gaining work experience. Many teach abroad programs in Korea also cover airfare and housing.

All these perks aren’t without a cost, though. Current college students can almost certainly cross South Korea off their list since teaching positions require a bachelor’s degree. A TEFL or TESOL certification is also generally required, along with a background check, which can take 3-4 months to obtain. Backe, who taught in Korea for five years, says that getting the background check was one the biggest tripping points in preparing for his teaching position abroad.

Prospective teachers should also note that they are usually required to work a specified number of hours a week, even when there is no work to do. This can be a frustrating issue and is something grads should take into consideration when comparing work requirements of other countries. Cultural differences, both in schools and out, may also be a bit shocking for American teachers, so reading some accounts from those who have taught in South Korea may be helpful.

For instance, Backe was surprised by the politics of hagwons in which he taught. “The paramount concern of hagwon is to keep the kids happy,” he says. “If the kids are happy, the parents are happy, and if the parents are happy, their kids keep attending. This changes the role of the teacher from ‘educator’ to ‘entertainer’ on a fundamental level.”

Programs Available

Best Programs for Teaching Abroad

Teaching abroad without going through a program is an option, particularly for college graduates looking for full-time, paid teaching positions. In fact, both Backe and Mills had successful international teaching experiences simply by searching job boards. However, going through a program may allow for more support and guidance, which many new international educators will find valuable.

Programs for current college students

Because of education requirements for many paid positions, those still in college may be limited to volunteer teaching positions and overseas internships. These organizations can give students a good start to their teach abroad research.

  • The English Camp Company

    Summer camps are great places for students to get experience teaching English abroad. The English Camp Company hires English-speaking tutors as camp counselors for children in Italy and Austria. Students will need to be TEFL-certified.

  • Global Vision International (GVI)

    GVI offers a variety of volunteer and intern opportunities, including ones for those interested in teaching. Students can gain professional skills and college credit while seeing different parts of the world. Plus, they don’t need to make a lengthy time commitment or have their bachelor’s degree.

  • Greenheart Travel

    While most of the paid teaching positions offered by Greenheart Travel require a bachelor’s degree, this organization also offers volunteer, internship and TEFL certification programs for those who haven’t yet finished their college coursework.

  • iSpiice

    ISpiice, or Integrated Social Programs in Indian Child Education, is a volunteer program that focuses on education efforts in rural India. Volunteers can engage in teaching projects, women’s empowerment, childcare and more. Stints can be as short at two weeks or last for multiple months.

  • LanguageCorps

    LanguageCorps offers short-term volunteer and TEFL/TESOL training programs around the world for students who want to teach English abroad.

  • WorldTeach

    Students can find year-, semester- and summer-long volunteer teaching programs in developing areas across the globe through World Teach.

Those with a college degree, TEFL certification, teaching experience or any combination of the three will likely have more options to choose from when it comes to teaching abroad programs.

  • CIEE

    CIEE offers extensive support to teachers who go through their programs. Find teaching positions in Spain, China, Chile, the Czech Republic and more.

  • English First

    English First specializes in placing educators in ESL programs around China, Russia and Indonesia.

  • Greenheart Travel

    Graduates can find volunteer, TEFL certification, internship and paid teaching opportunities through Greenheart Travel. All teaching positions through this program require a bachelor’s degree.

  • JET

    Founded in 1987, JET is a longstanding and very popular exchange program in Japan that has placed over 32,000 Americans in educational positions. JET’s focus is English language learning, so many international educators are placed as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs).

  • Peace Corps

    The Peace Corps is a government organization that places volunteers in countries around the world to help build and support communities and promote better understanding between cultures. Many volunteer positions involve teaching and require a bachelor’s degree.

  • TravelBud

    TravelBud is another great option for those looking for programmatic support throughout their teach abroad experience. This organization offers TESOL training, assistance with visas and other documentation, excursions and job placement help.

  • WorldTeach

    Along with short-term opportunities with fewer education requirements, World Teach also offers year-long volunteer teaching programs that require certifications or some prior professional experience.

Degrees & Majors for Teaching Abroad

Preparing to teach abroad doesn’t begin and end with location and program research. College students can begin planning for their international teaching experience by tailoring their class schedules and major pathways to give them better background knowledge and the skills necessary to not only get a teaching job overseas, but to thrive as an international educator.

What subjects can you teach abroad?

The demand for English teachers is high, but there are plenty of opportunities to teach a range of subjects. Those who teach younger students may have to teach all general education subjects, but some teachers may also find positions specializing in certain areas, like computer sciences, art or economics. Those teaching at English-language or international schools may also be able to teach a range of subjects.

Do you need a specific degree, major or certificate to teach abroad?

Education and certification requirements depend on the region and institution in which you decide to teach. Many volunteer positions only require English language proficiency, but many paid teaching positions require at least a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL/TESOL certification.

In general, higher-paying jobs in urban areas have more stringent requirements for foreign teachers, so prospective international teachers who have their eyes set on a specific region should be sure to check common education and certification requirements in the early stages of making their teach abroad plans.

Educators who want to focus on subjects other than English will likely need a degree in their intended subject. Majors related to language instruction may be a good option for those who do wish to teach English and can open up opportunities to receive grants related to language study overseas.

What college classes should you take if you’re considering teaching abroad?

If you plan to teach English as a second language or teach multiple subjects in English, a TEFL/TESOL class is almost certainly a must. These courses help students understand the unique circumstances and methods of teaching students whose primary language is not English. If they plan on teaching a subject other than English, students should be sure to take courses in that area. Those who know where they want to teach might consider learning the region’s language beforehand, too.

Do you need teaching or tutoring experience to teach abroad?

In general, no, but certain high-paying and administrative positions may require or give preference to those who have prior teaching experience. Specific information about experience requirements should be available in the job post description.

Financial Aid for Teaching Abroad

Even students and grads who pursue paid positions abroad should prepare for the upfront costs of certification, travel and that stretch of time before getting their first paycheck. For volunteer educators, finding financial aid may be even more critical.

The following list of financial aid options for teaching abroad can help get prospective international teachers started. Those who go through a teach abroad program should also check to see if that specific organization offers aid for its participants, or if region-specific aid is available through educational institutions and governments.

Name of Aid Type of Aid Description
Fulbright Global Scholar Award Grant The Fulbright Scholars program offers a multitude of grants and fellowships, including this opportunity for experienced educators to conduct teaching projects in two to three countries over the course of a year or two.
TOEFL English-language Researcher/Practitioner Grant Program Grant This grant is aimed at individuals who work with English language learners and are interested in furthering the research and development of English-language teaching techniques. Awards are $5,000-$10,000.
Go Overseas Volunteer Abroad Scholarship Scholarship Go Overseas offers a $500 scholarship to those who want to volunteer abroad. Applicants need to fill out an application, follow Go Overseas on Instagram and submit a photo or short essay that describes their motivation for volunteering.
WorldTeach Grants Grant WorldTeach offers a few grants for those who participate in one of their volunteer programs or are committed to global public service.
Ethical TEFL Teach Abroad Scholarship Scholarship This scholarship is open to undergraduate and graduate students who are passionate about teaching abroad.
Atlas Corps Teaching Fellow in Latin America Fellowship Atlas Corps offers a fellowship for educators interested in teaching in Columbia. This fellowship program is open to teaching professionals who are TEFL certified, hold a bachelor’s degree and have at least one year of teaching experience.