Today’s guest post is from Josh Stanton, one of our former Career Advisors. Josh left us a couple years ago to teach English abroad and travel through Europe, and he’s definitely made the most of his time there (and learned quite a few lessons along the way!). If you’re interested in teaching abroad, be sure to follow this great advice!
Josh, with his mom at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City
For countless American college students, nothing would be more thrilling than for the opportunity to live and work abroad. Indeed, upon graduation, many attempt to move abroad, whether it is to experience a new culture, travel, or simply to find foreign women who think their American accent is cute. Teaching English offers young Americans the opportunity to live the life they want, and often it is the most common occupation of Americans living abroad. I left The Career Center at U of M nearly two years ago to travel Europe and teach English. After visiting 14 countries and teaching primarily in Berlin, Germany, I can honestly say Teaching English changed my life.
So you’ve decided to become a teacher? Great! Here are some important things to keep in mind before you make the big jump abroad:
Training: The first, and might I say, most important step in your quest to become a Teacher is to get training. While language schools in Europe value native-English speakers above all else, a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) certification is absolutely essential to landing a job with a legitimate school. Teaching certifications such as these are accepted worldwide and can be the difference between whether or not you secure a work permit in your host country.
These schools often take the shape of 30 day, intensive training courses, where participants learn everything from language awareness to teaching grammar in a way that stimulates the learner. Both TEFL and CELTA training courses can be found in just about every major city in the world, with a higher percentage found in European cities.
Conduct thorough research on certification programs. Most certification programs have websites that will breakdown the costs of the program, what they will offer you, and how they can assist you in finding work. You can often find these sites through http://www.transitionsabroad.com/, which is specifically designed for those interested in teaching abroad. Finally, when selecting a training school, keep in mind the location. It is much easier, both on your time and finances, to get certified in a country where you intend to work. This increases your chances of getting a job upon completion of your program. Which leads us to…
Location: You should know exactly where you want to teach before you put your time (and money) into a certification program. In Europe, the Schengen Accords stipulate that Americans can stay for Europe for up to 90 days on a tourist passport. Since your certification course will be 30 days, that means you have only TWO months to find work before you must leave the continent and wait another 3 months before returning. So it is absolutely essential that you use your time and money wisely!
Pick a country and city that you intend to live and work. Research housing arrangements, taxes in that country, and visa requirements. Learn about the culture, and most importantly, try to learn the language! It isn’t always necessary to know the host country’s language when teaching English, but it makes the adjustment to living in that country that much easier.
As would be expected, the demand for English Teachers is higher in some countries than in others. Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia in particular are two areas where English is in high demand. Countries such as South Korea, China, and Japan offer great pay, housing (in many cases provided) and an expedited visa process for those who want to teach there. In Eastern Europe, there is a high demand for English amongst the former Soviet Satellite states such as Ukraine or Bulgaria, but schools in these areas tend to pay less.
Western Europe, especially states such as Germany, France, and Spain, are often the most popular choice among American Teachers. But it can be significantly more difficult to get teaching positions in these countries, for two reasons. First, Americans face an inherent disadvantage. EU citizens (read: Most of Europe) are free to live and work anywhere in the EU thus, when it comes to teaching English, it is much easier for W.E. schools to hire British Teachers who do not need a work visa, as opposed to American Teachers who must go through paperwork to obtain visas. Second, English is often a required language in many schools throughout Western Europe, thus a large percentage of young to middle-age Europeans already speak the English language, lessening the demand for English instruction. But fear not! Teaching positions can still be found, and with a little hard work and determination, you can find your way into a position in the country of your choosing. Just be sure come to Europe with plenty of…
Money: The big disadvantage burgeoning American Teachers put themselves in when they move abroad to find work is that they underestimate how much money they will need to live on until they start working. Make no mistake: if you do not bring enough money, you will be home as fast as you arrived. Those wishing to teach in Europe in particular must keep this in mind. The Euro currently sits around 1.35 against the U.S. Dollar, which means that what would normally cost 10 dollars in the U.S. will cost roughly 14 dollars in Europe. Once you factor in rent payments, food, bills, the expected traveling expenses, and other items while you search for work, your money will start to disappear fast.
So how much is enough? My advice is to have, at a minimum, $7,000 (5,120 Euro) U.S. Dollars in your accounts when you head overseas. This amount should be enough to cover your living and traveling expenses and hold you over until you find work. Of course, the more you save, the better.
Documentation (Work Visas): “Wo sind deine Papiere?” (Where are your papers?) It’s a phrase I always hear at the German visa office and a phrase you are bound to hear wherever you go. Governments love paperwork (especially the Germans) and thus, the last thing to keep in mind as you prepare to teach abroad is to find out what documentation you will need to get yourself a work visa. This, of course, underscores the importance of choosing a country before you leave. Research the country’s work visa requirements, and have all the proper forms in order and ready to go when you arrive. Some language schools can and do assist you in applying for visas, but often you are on your own. You should have, at a minimum, the following documents:
- Passport (and notarized photo copies)
- A copy of your birth certificate (and notarized copies)
- A copy of your college degree (and notarized copies)
- Copies of your resume
- Your Teaching Certification (when you receive it)
- Proof of Health Insurance (Very important. Obtain Traveler’s Insurance for at least a 3 month period. Many schools will not hire you and most countries won’t give you work visas unless you are properly insured.)
Preparing for a life as an English Teacher might seem like an overwhelming experience, and indeed, it is not easy. But being focused and making the necessary preparations can make all the difference in your success overseas. The experiences you will have and the people you will meet will quickly overshadow any of the difficulties you may face. Good travels.