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Mind-Boggling Options: Choosing Where to Teach ESL

Deciding where to teach ESL is an incredibly exciting process. There are hundreds of destinations to choose from, all with their own allure. Just when an amazing picture of a sunset pushes you toward Southeast Asia, someone will tell you about their unforgettable experience in Turkey. Your gut feeling should definitely guide you, but here are five practical elements to consider before making a decision.

1. Culture

Culture is Important when you Teach ESL

Being thrust into an alien culture is a jarring experience. What type of person are you, and where might you thrive? If you are a seasoned traveler looking for the ultimate off-the-beaten-path experience, then teaching in rural Kazakhstan might be the experience of a lifetime for you. If not, then consider a large metropolitan city, where there will be easy access to home comforts, a reliable internet connection, and hot running water.

2. Language

Do You Speak the Language?

If you are planning on teaching ESL abroad, hopefully, you have some interest in languages. Learning a relevant foreign language can be a huge boost for your résumé, so think about which one might be best for your future career. My plan to study a PhD in Latin American history did not work out, but speaking Spanish never hurts, especially since I now live in California.

You should also think about the difficultly of the language as you choose a location. For instance, recognize that it is going to take you a lot longer to get to a conversational level in Chinese than it is in Italian.

3. Money

Pay as an ESL Teacher

ESL teaching jobs normally pay relatively well by local standards, but they rarely allow for a lavish lifestyle. If you are interested in a higher salary and better benefits, then places like South Korea and United Arab Emirates are some of the better options. Remember, however, money is not everything. I would much rather go back to Mexico to earn $600/month instead of going back to Chile to earn $3000/month. It is also worth checking the demand for English teachers, which often fluctuates with economic conditions.

4. Visas

Visas Needed to Teach ESL

As you begin your plan for teaching abroad, check to see which countries offer work visas to U.S. citizens, how much they cost, and how difficult it is to obtain one. Certain countries have very strict immigration rules, while other countries allow visitors to arrive and then apply for a work visa retroactively.

It is worth noting here that, if you are an American citizen, most of the countries of the European Union are off limits, unless you want to work illegally, which is obviously not recommended.

5. Gender/Race/Sexuality

Gender/Race/Sexuality Abroad

The Western World still has a long way to go in terms of discrimination, but other parts of the world lag even further behind.  In many places, overt sexism, homophobia and racism are not just common, but often socially acceptable. Being aware of these issues will help you to make an informed decision.

Bonus: Follow Your Dreams!

There is one more piece of advice that I would also like you to consider – do not let practicalities get in the way of going where you want to go. If you dream of going to Japan, then this enthusiasm will help you learn a difficult language. If you love Latin culture, then a low salary in Colombia should not deter you. And if you want to study Arabic, then let that drive help you understand an alien culture. Teaching ESL abroad should first and foremost be an adventure.

Find out more about how you can start your adventure here.

Written by Robin Garnham

Robin Garnham


Robin Garnham originally planned to spend a year teaching in Spain to improve his Spanish, but has now been teaching for five years. He currently teaches ESL in Oakland, California and is an Oxford Seminars instructor in San Jose, California.

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