Teaching English abroad has become an increasingly popular option for recent college graduates. The job allows you to immerse yourself in a new culture and gain valuable life experience, while seeing new parts of the world and gaining perspective on your own home country. I spoke with two Marist College class of 2013 graduates who have been spending their post-grad time thus far teaching English abroad. Philip Lopez, from New Jersey, spent the past school year teaching English to second, third, and fourth year college students (ages 19-22) at Bac Lieu University in Vietnam. Heather Ayvazian, of Massachusetts, is spending ten months teaching secondary school students (ages 13-18) in Sarawak, Malaysia. Both Phil and Heather were placed in their positions through the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program, a prestigious program that sponsors and facilitates teaching placements abroad for eligible young people.
Personal and Professional Challenges
Phil and Heather are experiencing the challenges of being a first year teacher, while also tackling the challenges of being in a new place alone. As Heather explained, English teachers abroad are faced with “a tricky game” of “creating a diplomatic teacher alter-ego, but still remembering [their] home identity and culture, while also allowing [themselves] to change and grow personally abroad.”
When asked the toughest part of his time in Vietnam, Phil clarified that there are two sets of challenges in a job that is also an abroad experience – the professional challenges and the personal challenges. Phil identified the cultural differences in the classroom as his greatest professional challenge, saying, “issues like cheating, raising your hand, or talking while others are speaking were not treated the same where I worked as they are in the states, so I had to work hard to institute my classroom standards.” His greatest personal challenge is isolation. Though he admits it is a good immersion experience, his great distance from the closest major city of Ho Chi Minh is difficult. Heather identified her biggest professional challenge as trying to make a difference to her students despite “trying to push through the system and its paperwork.” On a more personal level, Heather is tackling “the sheer quantity of challenges”: foreign culture and language, missing loved ones, and oppressive weather, to name a few.
A Rewarding Experience
Despite the assortment of challenges, the job proves to be an exciting and rewarding decision for both teachers. Phil and Heather both are excited and fulfilled seeing the improvement in their students’ confidence and ability. Both teachers loved getting to know their students personally, and gaining a new understanding of the culture through the students’ perspective.
Misconceptions About the Job
When people consider teaching abroad, they often view the experience as an opportunity to travel and explore. While this of course can be true, people often overlook the fact that teaching is a full-time job. In addition to time spent in the classroom, English teachers are required to do lesson planning, grading, and often plan additional cultural experiences for their students- such as a Halloween party Phil hosted to introduce the holiday to his class. While there is time to travel, the majority of the time abroad is spent gaining an intimate knowledge of your new hometown.
Words of Wisdom
If you’re considering teaching English abroad, Heather advises you to “be ready to not ever be ready.” It can be a stressful and challenging experience, but it will also be one of the most amazing things you will ever do. Be sure to do sufficient research and choose your location carefully. “Think about the things you enjoy doing and see if you can also do them where you will be teaching. If you can imagine living in that place for over a year and it is something that sounds interesting, then you should try it,” Phil says. Both Phil and Heather recommend teacher training prior to committing to this full-time teaching position, as well as at least a basic knowledge of the local language.
How to Get Started
If teaching English abroad sounds like an experience you would enjoy, take a look at the helpful directory of teaching abroad opportunities at Go Abroad. The website offers over 1,000 job postings in 225 different locations, and will serve as a crucial first step in your search. If you have a Bachelor’s Degree and a proficiency in the local language of your destination country, you can apply for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grant here.