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8 Hidden Benefits of Teaching English Abroad

by Anne Merritt Dec 27, 2008
Teaching ESL overseas has become an increasingly popular rite of passage for young North Americans. Many twenty-somethings see this experience as a great way to do a bit of traveling without breaking the bank.

If that isn’t reason enough to look into ESL work, here are eight hidden benefits to teaching English abroad.

1. The training is painless.

A TESL certificate can be attained through a 100 hour course, and most schools offer evening/weekend sessions or online courses. The fees start at about $500 USD, and many schools have services to help with the job hunt.

If you have some extra cash and want to start your travels immediately, larger ESL schools offer four week TESL training in exotic locations around Europe, Southeast Asia, or Central and South America.

2. You can be a student in your own classroom.

Regardless of age, the students you teach will be excited to see a foreigner take an interest in their culture. Most will gladly offer tips about local foods to eat, places to see, and things to try.

Young students can teach you a lot about pop culture or local slang, and simple conversations will give you insight into their family lives and customs. For just one example, check out Matador member Teresita’s blog, I Heart Our Global Pop Culture Icons.

3. A year is a long time…

…to experience a whole calendar’s worth of festivals, holidays, cultural events, and seasonal foods. You’ll get much more insight than a single trip. Also, worldwide holidays like Chinese New Year or Christmas are a bit different in every country. You’ll get to experience a unique version of a familiar holiday.

4. It’s a crash course in cultural sensitivity.

Most expats reach the “Their society makes ZERO sense to me!” phase at some point. It’s a normal step in one’s adjustment to a new culture. Getting past this phase of culture shock means opening your mind to new and unfamiliar things. Whether the traffic laws are driving you crazy, or new acquaintances ask questions that seem invasive to you, be patient.

You’ll come to appreciate the ways in which this foreign culture operates. Most often, you’ll note customs that strike you as far more practical than those in your native country.

5. You’ll get an instant network of local acquaintances.

Whether you’re teaching in a language centre or public school, you’ll be amongst colleagues who speak English. Regardless of their level of expertise, they’ll likely be keen to practice their English conversation skills with you. Not only will you have new friends, but your coworkers can help you navigate the area and its customs better than any guidebook.

6. You’ll be tapping into an excellent grapevine.

A lot of good ESL jobs, and general travel tips, are accumulated by word of mouth. By meeting other ESL teachers, you can get advice about new destinations or jobs from people who have been there, lived that.

Whether you wonder which South American country has the fewest work visa hassles, or you’re curious about how rainy Vietnam’s rainy season really is, other teacher-travelers can help.

7. Travel is simple with a great home base.

If you’re based in Thailand, you can visit Cambodia or Laos for under $50 USD. If you’re teaching in a European country and you’re close to an airport, a weekend in Prague or Berlin is a cheap RyanAir flight away. Once you’re set up in a foreign country, the journey to other exotic locales becomes much, much easier.

8. It’s a resume-booster, even if you don’t want to teach long-term.

You might worry that this job will look like a blip on your resume. Even if your teaching experience consisted of sing-alongs and barnyard animal flashcards, don’t underestimate the skills you developed along the way. Communicating across cultural barriers, using leadership skills to conduct classes, and picking up a new language (even just conversationally) are great assets.


Lots of Matador members are either teaching abroad now or have past ESL experience. Whether you want to teach in Istanbul or

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