I have taught EFL in 4 countries including Namibia, Czech Republic, Taiwan, and Japan. Each job has varied in length from a few months to 2 years. I’ve had fabulous experiences and some dreadful ones.
When I first starting teaching, I was quick to jump on any overseas offer without thinking much about how the commitment affected my life.
But these days, I’m more selective. Not only is it important to find the right job and country environment. I also want the experience to fit in with other life goals.
Long-term teaching programs certainly have advantages. It’s nice to know there’s a paycheck coming in for that time period. It often takes at least 6 months to adjust to a new country. In addition, there may be tax advantages to working abroad for over a year.
However, I have come to see more value in shorter assignments, ranging from a few weeks to a few months. If you are considering teaching abroad, here are reasons to take a closer look at short-term programs.
1. Ease in slowly
One observation I’ve made through the years is that people sometimes enter teaching with the best intentions. A short while in, they realize they dislike it. Teaching can be the most energizing and fulfilling interaction in the world. It can also be the most draining.
Of course, there is a period of adjustment for all new teachers, but some people quickly know it’s just not for them. Short programs let you test your adaptability to teaching demands without too many consequences. Despise facing a class of kids at 8:00 am? Good thing you didn’t sell off all your possessions.
If you are already an experienced teacher, a shorter program lets you observe the classroom atmosphere in that country. Student discipline and motivation as well as teacher resources vary greatly from one culture to the next. These days I want to know what I’m getting into upfront before making a longer commitment.
2. Test the Waters
In the same way that short-term programs let you try out teaching, they also let you try out a particular country. What’s more, you experience that country in a different way than as a tourist. Working regular structured hours each day dramatically changes your engagement with a place. Sure, Barcelona is a gorgeous city with a vibrant nightlife, but what’s it like during the morning commute?
You also gain a realistic idea of what it takes to financially survive there. If you find yourself dipping into savings, living there long term may not be not responsible.
In addition, despite a strong willingness to adapt, sometimes a country just isn’t a good fit for surprising reasons. It didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t function well under dreary gray conditions in the Czech Republic. Prior to moving there, I never thought climate would be such a deal breaker for me.
3. Research other jobs
Another advantage of a short-term teaching program is that you can use that time to research other jobs. Simply landing in a country and launching a job search can be daunting. Where do you start? But a short–term assignment orients you to the kinds of teaching jobs available. More importantly, it introduces you to colleagues who can serve as resources and professional contacts.
In my experience, seldom have initial assignments arranged outside the country been the most lucrative or interesting available to me there. It takes time to investigate other options and eventually land the job you really want.
4. Temper the emotional investment
Moving abroad is an emotionally charged event. It’s hard to say goodbye to family members and romantic partners, knowing that you’ll miss out on special events and close the door on some opportunities.
Short-term programs temper the impact of uprooting one’s life so dramatically. I’m the first to admit that I have gained many benefits from living abroad, but lately I’m less willing to make the same sacrifices. With a wide range of short summer and winter programs around the world, I don’t have to.
5. Pursue other life goals
Finally short assignments give you more control over your time in the pursuit of multiple goals. Moving overseas is certainly exciting, but our goals and desires change, sometimes overnight.
Teaching English abroad for a few weeks or months works particularly well for people in a period of flux, unsure of the next step. They are also convenient for those starting a graduate program or internship later in the year. Finally, they are excellent for people who want to experience a destination as more than a just a tourist for a few weeks.
Consult the following websites for links to short-term programs overseas. There are many paid and volunteer opportunities available.
Have you ever taught abroad on a short-term program? Tell us about it.
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