Teaching Overseas: A New Adventure
If you’re the adventurous type, teaching overseas can be quite attractive. Not only do you get to live in a new place and culture, but you may also find yourself at a school with many more perks than your average U.S. institution.
Obviously, one of the biggest benefits to teaching overseas is that you get to travel. However, be honest with yourself about this aspect of the job: apply to jobs in countries you’ll enjoy, since most schools ask for a minimum of a two-year contract. On the other hand, teaching abroad gives you a chance to expand your horizons and challenge yourself, so don’t rule it out just because of nerves.
Many schools overseas are privately run and cater to foreign students. For instance, you might come across the American School of Madrid, which caters to English-speaking students, or Canadian College Italy, which is geared toward Canadian, American, and international students. The benefit to this is that you’re likely to recognize the language, curriculum, and school norms of those institutions, as well as getting the chance to work with a diverse range of students. It’s common for schools to adopt the IB (International Baccalaureate) curriculum, as well, so if you’re not familiar with that, you’d do well to get up to speed on the program.
Another bonus to teaching overseas is having facilities that we don’t always enjoy in the U.S. Because many private schools cater to high-income populations, it’s not unusual to see schools with high-end sports complexes, student travel programs, lush campuses, and technologically equipped classrooms.
Your salary may be higher than what you’d get in the U.S., as well, and some schools will help you with rent, airfare (usually just for one round trip), health insurance, or pension funds. However, this is not a given: the cost of living in your chosen country affects how far your salary goes, as does how much you choose to save or spend on travel.
Leaving your family and friends is one of the biggest deterrents for those considering this teaching option. As mentioned, a select few schools will allow you to sign on with a one-year contract, but many require a two- or three-year agreement, meaning that unless you convince your family to come with you, you’ll see them sparingly for a couple years.
Job turnover is another consideration. Many international schools replace a high number of teachers each year, meaning that the remaining faculty must adjust to new colleagues or administrators every fall. This is a result of many people moving between international schools, looking for travel and new experiences, and because of younger teachers wanting to “try out” teaching abroad for a few years before going home. It’s not necessarily a bad thing– indeed, you may be one of those teachers who lives abroad for two years and then leaves– but is important to consider if you’re concerned about having a stable group of educators around you.
You’ll also want to think about the language and culture of any country you’re considering. It can be extremely isolating to not know how to communicate with those around you, and your cultural beliefs or assumptions may not jibe with those of your new country. Do some research on potential locations to get a sense of the following:
- How is time viewed? Is punctuality valued?
- How formal is the day-to-day culture in terms of dress or personal interaction?
- What are common foods or meals?
- How are foreigners viewed?
Knowing those few things will give you a better picture of whether you’ll be happy outside of your teaching hours. Though you still may experience some culture shock on arrival, you’ll be better prepared to deal with it.
Basic Steps to Getting an International Job
If you’ve decided to teach abroad, the next step is to set up a profile with an international recruiter. Several of the most reputable are:
- Search Associates
- Council of International Schools (CoIS)
- International School Search (ISS)
- Educators Overseas
- Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA)
By creating a profile with one or more of those organizations, you’re allowing schools to get in touch with you. You’ll also be able to easily express interest in openings. These recruiters, with the exceptions of the DODEA, charge a fee to sign up, but it’s worth it: especially with Search Associates and ISS, you’ll get personal attention and the chance to attend an international job fair, which greatly improves your chances of getting a position. It’s certainly possible to apply for jobs individually, but the majority of international schools use these sites to contact potential teachers.
You’ll also need to decide what area of the world, and what type of job, you’re looking for. Consider the political situation in various parts of the world, what languages you speak or are willing to learn, and whether you’re looking for a school with a particular kind of curriculum (IB, English National Curriculum, AP courses, etc).
Just as with a teaching job in the U.S., you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree. Many private schools also require you to have a teaching license, but you can find schools that don’t require this. It’s also helpful, but not necessary, to have both experience living abroad as well as command of a second language.
If you’re selected for an interview, many schools will contact you via Skype, though some may be willing to interview by phone. Very few will require that you interview in person, though those do exist. For the best chances at a position, look in Asia and the Middle East; the most competitive positions are in Western Europe.
By Danielle Restuccia