Ok, this is a no-brainer. Probably the majority of people get into teaching English as a foreign language because they get the chance to travel somewhere new and exotic. Places like South Korea, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia are all destinations that are enormously different from our own and present amazing opportunities to see and experience something different.
2. Do something meaningful on your travels
And while we all want to travel, teaching English is a good way to be able to extend your travels, learn some insider info about the country/city you are in and the people from that place. You are also affording other people who do not have the possibility of travelling to learn English, the opportunity to learn English in their ‘home’ and who knows, you may be changing some lives and making a real difference for some people. You may ignite the desire for others to travel the world or explore your ‘homeland’.
If you have the travel bug and are keen to go somewhere really different, then you are probably also keen to properly explore this new destination and everything that comes with it. Surely your intention is not to go to some far flung, exotic place with a culture so different to your own simply to stay cooped up in your room or hover between your classroom and your accommodation?! You will get to hear about the secret caves, the best restaurants, the cheap shopping, the best snorkelling company, the best times of day to visit/avoid a museum, the fastest/safest? Method of public transport, etc. that regular tourists know nothing about (yet).
4. Meet new people
Teaching, by its very nature, is going to introduce you to new people. This may be the class of young children you will teach, their parents, the other staff members at the school, young adults you may teach, older adults, etc. Socialising is par for the course. The difference is that most of these people are going to come from different backgrounds, probably speak different languages, and have different cultures to your own. If you don’t like people, then you may want to reconsider the job.
5. Meet like-minded people
And while you may be meeting and interacting with people very different to you, you will also be meeting a lot of people very similar to you, who also had a drive to go out and explore the world, some of whom chose to do this through teaching English. These people may not come from the same place as you, but you may learn how irrelevant age/culture/race/social standing and religion may be when you have found so many qualities you share with someone else, and can share these on a very special adventure together.
6. Make some money
Obviously, money helps! You will still need to eat/drink, move around (transport), sleep (accommodation), shower, pay for the entrance fees to that museum you are interested in seeing, go to the cinema, etc. So while teaching provides you with a visa to stay at a place longer, to explore and discover it, and lets you meet amazing new people, getting paid helps you to survive while you are there!
7. Spend your money on things you never would at home
Be honest with yourself here. Would you walk around back home with your friends and family wearing some very unusual clothes very specific to a country/culture, or choose to spend your pennies going to a restaurant you have never heard of before, serving a type of food you have never heard of before? Would you budget going to see something quite touristy, or off the beaten track, as often as possible at home? Possibly not. Be prepared to spend your hard earned money on things you never have before.
8. Save some money for things you want back home
Not all destinations/jobs will allow for this, and this is something you will need to decide when choosing jobs and destinations. It’s also dependent on your experience and qualifications. Are you going to teach English abroad predominantly to travel, explore and discover or are you going with the specific intention to save money for back home? If you are able to keep some money aside every month, then you can save up to help the family back home, buy your dream house, pay for your (or someone else’s) studies, etc. Working abroad to save some money is a win-win situation, in many people’s eyes.
9. Escape the mundane
Are you doing something now that is completely boring, or you are not sure you are in the right career? Do you sit in front of a computer from 8am – 5pm every day, fighting off peak hour traffic, day in and day out? Has the fun gone out of what you do on a daily basis? Teaching English abroad will certainly keep you on your toes. You have no idea what your students have in store for you on any given day, and your lessons can be as fun as you make them. And when your contract is up you can either choose to go somewhere else if boredom strikes again or, if you are happy, extend your contract.
10. Keep learning
They say: “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn”. This is very true. Each and every person you meet will be able to teach you something different. Teaching teenagers will keep you up to speed with technology, and teaching older adults might give you greater insight into the history of a certain place. Your Japanese boss might turn out to be your greatest mentor (or the benchmark you set for ‘how to not lead a team!’), and there is nothing like having to teach a subject to make you learn all about it really fast.
11. Stay young
The trend for TEFL and the ELT industry is vastly different from traditional teaching methods. There is no such thing as stand in front, chalk in hand and lecture to your minions. You will be getting onto the floor with your younger learners, or looking for unique and engaging ways to keep your audiences’ attention. There is no room for fuddy-duddy, die-hard, stick-in-the-mud TEFL teachers! And if you encounter any, ask them how long they have been in one place and what their goals are… they may have been where they are for too long and are probably not going very far in their TEFL careers (and they probably also hate what they are doing).
12. Learn to be tolerant
You will meet people very different to you. And you will meet people that you do not like, for whatever reason. They may have vastly different opinions to you on any range of issues. But, just as with a good and ethical doctor, you too will learn to treat all students equally, because they are there to learn English in your classroom and your job is to teach them English. That’s it, that’s where it ends. This teaches you tolerance, and the degree to which you take this lesson on and properly reflect on it (as any good teacher should do with all their teaching), will be the degree to which you learn proper tolerance as a human being.
13. Learn to be flexible
Some situations will arise that are out of the ordinary, or things will not go as planned. This could be in your work place because of cultural differences, or in your classroom because of your students (or something simple like technology that refuses to work and now your entire lesson plan is falling apart). You will learn to adapt and you will learn to make do, because you have to. This will teach you to be flexible and will serve you well in many situations in the future to come, even when you are back home and in a completely different career.
14. Learn to be creative and adaptive
As above with flexibility, you will probably find that you are far more creative than you have ever been before. Has the technology died in your classroom, and your planned lesson failed for today? Ok, we are changing plans and this is what we will be doing today instead, everyone. Do you find your students are predominantly audio-visual learners? Watch how quickly you will learn to develop lesson plans that teach different things, but playing to the strength of your students learning styles! People who rarely have to make alternative (spontaneous) plans are probably less likely to be able to come up with a plausible and good plan B, spontaneously and reactively. Think about something that works for you all the time, like electricity. You hit a switch and off you go. But people who have to live with incredibly irregular electricity availability are far more likely to jump into plan B when there is a failure than someone who has never experienced it. They are also less likely to have the tools in place for a backup. These are traits that will stand you in good stead wherever you go in the world, and whatever you do thereafter.
15. Learn another language
Travelling to teach English to a place that does not speak it, means you get the opportunity to also be the language learner. And you may think Japanese is really hard, but you will very quickly learn how to say things like “Next Stop, please” on the bus, before you have even discovered what the individuals words are (which will sound more like ‘nestoplis’ for a while, but you will get there). Learning a new language means not only can you add another language to your CV, and communicate with different people, but it also means you will understand your students better. And this can make all the difference in your classroom sometimes!
16. Learn your own language
So, you may be an English speaker, but before you did your TEFL course you probably did not know grammar like the past continuous even existed! And this may have scared you a little. But a few years (even a few months) into teaching you are going to feel like a pro. You will be calling out your friends on Facebook for poor spelling and grammar, and correcting your families on the whatsapp group. You will learn things about your own language every day, and it is going to be so much fun!
17. Take a break from your normal job/career
The decision to go and teach English abroad is not a make or break one. You do not have to decide between your normal job and teaching. You can use TEFL as the perfect getaway for a while. The bonus is that your CV will not have a gaping hole in it, you will be able to do something completely different and return armed with a bunch of unexpected new skills!
18. Learn unexpected new skills (presentation, public speaking, etc.)
Are you shy? Do have a fear of public speaking? Do you hate presenting to people? These are all things that you are going to have to tackle head on as a teacher, and once you are in the swing of things, you will be far better at grappling with these fears and how to deal with them. You will have the tools for using these skills in new and different contexts. Can you imagine returning home to a job in sales which you would never have dreamed of before teaching because of your shyness, or your fear of presenting?
19. Escape materialism
This point can go either way. Some people may see it as one of the biggest cons of going abroad to teach English. In short, it is very unlikely that you will be living in the lap of luxury if you are going abroad to teach English as a foreign language. The truth of the matter is that you will probably end up sharing digs, if not a room, with at least one other teacher. You will not be driven around in a private limo, or dining in the finest restaurants every night. In fact, you are more likely to find the best local street food, or quickly learn how to cook your own food amidst a flurry of other people trying to cook theirs in a shared kitchen. It will be fun, you will make friends, it will be different, and it will be educational – but it will not be luxury.
20. Start a new career
If you do decide to change direction and stay in the ELT industry, you have a few options for moving up. Some people will decide to go into management (you become a senior teacher, then an Assistant Director of Studies aka A-DOS, and then DOS) run and manage the entire school, open your own English school, become an agent for English schools and send students to schools, or become a teacher trainer (where you train others to teach English). Teaching English doesn’t stop at teaching English. There are career possibilities if you find that this is the industry you love.
21. Start a new life
Some people end up leaving to teach English with the intention to do it for a little while before returning home. Others want to go away and never come back. And then there are those who do not explicitly leave never to return, but end up staying anyway. They fall in love with the new country, its people and ways of life. They learn the language. They make a big circle of friends and love their jobs. They make enough money to visit home for the holidays (to stock up on some family and friends love and TLC), but call a new place ‘home’. It is not unknown for singles to meet their match abroad (be it another English teacher, another expat from a different industry or a local).
There are many reasons to go abroad to teach English, and there is much to gain from embarking on such an adventure.
But, newly trained TEFL teachers must take caution when looking for a job abroad. We, at the UCT English Language Centre, advise you to only go with trusted agents. Never pay an agent for a job. If you see a job online, be sure to check out the company or school advertising the job and do your research properly. Try to find blogs/reviews about the agency and stay away from anything where people mention non-payment or failure to uphold the binding contract signed by both parties. There are many flags to look out for.
Contact us for more information on our upcoming TEFL course, or if you have any questions or doubts about becoming a TEFL teacher. We look forward to hearing from you.