Teaching English abroad: teacher, volunteer or intern?
What’s the difference? What’s best for me?
When considering teaching English abroad, there are very different routes to think about. An internship, a volunteer position and applying and becoming an ESL teacher are different roles and offer very different positive and sometimes negative experiences. The most important thought to consider is, ‘What is my reason for doing this?’ . The answer to this should help you decide which role is for you. Here is some information and pros and cons for each role.
Generally this is a much shorter contract (a number of weeks/months) and is often set up through a charity or a representive company in your home country. It can sometimes be part of a package in which you pay an inclusive fee up front and your teaching experience is part of an itinerary arranged and organized to suit you and the experience you desire.
+ Often, no experience is necessary.
+ It looks excellent on your CV.
+ Due to the short term nature of the programme, teaching often involves a lot more fun and games than following a curriculum and developing lesson plans.
In Search of Sanuk – a charity based in Bangkok, Thailand.
+ A volunteer experience can usually be tailored to your personal needs and what you want to gain from a volunteer teaching position.
+ There will be a contact in your country of choice and a representative in your home country to help the planning and process run smoothly from start to finish. This is highly beneficial especially if you don’t like the teaching experience or if you feel you are not being part of what you originally intended to sign up for.
+ It is a great way to begin a traveling trip, especially if you are nervous about traveling or are a solo traveler.
+ Usually there will be free accommodation, assistance with transport and a great group of other volunteers to help support you.
NOTE: Due to the nature of some schools abroad, having an insight and experience of teaching is often highly beneficial especially in regards to giving advice, ideas and resources to the full time English teachers in the school, as these will be the staff native to that country who will continue to teach the children after your programme has finished.
– The cost will be dependant on the package or programme that you choose. Usually this is a much higher initial cost than when researching into setting up a more permanent ESL teaching position.
– When researching, really research. Look into the company or charity of your choice in great detail. Check their reasons as to why they want volunteers and why they might be sending you to that destination.
– If you want to help, make sure you are helping. There are lots of programmes that provide volunteers, however the moment that’s more important to think about is what happens after the volunteers leave. For the students, this may be a tough time for them, and unknown to you, the students and the organization there is no way of knowing when the next volunteer will arrive. It’s important to find a sustainable volunteering organization and be responsible for your role while you are teaching the students and for what happens after you leave.
This is becoming a more and more popular and exciting option. Usually its part of a program where you choose a destination abroad and study an intense TEFL qualification with lots of classroom experience with an organisation. Then you’ll be placed somewhere else within the country to teach.
+ It’s usual to have a shorter contract (1 semester, 6 months) and no pressure to commit any longer. (Unless you decide to stay longer).
+ You’ll train and be placed by a reputable TEFL organisation – this means your qualification will be recognised worldwide.
+ Training will take place in a great location with a group of other interns. A great way to make friends and contacts around the country.
+ You’ll have constant support from someone working within the organisation if you have any questions or complaints.
+ Benefits such as: free accomodation and transport or assistance with securing these.
– Usually there is a placement fee that you’ll pay to the organisation for them to find you a job.
– You’ll recieve a lower salary than a ‘teacher’ due to a deduction of your salary towards the organisation and program fees.
NOTE: These are some organisations that people I know have worked with and had a great experience: i-to-i and TEFL heaven.
You’ll be working full time in a school or language centre with a team of local and usually other foreign teachers and there will be responsibilities such as lesson planning, marking and attending school events. Most positions will be for approx. 12 months, or at least a full school year (two semesters). Some may be longer but this will always be stated in the initial offer and there will be a very high likelihood that it will be possible to extend your contract and stay longer. The experience needed for this role ranges massively between countries and positions available. Generally countries in South East Asia, offer lots of positions with no experience needed. Other countries have different rules and needs, however this depends on the company you sign up with.
+ Having a longer contract means youll have a great bond with your students, other teachers and especially the locals you make friends with. + Youll gain a great insight into cultural festivals, ceremonies and traditions and have great fun doing it. + It’s possible to learn the local language and useful phrases. + Lots of positions available in a range of countries and lengths of duration. + You’ll gain a great experience of teaching, curriculums and lesson planning will become easier after a few weeks. + As long as you research, you’ll earn a reasonable salary for your location. Check the cost of living of your location to make sure your salary is fair and check online to see what you should expect to earn per country in regards to your qualifications and experience. Follow the link below to see general expectations for a range of countries. (http://www.internationalteflacademy.com/country-chart-world-index-english-teaching-jobs) + It’s also common to set up links with private english centres or private one to one lessons outside of your school work. These are great opportunities to earn some extra cash. Ask around with other foreign teachers for more information or you may be approached by locals. + You should expect that all visas and work permits will be provided and paid for by your company. If not, they must tell you how to prepare before you arrive and will help with all the necessary information.
‘Songkran’ – the water festival celebrating the Buddhist new year.
+ If you work in a public school, you’ll have plenty of public holidays, long weekends and semester breaks to look forward to and can plan to travel during this time! However, if you work in a language centre, holidays will be much shorter as this is generally when they are busiest due to students having extra classes. NOTE – Read through your contract thoroughly to make sure you’re aware of all holidays, teaching hours and responsibilities before you accept a job!
– There may be a chance that after arriving you realise the company or school isn’t all it promised to be. Research as much as you can to prepare, there are many forums online that give reviews. If you work for a small company or a school directly and can’t find any information at all, this isn’t always a good thing. Try and find Facebook groups or ask for contacts for other teachers at the school to try and gain a bit of insight.
– After arriving there might be changes of your initial contract such as the working hours and days off. Know your contract in and out and make sure everything you originally signed is guaranteed for the duration of your contract.
– Prepare to do visa runs. Sometimes there may be problems processing paperwork and work permits. If these don’t get processed in time its possible that you’ll have to cross the border into a neighbouring country and come back with a new visa.
– You may have culture shock. Sometimes adapting to a new place, classroom or schedule might be difficult. Stay positive, take everything as it comes and eventually everything will become a random, spontaneous routine.
– The language barrier may also be a shock, don’t be surprised if you show up in a small town and there is very little English. Smile, use big gestures and body language and as above you’ll quickly get used to it and pick up useful phrases.
– Organisation might be lacking, you might get thrown into your first lesson, or could be sat around for days not knowing what’s going on. Other times you may be told classes are canceled for no reason. Try to get involved with what’s going on or take a book or a laptop to help pass time. If you’re needed you’ll be found!
– Lastly, the biggest struggle. The fact that once you’ve settled, you’ll never want to leave. Living abroad is fantastic, everyone gains something from it. The bonds you form with your students and staff are unforgettable and it becomes tough to say goodbye at the end! The positives always outweigh the negatives.
NOTE: culture shock, the language barrier and organsation can be a challenge in any role when moving abroad.
I hope that this post doesn’t put you off the idea of teaching English abroad. I hope that this offers more realistic expectations than other articles you might read. I’ve definitely been through a lot of the pros and cons within the role of an ESL teacher, and despite it being challenging I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now. It really is a fantastic experience that I’d highly recommend to everyone. Whether you choose to volunteer, become an intern or a teacher, the biggest choice to make is when. If there are any points that you would like more information about or if you feel that I have missed anything important, please leave a comment. Thanks for reading.