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Is Teaching ESL Abroad Right for You?

Updated on August 5, 2015

Some questions to ask yourself before you decide to Teach English Overseas

Welcome to this site dedicated to helping you decide if Teaching ESL Abroad is a good fit for you.

Making the decision to Teach English in another country is a difficult one that should be made wisely. It can be the adventure of a lifetime and a year filled with new discoveries, friends, language learning and growth. Or, if you're not suited to life overseas, it can be a year filled with stress, chaos and difficulties. On this site, you'll find a few basic questions to ask yourself when deciding to Teach English. Answer them truthfully, and you'll be well on your way to making a good decision about teaching English abroad. Good luck on your journey!


Are you willing to adapt to a new culture?

One of the certainties about teaching ESL Abroad is that the culture will be very different from the one that you're familiar with. Your normal ways of being, living, and doing will have to change and you can either struggle and then adapt, or struggle but never adapt to your adopted culture. It's the people in the latter group that don't finish out their year-long contract, or they do and perhaps even decide to keep teaching ESL Abroad but they are never happy and you can often find them drinking way more than they should in seedy bars, complaining to anyone who will listen about how terrible Country "xxxx" is.

A general rule of thumb is that if you need to have a certain brand of product "x," are a picky-eater, think people from other countries are stupid and uncivilized and only stay in 5-star hotels when traveling overseas, then teaching ESL Abroad may not be for you. On the other hand, if you are adventurous, flexible, and open-minded, then a job Teaching ESL might be perfect for you.


Are you relatively free of commitments at home?

People that move abroad to Teach English, but have significant commitments and responsibilities back home often end up not doing that well in their adopted country. For example, leaving your spouse or young children to teach ESL Abroad is not the best idea, nor is uprooting them and bringing them with you. Perhaps you'll have to wait until your children are in university before you make your big move. Or, having a very sick close family member will likely leave you not too happy about living life in your new country and wishing you were back home instead.

Or, maybe you have lots of "things" and you're not willing to sell them before you go. Things like houses, cars, furniture, electronics, etc, will have to be stored and looked after somewhere. Unless you have a family member who is happy to do this for you, then teaching ESL Abroad may not be for you. And part of the fun of Teaching ESL Abroad is living out of a suitcase and making it work. A love of things and teaching ESL are generally not compatible.


Do you like being around people?

One of the things that's easy to overlook when considering your big move abroad to Teach ESL is the actual Teaching part of it! You'll be spending up to 10 hours everyday, at work, interacting with people. Even on your breaks, you'll probably be surrounded by lots of other people in a shared teacher's room. So, if you don't like being around people, talking to them, having conversations and getting to know them, Teaching ESL Abroad won't be a good fit.

The same thing applies for what age you want to teach. If you don't like little children, don't think that teaching Kindergarten-aged kids would be a good thing.


Do you have a basic knowledge of English Grammar and Spelling?

I see people all the time on the language teaching forums who have terrible grammar and spelling. If you're one of those people, you'll have a hard time teaching ESL, especially middle-high school students and adults. These groups expect a professional teacher who knows their way around English grammar. If you struggle with it, you may not be the best ESL teacher.

My #1 Resource Book you Need Before You Go Abroad to Teach ESL

39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Kids (7+)
39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Kids (7+)

Most teachers get their start teaching children. Make your classes interesting, fun, engaging for both you and the students with these no-prep/ low-prep ESL Speaking Activities.


Are you a Creative Person?

Being a good English as a Second Language Teacher requires a lot of creativity. You have to constantly be thinking of new ways to help your students understand the material and stay interested in your classes.

Plus, living in another culture requires creative thinking as well. Small things like going to the grocery store, figuring out transportation systems or making an appointment require a lot of effort, especially if you don't speak the language. You'll always be trying to find ways to get things done and you'll find that almost nothing is easy! If you like a challenge and are a person who can think of multiple ways to solve problems, then Teaching ESL Abroad is for you!


Do you have a goal beyond "a fun year?"

The people that seem to do best Teaching ESL Abroad are the ones with some sort of future goal that they are working towards. When the honeymoon phase of culture shock is over, it's these people that can stick to it, and not just pack up and go home.

Some examples of future goals include: experience in teaching, saving money for grad school, studying for the LSAT, learning a new language, saving money to invest in the stock market, or becoming a scuba diving instructor.

If your only goal when teaching ESL overseas is "fun" you'll usually be sorely disappointed. Teaching ESL is an actual job, not just a paid vacation and as with any job, there are ups and downs. By having some future goal, you can get past the downs and appreciate your experience for what it is.

Do you teach English as a Second Language?

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Do you have lots of foreign friends?

If you have lots of foreign friends at home, this is a good indication that teaching ESL abroad might be right for you. Do you go out of your way to befriend the new foreign student, or help out those who are new to your home country? Perfect! You probably have the right frame of mind to live overseas, teaching ESL.

Some Advice on Teaching ESL Abroad

What are your thoughts on Teaching ESL Overseas?

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    • profile image

      tefl course 

      3 years ago

      TEFL is a great industry, it gives you the chance to travel around the world and influence your student’s life for the better. You get to be part of other cultures, see amazing things and meet some fantastic people, and you get paid for it.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Teaching is more demanding than most people realise. You need some charisma to hold the attention of the class, not to mention classroom management techniques and good resources to help make your life easier.

      Taking a TEFL course or equivalent is definitely worth doing to give you some basic knowledge to build on once you get out there. Of course it'll be easier to get a job with a qualification. Taking a short course and going straight out to test the waters is a good route, that way you'll soon know if teaching is for you and if you don't like it, at least you did not spend a whole year or more getting qualified for something you don't enjoy.

      This page is a great help for practical advice and activities for new teachers:

      176 English Language Games for Children

      Also Jeremy Harmer's book on learning to teach is an excellent foundation.

    • someone111 profile image


      5 years ago

      Nice lens! I've been considering teaching ESL after a great study abroad experience. Thanks for the advice!

    • dotpattern profile image

      Pat Moire 

      6 years ago from West Village, New York City

      There are at least 4 people I know who have lived overseas for four of five years teaching ESL and they thrived there, and when they returned. One friend is now a full time teacher in the city.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      6 years ago

      You have brought up some very points. As someone who has lived in another country, I know how many adjustments one has to make. Great lens.


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