Looking for a chance to see the world, while also giving back? English-speaking teachers and volunteers are in demand across the globe. There are currently not enough teachers to provide the education needed in many parts of the world, but there are many programs and organizations seeking to bridge that gap. Recent graduates, seasoned educators and those in between can learn more about what different teach abroad opportunities entail, their potential risks and their numerous benefits before setting out to make a positive, global impact in education.
In order to have universal education, more than 44 million secondary school educators and 24 million primary school educators will be needed worldwide by 2030.
Those who chose to teach abroad won’t lack for memorable experiences. “There are so many highlights, especially all the relationships I built through the community,” says Amanda Copple, a former Peace Corps volunteer who taught English in Libera, West Africa. But beyond creating lasting memories, educators who choose to go abroad will find an array of benefits—both personal and global—come with the job.
While many teaching and administrative opportunities abroad take place in wealthy and middle-income countries, there are many programs designed to help people in impoverished and developing regions. Many areas have students who want to go to school, but a lack of qualified educators hampers them.
Depending on the program, some educators abroad are also able to provide instruction outside of class. Setting up tutoring sessions, study groups, health classes, women’s empowerment groups and open question and discussion time can provide students with valuable information, strengthen relationships within the community and provide additional opportunities for cultural exchange.
One of the inherent perks of traveling abroad as an educator is getting to see and learn about another part of the world. Those working abroad gain travel experiences that can be much deeper and richer than if they had simply taken a vacation. Educators become effective and vital members of their communities, and they have the chance to learn about and become part of another culture.
Educators abroad can also expect to gain perspective on social and economic differences and disparities, both within a given region and the world as a whole. Gaining a more nuanced understanding of their position in the world is valuable knowledge they can share with future students.
"Personally, I learned a lot," says Coppel. "I have a lot more patience and understanding of other people's situations. Be patient and realize you're not teaching your culture. The things that you might find acceptable or not acceptable will not necessarily coincide with the local culture. It took me a little bit to get over that frustration, but once I did, I became a much better teacher."
Many teach abroad programs provide room and board, pay for airfare, provide stipends or offer competitive wages, which means international educators can explore the world without breaking the bank. Teachers can take advantage of their host countries’ dense urban areas, rural escapes, efficient transit systems and inexpensive sight-seeing opportunities during their time off. While helping students in class is a perk of its own, getting to try different foods, see beautiful and historic places, learn new languages and participate in unfamiliar customs and traditions during their stay doesn’t hurt either.
Those just entering the world of education may be drawn to teaching abroad because they often don’t need extensive classroom experience or credentialing. Some programs prefer teachers with a TEFL or TESL, but in many cases, the only requirements to teach abroad are native-level English language proficiency and a bachelor’s degree. This allows educators who are working toward their degree or teaching credential to get hands-on classroom practice at the same time.
Those who are nervous about their first stint abroad can take comfort in knowing they aren’t alone. Unlike starting a new position locally, teachers working abroad often start in a cohort, so they’ll be with others who may be dealing with the same fears and challenges. Especially in regions with limited resources or classes with students of varying ages and comprehension levels, problem-solving and getting creative is important. Teachers can expect to hone these skills while abroad, which will benefit them in any career, teaching or otherwise.
World educators have many career paths from which they can choose, each with varying responsibilities and benefits. Those looking for education positions abroad can learn about the different opportunities available to them in advance to determine which roles best suit them.
What it is
Volunteer opportunities for educators are widely available across the globe. And the roles and responsibilities can be as varied as the locations in which they take place. General education, subject-specific and ESL teachers as well as teacher assistants and tutors can find volunteer opportunities in all income areas.
Volunteers in low-income regions and developing countries should be prepared to extend their efforts outside the classroom. Many of these areas focus their volunteer efforts toward infrastructure projects, but education opportunities are available through organizations like the Peace Corps and World Teach. Training is usually provided on-site or right before the volunteer placement begins.
Teaching credentials are typically not required to volunteer as an educator abroad. However, many programs may have degree requirements and require a passing score on proficiency exams. Fluency in another language is also generally not required, but native-level English proficiency is a must. Many volunteer programs also have age restrictions.
Some programs may require volunteers to pay for their own airfare. Often a stipend is provided to pay for room and board while volunteering, but some programs may require the volunteer to provide the stipend themselves. Volunteers should check with their organizations before signing up to see what kinds of housing and stipends are available to them.
It’s also important to remember that the application process for some volunteer positions can be lengthy. For Copple’s Peace Corp position, the entire process took around a year.
“When I went,” says Copple, “you completed an application, then you met with someone from Peace Corps and interviewed with them. If they thought you were a good candidate, they nominated you for a position as a volunteer. Once you were nominated, you had to go through medical tests and vaccinations, and then you got assigned your location.”
One of the greatest perks of volunteering to teach abroad is the amount of experience one can obtain without having an extensive teaching background, all while helping those with the greatest need. Particularly in areas with limited income, educators tend to live within the community—often with a host family or in nearby housing—allowing them to build strong, lasting relationships. Because volunteers generally have limited expenses, they can use their volunteering time as a way to see a new part of the world relatively inexpensively.
What it is
Tutoring is a flexible, part-time way to gain professional experience. Tutors can provide students of all ages with additional academic help in or outside of school. Depending on their experience and the needs of their students, tutors may lend subject-specific assistance, help English learners with their language skills or help students prepare for tests, catch up on missed assignments or understand difficult concepts.
Requirements for tutors can vary greatly depending on the location and if they’re working for an organization that has specific requirements. Because many tutors will find themselves in international schools or schools where English is the default language, they likely won’t need to know a foreign language.
However, tutors who know the language of the area in which they hope to work can increase their hireability and ease communication with their students. Similarly, teaching credentials are not necessarily required to become a tutor abroad, but they can give applicants a leg up on hiring and may lead to higher wages.
Tutoring jobs can be extremely flexible. Most tutors work part-time and can get work through a tutoring organization or be independently contracted, which means they have the option to create their own schedule and often to choose their own clients. Like volunteers, tutors can gain teaching experience with little prior training. Pay can vary, but many high-income areas with a global business economy will offer good wages to English-speaking tutors.
What it is
Interns learn the ins and outs of a specific education position through a mix of observation and hands-on learning. Interns may take on an array of roles and responsibilities, and they commonly find positions as co-teachers, teacher assistants and in-class tutors. Education interns may also help develop curricula or work on community outreach and development projects.
Interns usually need at least some experience in their intended field. While foreign language skills aren’t required, they can be important if teaching a subject other than English where English is not the school’s dominant language. Internships usually last for a specified period of time, so prospective interns need to make sure they can commit to that time frame.
Paid internships can be excellent opportunities to fulfil degree requirements while receiving an income. But even unpaid internships can provide valuable career benefits. Internships provide professional experience, and also offer the additional benefit of continual training and immediate feedback from mentors. Interns who do well may be offered a job when their internship ends.
What it is
Teachers can work in many different capacities around the world. English-speaking teachers can teach English as a second language, and international schools give teachers the ability to teach virtually any subject without being fluent in a foreign language. Pay for teachers largely depends on the region in which they work.
At minimum, teachers looking for jobs abroad need a bachelor’s degree in the subject they plan to teach. Additional certifications, like a TEFL or TESOL, may be required. Many schools prefer or require prospective instructors to have prior teaching experience. Interviews for teaching positions typically take place in person, requiring travel on behalf of the interviewee, so applicants should plan ahead.
Those who teach abroad get steady, paid experience with potential for long-term employment. Because teachers work for an academic year or longer, they get to develop relationships with students and watch them progress over time, all while experiencing a new country and culture.
What it is
Teacher exchanges are opportunities for practicing higher education instructors to go abroad to do research, learn about education best practices on a global level, carry out a proposed project, co-teach or give lectures and presentations.
Interested professors must apply for the teacher exchange and meet all application requirements. Most exchanges require a certain amount of experience, recommendations and plans to return to and keep their teaching position for a minimum length of time after the exchange. Teacher exchange programs may also require applicants to propose a project they plan to carry out during their time abroad.
Those who receive teacher exchange grants get to work closely with other professionals at their host school, conducting research, co-teaching and delivering lectures. During this time, teachers generally do not receive pay; however, they can use paid time off or take sabbatical from their home institution.
Further, grants like the Fulbright cover all living costs and arrange for housing. Exchange teachers can also request additional funding to attend relevant events like workshops and conferences. Recipients can also bring their families abroad with them, but their cost of living will not necessarily be covered by the grant.
What it is
Education opportunities abroad aren’t only for instructors. Principals, deans, vice presidents, provosts and other administrators can all seek job opportunities around the globe. These administrators typically take on management roles, making sure academic institutions run smoothly and both student and teacher needs are met.
These positions generally require a master’s degree, teaching experience and education administration experience. Administrators who seek careers in international schools likely will not need to know another language, but those looking for positions in schools where English isn’t the primary language will need proficiency in the institution’s preferred language. Like teachers, administrators should expect to travel for their interviews rather than conduct them remotely.
Administrators have the ability to improve global education on a foundational level, adjusting curricula and determining where to direct funding. They are subject to steady, long-term careers, good pay and skills that can transfer between institutions around the world.
It’s wise to be aware of your host countries’ recent histories and current events. Any large, divisive change in an area can pose dangers to newcomers. Upset citizens may express their discontent through riots, protests or other acts of violence, which may make travel or work in that area unsafe.
Some educators may find that their excitement to teach in a certain area isn’t met by the local community. Educators may face discrimination based on their gender, race or religion. The biggest difficulty, says Copple, was “the barrier of my students getting over the fact that I was a woman. I always had to fight to convince them I was worth listening to.”
Educators of other ethnic groups may also experience disrespect and distrust, especially in areas with low racial and ethnic diversity. Prospective educators can better prepare for these situations by researching their host countries’ histories and cultures to find out if they are particularly susceptible to discrimination in those areas and to better understand how to be sensitive to cultural differences.
All travelers, though especially those traveling alone or accepting private positions not through an organization or group, should research their destination to better understand cultural norms. In some countries it may be inappropriate to go without specific headgear, or, in the case of women, to show certain parts of the body such as the shoulders or legs. Unintentionally violating these cultural norms can have varying consequences ranging from causing offense to legal repercussions.
Many education opportunities, particularly volunteer opportunities, take place in rural areas. Many of these places are not within quick access to hospitals or medical care, or their roads are difficult to navigate, especially in bad weather. Educators who choose to work in rural areas should be aware of the medical risks.
“I had a ton of medical issues while I was in Liberia,” says Copple. “I got giardia many times, which you get through drinking bad water. I was warned that if I didn’t watch it, I was going to get discharged with medical leave. But it’s either drink the water or be dehydrated, so I preferred to get giardia! I also got inactive TB and a stomach parasite, which I had for a year or two after returning home. My foot was infected for two months, and I got a lot of rashes.”
Those going into rural and developing areas should expect to live more simply than they do in the U.S. Limited or no access to electricity, sewage systems and clean water is common around the world. Thoroughly researching housing arrangements and education organizations ahead of time can spare teachers the shock of unexpected living situations.
Education is a worldwide issue, but some countries have a higher demand for educators than others. If you’re looking to take an education position abroad but aren’t sure where to look, these countries might be a good starting point.
Why teachers are needed
China is the most-populous country in the world, and its many citizens are eager to maintain and further the country’s economic growth. English is the international business language, and many schools mandate English proficiency among students, making the demand for English teachers high.
Why you should go there
China offers an extremely rich history, varied landscape and dynamic culture. And between the large number of students and the necessity of English fluency in today’s global economy, educators should have an easy time finding teaching opportunities throughout China. People who teach English in China can also expect to have a good income, and some might even score free airfare and housing.
Issues to consider
Because of the demand for high-quality teachers, prospective educators may need to fulfil more prerequisites than they would if serving in other areas. Degree, test score, credentialing or experience minimums may need to be met to be eligible for some positions.
Why teachers are needed
Much of Southern Africa is in a state of transition. Increasing populations in many areas has led to a need for more teachers, but poverty, war and societal changes have created a huge lack of education for many populations.
Why you should go there
Educators who work in these countries can take comfort knowing they are impacting the lives of individuals who have seen generations of oppression and poverty and should find the experience very rewarding. Educators may also find they have more opportunities than in more developed countries since there is such a high need for teachers.
Issues to consider
Because these countries are low-income and focused primarily on finding stability during tumultuous times, most education opportunities are unpaid volunteer positions, and living conditions are likely minimal. Some areas may also be experiencing political unrest, so personal safety may be a concern.
Why teachers are needed
Vietnam’s economy is growing, and to meet the demands of anticipated business relations, more people are looking to learn English. The Vietnamese middle class is growing as well, so there are more demands for qualified educators as citizens move out of the working class.
Why you should go there
Educators who work in Vietnam can make a respectable living, especially when taking into consideration the country’s low cost of living. Vietnam’s capital, Ho Chi Minh City, has a high concentration of international schools, so teachers and administrators have plenty of opportunities to teach subjects other than English without knowledge of another language. With stunning rural areas and buzzing street markets, there’s also plenty to do and see during time off.
Issues to consider
Part of Vietnam’s economic growth and expanding middle-class is due to wealthier countries exploiting Vietnam’s working class, so some educators may be reticent to aid in this type of capital growth. However, because of the economic disparities between classes, educators may be able to balance their work between volunteering in poorer areas while still making a living in urban cities.
With so many teach abroad options, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. These resources can help prospective international teachers find jobs around the world.
Originally founded in Sweden, Education First (EF) currently works in 116 countries to help educators throughout the world find careers abroad.
Educators Overseas is a streamlined service that helps native English-speaking teachers find jobs in international schools in over 150 countries.
Footprints Recruiting provides a straightforward job search engine for educators looking for careers abroad along with teacher education and certification resources.
For those who want to volunteer or intern before applying for full-time teaching positions abroad, gviUSA makes finding internships and volunteering opportunities around the world simple.
Go Overseas allows prospective international educators to search for positions by location or type, and they regularly post new job openings and information about teaching in various countries.
This job posting board is for teachers who want to take their work abroad. The site also provides valuable tips on landing a job and preparing for it.
Those working in higher education can search for jobs through Laureate International Universities, a large community of international universities.
Teachers and administrators can create personal profiles, post resumes and look for jobs within the U.S. and internationally through the NAIS job search tool.
Teachers, administrators, librarians and interns can use Search Associates to find experience-appropriate positions at international schools.
Prospective educators can learn about different teaching locations around the world and look for available careers.
Educators can look for jobs around the world, narrowing results by teaching category and location.
TEFL Jobs World regularly posts new English-language jobs across the globe and provides advice and insights from teachers who have gone abroad.
The International Educator (TIE) is a non-profit organization that pairs educators with international schools around the world.
Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.