Opportunities for Writers: Teaching English Abroad

Alyssa Colton | September 2012

You’ve completed your degree and are ready to do something different. But you need to earn money, too. Living and working abroad, whether short- or long-term, can be a valuable experience, especially for writers. You get out of your comfort zone and have the opportunity to observe and interact with new cultures and landscapes. Working abroad can also lay the groundwork for some real career opportunities. In addition to the opportunities for travel and living in another country, some of those who work abroad are able to save a little money or pay off a loan, as well. Unlike adjunct teaching, your work will bring in a full-time paycheck, and you usually have access to benefits like health insurance and housing to boot.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language

If you want to travel or are interested in working abroad, teaching English is probably one of the best routes. According to Susan Griffith, whose twelfth edition of Teaching English Abroad is due out later this year, in general, “there are probably more jobs for English teachers worldwide now than at any time in the past.” While teaching may be the only route available to Americans for work abroad in many cases, it can also be one way to segue into more permanent and possibly other types of employment abroad, too, notes Zahara Hecksher, author of How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas and articles on working abroad.

Although you can secure a job teaching English abroad without any special training, you will be much better positioned if you were to invest in certification for teaching English to foreign speakers. If you want to go further, you might also look into degree programs in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). The last decade has seen considerable growth in these programs, which in turn might make the most desirable jobs more competitive. Still, Griffith assured me in a recent email that many opportunities still exist. Foreign-language schools in many countries, including countries hit hard economically like Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, are still in business and still “keen to recruit teachers.” The employment situation in such countries actually prompts many to seek out English-language teaching, according to Griffith, so that they can be more attractive to potential employers.

Foreign-language schools in many countries, including countries hit hard economically
like Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, are still in business and still “keen to recruit teachers.”

What else might be required for a TESOL or TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) job? Blythe Camenson, author of Opportunities for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, notes that experience in teaching and qualities such as patience and creativity are important, as well as flexibility, tolerance, and an understanding of and willingness to be open to other cultures. Knowledge of the language and culture of the country where you will be teaching is very helpful. On a more practical level, you will need, in addition to your transcripts, a passport, passport photos, a birth certificate, and any required and recommended vaccinations. Some jobs may require background checks. In applying for jobs, you should be aware that it is not unusual for some countries to look for personal information such as gender, age, race, and marital status; information that is usually not included on resumes for jobs in the United States. Postings for job openings can be found in multiple locations on the internet such as EFL job boards and through training programs.

TESOL opportunities exist at all levels, from international primary and secondary schools to English-language institutes for foreigners wanting to learn English in order to improve their options for employment. The world “is moving toward a multilingual model...(where) English will be not so much a force for homogenization as a conduit for the transmission of ideas and traditions from all over the world directly into the mainstream,” says Camenson.

Do Your Homework

Of course, taking a job overseas without much knowledge of the organization you will be working for can be a risky venture. Dr. Robert Filback is a professor of clinical education at the University of Southern California, where he teaches courses in international education. Filback says that in his classes he talks to students about how to be empowering teachers and also gives them practical guidance on job-hunting strategies. “I encourage them to talk to others who have taught there before, to research what the job description is in detail and the expectations that might not be spelled out on paper,” he says. Andrew Hernandez, a graduate of the MAT concentration in TESOL program at USC, concurs. “Research your options well,” he advises. The more you can learn about possible teaching positions and the conditions at the schools you are applying to, “the less stress you will suffer.”

Camenson recommends job-seekers review guidelines from the US Government for choosing institutions to work with abroad. A few websites, such as the TEFL Blacklist, post stories about bad TEFL experiences and therefore can be a good resource to check to be sure you won’t be entering into a bad situation.

What to Expect

Hernandez landed his first job teaching English to children in Korea in 2006. He became interested in teaching abroad when he went to Bosnia as a volunteer for one month with a college program. His first job in a private school was well remunerated and a good fit for a newbie: “The school had its own curriculum in place so I essentially studied the material, shadowed a few teachers for two days and then started teaching.” After two years in Korea, he decided to return to the United States, where he earned a certificate to teach English. After another year in Korea, however, he realized he would do better with a graduate degree, and returned again to attend USC. “Most EFL and ESL jobs that I sought provided better benefits for teachers with a teaching credential or master’s degree,” he explains. Hernandez concentrated on the elementary school level and when he returned to Korea, he landed a job teaching in a public school. While the public school offers better benefits—such as more time off to travel—it also poses more challenges, with larger classes of kids with a variety of skill levels.

(Hernandez’s) first job in a private school was well remunerated and a good fit for a newbie:
“The school had its own curriculum in place so I essentially studied the material,
shadowed a few teachers for two days and then started teaching.”

One of the unanticipated challenges of teaching abroad Hernandez has faced is communicating with the administration at the schools where he’s worked. “Communication with colleagues can be brutal and challenging,” Hernandez says. For example, Hernandez has tried to bring alternative teaching techniques into his classrooms but has encountered resistance, a resistance that is exacerbated by language difficulties. Still, he finds enjoyment in teaching and is clearly making a life in Korea, where he has a girlfriend and a lot of time off to travel.

Most TESOL teachers return to the U.S. after a period of time abroad. Some, like Hernandez, pursue additional education, while others find permanent employment as teachers or work in administration and program development. Certainly experience abroad would not hurt chances to work in the corporate work world, which is becoming increasingly global. The increasing number of graduate programs in TESOL might also drive up a demand for professors in these programs as well.

What You Should Consider Before Accepting an Offer

How much money you make will of course depend on many factors. Again, your level of preparation will make a difference here. You should also consider the cost of living, the exchange rate, and possible limitations to how much money you can exchange into your own currency, if you are trying to save or send money back home. Institutions that offer free housing and medical care in addition to a salary are most likely your best bet if you are hoping to save money or pay off debt faster. Asian countries are reportedly the best-paying market for TESOL teachers. (By the way, for countries that don’t offer medical care, the TESOL organization offers health insurance for qualifying teachers.) Another perk: most jobs pay your way to and from the site, and for long-term jobs, may even pay for visits home. For Americans, it will be much easier and cheaper to travel to other countries when based somewhere like Asia or Eastern Europe. While TESOL teaching may not be the most lucrative option, many teachers, according to Griffith, “are able to afford to live comfortably and have an enjoyable time without feeling pinched.”

A Writer Abroad

Other opportunities for working abroad do exist, but this may be a more difficult route. Chantal Pazzano, who moved to Zurich because of her spouse’s job, cites language barriers, work permit difficulties, and exchange rates as some of the challenges of working abroad. If you want to write for international companies, you may have to alter your style. “You can’t use play on words or puns because they aren’t easily translated or understood. Humor can also be problematic which is a real bummer if you have a sarcastic style,” says Pazzano, who worked for a U.S. advertising firm before moving to Zurich. She also found it difficult to find writing groups or classes; therefore, she co-founded the Zurich Writers’ Workshop in 2009. Pazzano also writes a blog at www.writerabroad.com. “When you’re abroad and there’s something you’re looking for, like feedback on your memoir or novel, sometimes you just have to make it happen yourself,” she says. Another website, www.writersabroad.com, is also a resource for expat writers to share work and even has a current call for contributions to an anthology.

There is no question that, especially for writers, even a short time abroad can be enriching.
In fact, living abroad can actually increase your creativity...

There is no question that, especially for writers, even a short time abroad can be enriching. In fact, living abroad can actually increase your creativity, according to a study done by Dr. William Maddux, associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, a global business school. He found a strong correlation between living abroad and an increase in creativity. Even after returning home, living abroad can have a positive effect on your creativity if those experiences are reactivated, according to his research. Chantal Pazzano agrees. “Nothing is more rewarding than living out of your comfort zone and finally coming to a point when you’re comfortable in that very place,” she says. “And also (it makes you) more prolific as a writer because there is so much more to write about.”


Resources For Teaching English Abroad


Camenson, Blythe. Opportunities for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.

Griffith, Susan. Teaching English Abroad: Your Expert Guide to Teaching English Around the World. 11th  Revised ed. Surrey, UK: Crimson Publishing, 2012. (Note: A new edition of this book will be released in December.)


Below are just a few websites to check out for more information:


Council on International Educational Exchange: www.ciee.org

Overseas Job Centre: www.overseasjobcentre.co.uk

Transitions Abroad: www.transitionsabroad.com

Below are just a few of the online resources available:

Dave’s ESL Cafe: www.eslcafe.com

Dept of State Office of English Language Programs: http://exchanges.state.gov/education/engteaching

Go Abroad: www.goabroad.com/teach-abroad

TESOL International Association: www.tesol.org

The TEFL Blacklist: http://teflblacklist.blogspot.com

Teflnet: http://www.Tefl.net


Alyssa Colton received her PhD with creative dissertation from the University at Albany in 2001. Two previous articles, on the teaching portfolio and on exploring alternatives to academia, have appeared in the Job List. Her work has also appeared in Glamour, Mothering, Iris, JAC, MELUS, MLA.org, and at Womenwriters.net. She can be found at www.alyssabcolton.com.

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