Let’s recap. In Part 1 we discussed setting reasonable goals and expectations for living abroad. We also reviewed the different legal requirements for teaching abroad.
At this point your mind is set on going abroad. Now comes the hard part.
Follow these 3 preparation tips:
I. Choosing Your Destination
Depending on your approach, this part of the process can be full of excitement or crowded with despair. It’s important to have a strategy when researching which country to live in. Do not just blindly wiki countries at random that sound cool and fun to live.
Choose a destination that is in line with your goals
In Part 1, we discussed the importance of having goals. What works best is to come up with a list of goals that you hope to accomplish while you are abroad and research a destination that matches these goals.
Some common goals are:
- Learning a new language
- Pursue a Master’s Degree
- Travel across Asia/Europe/Africa
- Save money
- Get out of the “American Bubble”
- Gain an in-depth perspective on Asia/Europe/Africa
Of course, these aren’t the end all be all of reasons to live abroad. Everyone has their own reasons and goals for working abroad.
As long as you have some is what is important, because if you don’t you will more than likely regret your decision.
Do Thorough Research
Once you have a good list of goals for living abroad, you can then focus on researching which countries are best suited for accomplishing your goals.
Visit Teaching Abroad Forums
In addition, it is imperative that you visit some teaching abroad forums when doing your country research. There are hundreds of forums with thousands of expats willing to share their experiences. Some of my best friends in Taiwan are those that helped me out and answered my questions on these forums.
Some of my best friends in Taiwan are those that helped me out and answered my questions on teaching abroad forums.
Why I Chose Taiwan
For me, my goals for moving abroad were quite simple. I wanted to study Mandarin and learn about Chinese culture. My options came down to China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. After a little research I discovered that they mostly speak Cantonese in Hong Kong, which wouldn’t be too helpful in learning Mandarin. The choice was then between China and Taiwan.
At first, China seemed like the better choice to me. There is so much more to explore and it’s the birthplace of the language and culture. However, after I considered the pollution, the scamming, and the lack of job security, I began to lean toward Taiwan. When I looked closer at Taiwan I found that Taiwanese are extremely welcoming to foreigners and that job security is quite stable. It was settled, I was going to live in Taiwan.
DISCLAIMER: Do not let me discourage you from moving to China. I have studied in Beijing before and it was an amazing adventure. Personally though, I was not confident that I could live there long term. Check out this resource for a great perspective on the pros and cons for living in China.
II. Choosing your School
Maybe even more important than choosing the country to live in is selecting the school to work for.
There are some important things to take note before doing your research.
First, there is no perfect school out there. Do not go about searching the internet for a school without any blemishes because you will be searching for an eternity.
Second, keep in mind that education is approached differently abroad from those in the west. You are bound to come across some things that may seem strange or even backwards. This is just something we as expats have to accept and work around.
Third, remember that private schools are businesses. During your research, I promise that you will read comments about students “graduating” to the next level when it’s obvious they should be held back. Again, this might go against your philosophy, but it is something you will have to accept. This is not practiced at every private school, and public schools are not known to do this either. Just be prepared to come across it.
Finally, don’t rush through the process. Your research must be thorough to ensure the next year of your life is not filled with remorse.
Without a legal work permit you won’t be eligible for health care, have a legal right to work in the country, or any guarantee of safety for that matter.
Jane Mitchell wrote a great article on how to choose a reputable school. Jane argues that, “the most important thing is to make sure that the school will support your application for a work permit” and I tend to agree. Without a legal work permit you won’t be eligible for health care, have a legal right to work in the country, or any guarantee of safety for that matter.
For me, making sure that I had access to healthcare was the biggest selling point. Heaven forbid I get into an accident abroad without it. I picked a school that helped me apply for the work visa which also granted me access to the country’s healthcare system.
As far as what you can reasonably expect salary wise, you should refer back to the International TEFL Academy charts I mentioned earlier. It provides a great side by side comparison of expected salaries in every country you would ever consider teaching in. When considering salary I had the goal of saving at least $1000 a month. With that in mind, I had to do research on cost of living and compare it with my salary options.
Having a rough budget might also be helpful in your search.
Lastly, don’t just consider the salary and the working hours, there are many other perks to contemplate when selecting a school.
Do they provide:
- Housing?(or assist in finding housing)
- Pickup from the airport?
- Teaching materials/Curriculum?
- Vacation Time?
- Language classes?
- Flight reimbursement?
- Opportunities for advancement?
- Small class sizes?
- A Native Co-teacher?
Now, I’m not saying that a school needs to provide all of the above because most don’t. It is usually of mix of the above. It’s up to you to decide what your biggest selling points are. Check out this link to helpful job boards. Once you have chosen a school or two, it’s time to send out your resume and prepare for a Skype interview.
III. Teaching Abroad Resume and Interview
What to Add to Your Resume
Before applying to a teaching abroad position there are few tweaks you will need to make to your resume.
Add a Photo
While adding a photo to your resume is frowned upon in western countries, it is quite common in many Asian countries. Before you come across the world to teach at their schools, prospective employers want to make sure you look professional. Add your professional-looking headshot in the top right corner of your resume.
ESL schools are looking for candidates that are flexible, resourceful, and personable.
Use a Career Objective to Showcase Your Relevant Skills
A career objective is a great resume tool that can help grab the attention of employers. It is a statement of 2-3 sentences that describes your skills that will help the company succeed.
In this case you want to hit on skills that are valued in the classroom. ESL schools are looking for candidates that are flexible, resourceful, and personable. Make sure to prove these skills in your professional and educational experience sections. If you tailor your career objective with these skills, you will be sure to capture the employer’s interest.
Fill your Resume with Applicable Experience
Most teaching abroad applicants have little to no teaching experience and their resumes are left bare. Although you may not have held an official teaching position, there are quite a few applicable experiences that you can list in your resume.
Add any experience that you have had working with children. For instance, maybe you were a babysitter, coach, or a camp counselor. Any experience with kids is a plus on a teaching abroad resume. Here are some tips to help you fill your professional experience section.
Tips for the Skype Interview
Once you have applied to the schools of your choice, you can expect to be contacted for an interview via Skype. Here are some tips to help you prepare for your interview.
Wear Professional Attire
Many schools have strict and professional dress codes, so they want to see that you can adhere to these policies.
This interview rule also applies to video interviews. Many schools have strict and professional dress codes, so they want to see that you can adhere to these policies.
You don’t need to go out and rent a tux, but do make sure to wear a nice button-up, tie, and suit jacket. Tattoos and piercing should also be covered up as they are usually not allowed in schools abroad. Guys should also shave their beards, as they can be seen as dirty and unprofessional in foreign countries.
Be Prepared to Answer Situational Questions
The interviewer will definitely ask you questions about how you would handle certain situations in the classroom. For instance, they will ask you what you how you would handle with a naughty kid, disgruntled parents, and slow learners. When these questions arise be honest, but answer appropriately.
The employer is trying to get a sense of teaching and classroom management skills. The interviewer will not want to hear that you would scream at a naughty kid, argue with parents, or ignore a slow learner. It is important to answer these questions positively to show that you will be able to handle stressful situations. Here are some common questions you are likely to be asked.
Prepare an Appropriate Setting
Don’t perform your Skype interview in your kitchen or on a sofa in your living room. These areas of the house offer many potential distractions and give the interviewer a false impression of you. Find a professional setting in your house with no distractions or clutter. Don’t go through the trouble of constructing an elaborate interview set, but having a nice office setting will show that you are professional.
IV. What to Bring/Not to Bring with you Abroad
So you aced your interview and got the job. Congratulations! You are your way to a priceless and exciting new experience. It’s time to pack for your adventure. What should you bring with you? What can you leave behind?
What To Bring:
- Important Documents (passport, degree, transcripts, health records, bank info)
- International Driver’s License
- Over-the-counter medication
- Start-up cash
What Not To Bring:
- Common toiletries
- Your entire wardrobe
- Your book collection
Prepare Your Documents
In my opinion, you should prepare all your documents first. This includes packing your passport, health records (immunizations), transcripts, degree, international driver’s license, and bank info. Your passport is obvious as you can’t leave the country without it. If your passport is close to filling up, it might be a good time to apply for extra pages before you leave.
If a four year degree is legally required for the country then you will most likely need to bring your transcripts and degree. Also, you might want to bring a few extra copies because you never know if might decide to study while you are abroad. This is regret I had about my own preparation. I had to wait weeks to receive extra transcripts before so I could apply to grad school.
Your immunization records are also often required to work in most countries, so you might have to make one last trip to your doctor to get a few copies.
Another regret I have about my preparation is not obtaining an international driver’s license.
Apply for an International Driver’s License
Yet, another regret I have about my preparation is not obtaining an international driver’s license. Having one can help expedite the process of applying for a foreign driver’s license, and in some countries it’s enough to legally drive. Since I didn’t have one when I came to Taiwan I had to wait a year before I could apply for my Taiwanese driver’s license. I ended up driving my scooter illegally for a year (shhhhhh don’t tell).
Pack Some Over-The-Counter Medications
I also wish I had packed some over-the-counter medications before I left. Common pain relievers and allergy medications such as Tylenol and Zrytec, may be hard to find in your host country. It also wouldn’t hurt to pack a stomach reliever and a broad-spectrum antibiotic. You never know how long it will take for you to get used to the local cuisine. There might be some types of bacteria that your body isn’t accustomed to.
I probably don’t have to remind you to pack your electronics. Laptops, mp3 players, headphones, and cameras all help to make your life abroad comfortable. Just one reminder for packing electronics, do research on whether or not to bring a plug adaptor. Some countries use different voltages, so at all costs avoid frying your electronics.
What Are The Start-up Costs?
It’s also a good idea to do some research on what your start-up costs will be. Often start-up costs include housing, furniture, cell phone, teaching supplies, transportation, and sightseeing. Make sure you know what the cost of living and exchange rates in your country are, so you can prepare the right amount of cash to bring with you.
If you are nervous about bringing cash, then using your debit and credit cards will also work, but keep in mind that you might incur hefty exchange fees. In addition, make sure to notify your bank that you will be out of the country. If you don’t you won’t be able to use you cards overseas.
Don’t Take Your Whole Wardrobe
As far as packing clothes go, I wouldn’t go overboard. Save some space in your luggage and don’t fill it with clothes. Just make sure to pack the appropriate attire to teach in. In most countries you can find your favorite brands cheaper than they are in the West. However if you are a tall or large individual then you might need to pack a bit more. Some countries, especially in Asia, don’t have large sizes readily available. For me, finding size 14 shoes in Taiwan is akin to winning the lottery.
Finding size 14 shoes in Taiwan is akin to winning the lottery.
So everything I listed above is pretty much all you really need to teach abroad. Packing anything extra depends on you. Of course if you have room, then go ahead and pack some sentimental items. For your reference, when I left for Taiwan I fit everything into one suitcase, a carry on, and book bag, but I’ve seen people come over with a lot less and surprisingly a lot more.
It may seem like a good idea to bring all your toiletries (shampoos, toothpastes, and soaps), but this is just extra weight in your luggage. You can find all the big brands abroad. I am even able to find all the appropriate products for my sensitive skin. Other things like linens, clothes hangers, and hair dryers can all be purchased fairly cheaply so don’t waste your time packing these. One
The hardest part of my preparation was getting ready to leave my family and friends. I underestimated how much difficult to be to leave them. As each day passed and I got ever closer to my departure date the feeling that I wouldn’t see my family for at least a year really began to sink in. My last bit of advice is to take a break from all the packing and preparation, and take some quality to spend with your family.
Now you are all packed up and ready to go. Take a deep breath. Your flight is just a few days away. Double check your flight times and numbers for errors and remember to factor in time differences. As a safety precaution, make sure to register with the embassy of the country you are traveling to. This is just in case that if anything happens while you are abroad, the government can get in contact with you. Now, it’s time to get into the real meat and potatoes of teaching abroad.
In Part 3 we will discuss dealing with teaching strategies, working in a bilingual environment, and much more.