The Pros and Cons of TEFL Abroad

Today we’re going to be talking about the pros and cons of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) abroad. We all know someone who’s either currently teaching abroad or has taught abroad, and if you’re reading this, maybe you too are considering doing so at some point. 

Teaching English abroad can be a great adventure, but getting used to living in a new country, can also bring some unexpected challenges once the excitement of the first few weeks begins to fade.

That’s why in this blog post, we’re going to talk about the pros and the cons of teaching overseas, so that you have a better idea of what to expect once you’re finally ready to take the leap.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Teaching English as a Foreign Language TEFL AbroadPhoto by @chuklanov via Unsplash CC0

The Pros of TEFL

The package

Depending on what country you’re from, and what country you’ll be teaching in, the salary jump can be quite significant. Countries in the Middle East and East Asia are known to be good places to make money and save money.

If saving money is a big priority, you may want to check out this list of the highest paying countries for teaching English abroad. However, keep in mind that salaries aren’t the only thing to consider. Many countries will offer teachers a package that may include things like reimbursed flights, contract bonuses, settlement allowances, rent-free apartments, paid vacation and health insurance. It’s worth taking the time to really consider your options and figure out what’s best for you. 

As an example, I had been offered a high-paying teaching job in Tokyo, however, I would have been responsible for my rent, which is quite pricey in that city! The job I was eventually offered in Korea paid a bit less, but because that package included a free apartment, at the end of the day I was able to save more money. I spent a year in Korea and was able to save $17,000 teaching English.

Experience a new culture

One of the main reasons why I was so interested in teaching English in Korea is that I wanted to travel and experience a different part of the world, and this job allowed me to do exactly that!

Even though I was working 40 hours a week, I had the mornings to myself (I typically worked 1:30-9:30 p.m.), plus I also had the weekends to go explore Seoul and go on mini-adventures across the country. 

During my year in Korea, I visited the port city of Busan, walked through the green tea fields of Boseong, attended a mud festival in Boryeong, wandered through the bamboo forest in Damyang, climbed the fortress in Suwon, and so much more!

Language immersion

Another reason to consider teaching overseas is to learn the local language.

Admittedly, it wasn’t my goal to become fluent in Korean during my year there, but I did pick up some phrases and I also taught myself to read hangul (the Korean alphabet), which made the world of a difference when trying to order food and figure out which buses I needed to get on. 

If you’ve been wanting to learn a particular language, immersing yourself during a year of teaching abroad may be the right move. Plus if your students are anything like mine, they’ll be so amused by any new words you learn!

Testing the teaching waters before committing

If you’re thinking about making teaching your career, a year teaching English as a foreign language can be a great way to test the waters and see if it’s something you’d like to pursue. Plus, you’ll also gain valuable teaching experience, which will make a difference when you apply to a teaching program.

I ended up getting my Bachelor of Education after teaching in Korea because I really enjoyed my experience abroad and I thought an international teaching career might be a route to pursue.

I may have ended up working in travel and tourism instead (passions can change!), but I’m still glad I went back to get that degree, and I know that my previous teaching experience made a difference when it came to being accepted into a very competitive program. 

A more affordable way to see the world

Another pro is that teaching English is a great way to see the world! 

An accredited TEFL certification, like the one offered at TEFL.org, can open a flexible career path and make you employable in many countries. I’ve known several people who have made a career of teaching English around the world, switching up countries every few years, and getting to travel and experience new destinations. 

With the demand for English increasing across this globalized world, there are so many jobs available to teachers.

The Cons of TEFL

Culture shock

There’s no doubt about it, there will be some culture shock!

Thinking back to my first weeks in Korea, I quickly learned to remove my shoes and switch over to slippers when entering a home, I learned to use both hands when handing over cash or my credit card, and I learned that you never stick your chopsticks into a bowl of rice! 

When you land in a new country, you need to accept that things will be different – the language, the mannerisms, the food, the traditions.

It can feel a bit overwhelming at the beginning when you’re still learning what you should or shouldn’t do. There will even be times when you find yourself feeling homesick for your family, friends, and the familiarity of home, but it’ll pass.

The best thing you can do is try to make friends and plan fun outings, after all, isn’t that why you moved halfway around the world?

Loneliness

One of the cons of teaching English abroad is that many relationships can be transient in nature. People come and go, especially if you make friends with other foreigners who are there on a 1-year teaching contract. 

At the language academy where I worked, we had 6 foreign teachers but our contracts had all started at different dates, so over the course of that year, we said many goodbyes but also welcomed other new teachers.

Friendships can feel a bit fleeting in that regard, but that is the nature of teaching overseas. All you can do is make the most of your time together, and if you like to travel, you will have friends to visit across the globe!

Sticking out

Being a foreigner in a foreign land can mean you get a lot of stares, especially if you find yourself teaching in a rural area.

This can feel a bit weird at first, but the staring is usually just out of curiosity. Living in Yongin, I did get the occasional point of the finger followed by waegook, meaning foreigner, but I understood it’s because there weren’t many of us around.

In fact, I taught in a city where there were so few foreigners at the time, that whenever I did encounter one in the street it was a big deal that involved some frantic waving followed by chatter:

Where are you from? How long have you been here? And, oh my gosh, you’re the first foreigner I’ve seen aside from my co-workers!

Not what was promised

Another con of teaching abroad is that you may discover that what you were promised isn’t what you end up getting.

While this is extremely rare, there’s always the small chance that you may end up in a school where the employer ignores their contractual obligations, or the picture they painted over the Skype interview proves to be far from the reality you encounter.

This was certainly a concern of mine before I took my teaching job in Korea, which is why I decided to go through a recruiter who had previous experience with my new employer, plus I chose to work for a language academy that was an established name and had multiple locations. I also checked that my school wasn’t blacklisted – there are forums where previous teachers post their nightmare experiences warning others. 

It’s better to do your due diligence so there are no major surprises when you arrive. 

So there you have it, some food for thought. Like with any job, there are some pros and cons to teaching English as a foreign language, but if this is something you’ve been wanting to do for a while, then why not give it a go?

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