Teaching English Abroad: Realistic Expectations

We get a lot of questions here from people thinking about teaching English abroad. Some of these questions are missing all logic and practical reasoning, a lot of these questions, relating to working abroad, are asked with totally unrealistic and unreasonable expectations!

Here are some statements and questions which have made their way to me:

“Of course the school will plan long paid vacations as they will want me to travel around their country.”

“I don’t need to wear a suit and tie, do I?” asked by someone who will be teaching at a university.

“How will I negotiate my ‘relocation package’?” asked by someone who is off to a country where airfare, accommodation and other relocation costs are not included

“Should I ask the students any questions?”  from someone who will be teaching Conversational English.

“I won’t need any training as we will just chat, right?”

Let’s set the record straight now…Teaching English abroad is not about YOU! It is all about the school that has students who need your help!

Sorry to disappoint you, but you are not doing them a favor touring their country thus they will not plan or give long paid vacations to you (unless you land a good university position). And don’t expect a ‘relocation package’ unless you have a graduate degree with lots of experience!

Unfortunately, of course, YES, they might like you to wear a suit and tie in some schools.

And again, YES, you should ask your students questions!  Or do you plan to talk about yourself the whole time?

To receive English education from an English native is a privilege in many countries.  They pay a lot of money to attend your class and they will expect you to meet their needs.

Use your common sense when heading abroad, the basics of how to seek work and how to succeed at a new job will be the same all around the world.

Dress for success

My tip to you is to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. If your fellow foreign teachers dress in ragged jeans, t-shirts and flip flops does that mean you should do it too? Dress in the same way your host country co-workers are dressed, if it’s a suit and tie (common for university jobs) you better suit up!

“Should I ask the students any questions?” Please. Yes. Ask them!

Your students need to talk to practice, to get more confident and familiar with the language and gain experience. You might think that you are an interesting foreigner and you might be…but only for a few minutes.  You can’t expect people to pay to sit in a class just to hear all about you? Students need to talk, help them to talk about themselves (which they will find much more interesting – don’t we all?) rather than you talking about yourself!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Dress for Success

Dress as your local co-workers dress, not as other foreigners. This is your career, take charge!

TED’s Tips™ #2: Be prepared to teach!

When you arrive on the job, be ready and prepared to teach! You can’t just walk into a class anymore and expect to have random chats with your students, prepare and be ready to teach new skills to your students.  Dazzle your employer and co-workers with your readiness. Learn how to teach and know what you are doing before you arrive, it just takes practice!  Get some training.

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Why Teaching English Might Work for You

Teach English: Live abroad, live the dream

Imagine living the dream: traveling, exploring the depths of the world, experiencing and learning new cultures, possibly saving up to US$1000 or more, paying off your student loans or debts and making unforgettable memories.

It definitely sounds like a dream, but it is in fact the reality of teaching English in a foreign country.

Do you still need to ask, ‘Why teach English?’

Craving adventure? Bitten by the travel bug, suffering from wanderlust? Many people are choosing to teach English in a foreign country to see and experience the rest of the world without digging into their savings.

It’s a great solution, a great recipe – a reasonable amount of money, heaps of life and cultural experiences added to the fact that you can really have an enjoyable time working as an English Teacher. A year abroad is like getting a four-year degree from the University of Life.

TEFL Newbie fully supports the idea of traveling while teaching and wants to help you with all the choices and decisions. All the questions can be overwhelming: Is teaching English the right thing for me? Will I be able to reach my goals if I’m going abroad? Do I have a realistic idea of what it is like to live abroad? Will the new working environment be too different from what I am used to with a lot of stress and problems? Is it the right time for me to go abroad?

There are changes. There are challenges. There are rewards!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Take note, life abroad can get addictive!

I have lived abroad for more than 20 years. I headed overseas as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 1989 and again in 1992 as an English Teacher. I will always return to the USA, but just for a visit and seeing my family – I am experiencing life and enjoying every moment of living abroad and quite possibly will never live in the USA again.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Run toward life, not away

People who move to a foreign country as an act of escaping a problem or running away, will always take their problems with them and never learn to deal with them. People who move to a foreign country to reach a goal will most likely succeed and accomplish more than they came for.

TED’s Tips™ #3: Search, research and be realistic

It is important to figure out what kind of life you want when teaching abroad. The only way to get an overall idea of your new life and is to get an overall idea of the situation at the destination and then make the decision if you want that life or not.

I live on a tropical island filled with luxury resorts and have had a lot of questions over the years about jobs in these resorts. Expectations of these teachers are often way too high, thinking that they will get free lodging in a posh five-star villa, enjoy free “Michelin Star” meals and live it up in classy resorts.

If it sounds too good to be true, maybe it is.

Even though teaching in a resort is one of the best English Teaching jobs in the world, I’m sorry to burst your bubble . . . you won’t be living in that posh five-star villa and you won’t be enjoying free 5-course meals while toasting to living it up with expensive champagne.


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Interviewing by Telephone: How to Make it Work for You

Have a successful TEFL telephone interview

Interviews have changed a lot over the years due to easy internet access, free Skype to Skype calls and inexpensive international calling charges.

No more cold offices and nervous handshakes or (as used to be fairly common in some countries) getting hired without an interview:  more and more schools are opting for a telephone interview to hire their new teachers.

A typical TEFL telephone interview

Schools interview you via telephone for three simple reasons:

1) Can they understand you when you speak?

If they can’t understand you, what are the chances that the students will understand you? Make sure you are in a quiet environment without any distractions while having your interview. To avoid a ‘huh?’ and ‘excuse me?’ turn up the volume of your phone – speakers and microphone – to ensure that you and the interviewer can hear and understand each other.  Speak slowly (but not unnaturally slowly) and clearly.

2) Are you friendly?

A smile goes a long way. Answer your phone with a smile and keep that throughout the whole interview. All teachers should be friendly and interested in their students.  If you are not a smiling-friendly-person, you may not be a teacher-person.

3) Are you easy going? Flexible?

In Asian cultures you’ll find harmony even in their architecture, it is the key ingredient to a successful working environment for them and I often call this Asia’s #1 hiring criteria. Assure your interviewer that you are flexible, patient and that you can go along to get along.

Cultural differences and problems in the workplace can destroy your TEFL career if you are too ‘Western’ with your attitude.  You might think that you are appropriately sticking up for yourself, but in the culture of your new host country it could well be seen as being purposefully disrespectful.

There are appropriate ways to deal with and solve problems that will ensure the harmony. My advice to you: use the cultural tactics of your host country to avoid being overly assertive.

Get into the culture of your host country and get some cultural finesse. Work out problems in a culturally appropriate way rather than crushing them with first-world assertiveness/aggression.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Speak slowly, clearly and correctly during your interview but remember not to oversimplify your speech or use baby talk.  Avoid using a lot of idioms, slang or cultural expressions.  Don’t start dropping verbs and using only present tense (a common strategy).

TED’s Tips™ #2:  Have your interview in a quiet environment and turn up the volume to hear well.

TED’s Tips™ #3: Smile, smile and smile once more. Answer the phone with a smile and speak in a friendly manner. A smile increases the friendliness in your voice, so let your smile do the talking.

Follow these simple steps and your telephone interview will be a success! Good luck!

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Adjusting to a New Country

Some People have Difficulty Adjusting to Change

On a forum in which I participate we were talking recently about things to do to help you get “settled in” and comfy in your new country/city.

People were looking for some hard and fast rules.  But as with most things, general guidelines are probably better.

If you are planning staying long term somewhere then I think what you might do depends a lot on the particular city and your comfort level with the culture.

I went about doing things very differently when I moved to Bangkok versus Taipei versus Riyadh versus Pusan, Korea versus Francistown Botswana.

Some essentials though are to make your home comfortable. Get Internet set up, TV, telephone – communication things organized, so you can communicate with friends and family.

Buy and organize your kitchen items so you can eat when and how you like. Same thing with bed linens, pillows – etc. The point being to make your home comfortable and to feel like home rather than to feel like a temporarily rented box.

Part of this will depend also on how introverted/extroverted you are. I am a bit quiet and shy until you know me, so I try to connect with groups that have similar interests. In Saudi Arabia it was a poker group. In Bangkok it was a book club. In Pusan it was a teachers group.

In one place I volunteered at an English language library. The library was an excellent way to meet people and it was easy to start conversations about what people were reading.

I’ve lived in five “foreign” countries for about two to ten years each and every one was super different even if in the same region of the world. Crime, ease of accessing the language, weather, culture and customs all will affect how you might go about adjusting.

Mostly – keep your eyes open, read community boards in places where expatriates gather (you WILL want to speak to people in your native language from time to time), volunteer if you can.

It really depends on how you wish to define your lifestyle.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Get your home nice and comfy as fast as you can.  Establish communication links with family and friends.  Volunteer and join up with local groups and organizations.  Do those things and you’ll soon have your new home country/city humming along like a nice pair of old shoes . . .

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