Beat the Recession: Teach Abroad

Nicholas Ferdinandt suggests English teachers look abroad for short-term teaching employment that will not only be the experience of a lifetime but could also be just what your resume needs

The demand for English teachers throughout the world is one bright spot in an otherwise dire and slow global jobs recovery. The desire to learn the English language as a skill in the development of human capital is the same desire that any person has in his or her struggle to improve life by finding a well-paying job. English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers are not immune to the desire to improve their lives, but finding well paying jobs with companies that are financially solid, pay a just wage, and support their employees is an ongoing challenge for those seeking short-term employment as an EFL teacher abroad.

In some parts of the world, English is a big and booming business. China and Korea are investing in English language instruction to compete in the global marketplace. All over the world, private English language teaching franchises promising fast, easy EFL learning have accompanied broader investment in English language training. Parents recognizing that English may be the difference between a well-paying, solid job and the struggle to survive are investing in their child’s English language as never before.

To meet this demand for EFL teachers, many people are getting the minimum qualification to teach English abroad, known as a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate. It’s also recognized globally as a TESOL or CELTA certificate depending on what part of the world you’re in. The problem that arises once you’ve attained one of these certificates is how to evaluate a job market with so much demand and so many different companies seeking EFL teachers.

To begin, let’s recognize that the most solid working arrangements are forged on personal relationships. If you know that you want to teach in a particular country, you should begin by working your existing network of relationships in that country. If you’ve never been to that country, you should consider going there to see whether you’d like to spend time there and do some research and networking by meeting people in the EFL industry while there.

Some countries (like Korea) have the custom of using EFL employment agencies to find qualified candidates. Remember that the employers are looking for quality candidates as much as you’re looking for a quality company, and agents can help you both get together. That of course brings the problem of finding a quality agency, which, once again, can be found on the basis of personal relationships and networking. Thus, if you don’t know the country or someone there, perhaps you have a friend who’s used an agent to find a job and that agent can refer you to one who works in the desired country.

If you’re looking at jobs from a particular company, just as the company wants you to provide references, so too you should require them to provide references from past employees. In your contacts with former employees, ask them about the working conditions, timeliness of payment, pay scale, and living conditions. Working conditions include teaching hours, number of days per week, and pay per hour often bolstered by living accommodations and travel expenses that may either be provided by the company or not.

A colleague of mine took a short-term job teaching EFL abroad where the company provided the accommodations. She arrived exhausted after a long trip to an apartment that looked okay from the outside. But when she opened the water faucet, a never ending stream of cockroaches evacuated the drain as the rust colored water evicted them from their hiding place.
As you begin to contact potential employers, be mindful of the main contact’s English abilities and his or her timeliness in responding to your communications. Communication is one of the keys to a good job situation and responsiveness to your questions before you agree to work may indicate how communication will continue on site.

A work visa is the key to lawful status. Often it’s very expensive for a company to issue a work visa, so they have a special interest in making sure that you are qualified. If they don’t want to issue you a visa or want you to pay for it, you should scrutinize the contract and offer very closely. A work visa should be the cost of doing business if the company is interested in quality instruction.

Determining fair pay is an individual decision that depends on each person’s needs and desires. For many, teaching English abroad represents adventure and cultural enrichment, where pay is less important. But teaching EFL is a profession that offers gainful employment to many dedicated and capable professionals. So, know your needs and apply accordingly.

It goes without saying, but it’s salient to mention, that if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Beware of the ideal situation. Never agree to anything that sounds too good to be true without a few solid, reputable references from past employees who can confirm all aspects of the promised contract.

So, the best place to start with your job search is with yourself. Begin with your own needs and desires: What country do you want to work in? Is it feasible to legally work there? What kind of salary do you need to cover costs abroad and back home, like student loans or a mortgage? How long are you looking at living abroad? Once you’ve answered these questions you should do a targeted search on the country and contact everyone you know there to tell them of your desire to teach. After you’ve done your due diligence, begin to contact promising employers and assess them on your needs criteria.

Finally, when in doubt, follow your gut. While this is not always the most reliable measure of a quality experience, your mind processes subtle hints that may not be readily decipherable to your understanding. Assessing a potential employer is an important aspect of evaluating whether a job with a company will be a good fit and no less so when trying to find an EFL teaching job abroad.

Nicholas Ferdinandt is the associate director and teacher training coordinator at the University of Arizona. He taught English abroad in Brazil for five years and has been a teacher trainer for the last twelve.