I had just graduated from college when I went straight to law school. The experience was awesome for the most part. I gained new friends (we still keep in touch with each other until now) and I loved the challenges of being a law student. After all, becoming a lawyer was a childhood dream!
A few months into law school, I took the state board examinations for teachers. I majored in English in college, by the way, as a preparation for law school. Short version, I passed the board exams. I couldn’t believe I was already a professional teacher at 23! I really didn’t mean to but I got too excited I started looking for English teaching jobs! Then here came Google showing me exotic places to teach English overseas.
So, the dilemma: should I continue burning the midnight candle and become that guy in a fancy suit and tie; or see the world, experience new culture and teach English abroad in some fantastic location?
You know what I chose. But it wasn’t easy.
But honestly, choosing between law school and teaching abroad was just a tip of the iceberg. Landing a job was another story!
Here are 10 Steps to Teach English Abroad that Worked for Me
1. Prepare basic documents
I never had any desire of traveling abroad until I became a teacher. That being said, I had to apply for a passport for the first time. Thanks to Google, I learned that I also needed a police check so I applied for an NBI clearance with the purpose of Travel Abroad. You probably don’t want to go ahead with your job applications without these basic documents in hand.
2. Gain experience
At first, I was hired by some clueless language school in China and processed my documents. I got so excited! However, their government later denied my work permit because I lacked the minimum work experience required. That was very disappointing not to mention the time and effort I wasted.
Fortunately, an employer in Vietnam was able to secure my work permit and visa despite having only one year of teaching experience! I don’t know how I got away with it, but I’m pretty sure Vietnamese law was a bit relax back then! Bottom line is, I started teaching right away to gain experience and good references.
Today, most employers and government labor laws require at least two years of teaching experience. If you have plans to teach abroad, roll up your sleeves and start teaching now.
3. Get a TESOL Certification
I am a Literature and Language Teaching graduate and a licensed teacher in the Philippines, but I knew it wasn’t enough if I wanted to teach English abroad! I had to enroll myself in a 120-hour TESOL certification course. Online courses are now available but sometimes employers much prefer in person certification. Attendance to these courses make employers at ease and believe that an applicant is ready to handle ESL or EFL students, thus a necessary requirement.
Sometimes, employers accept applicants without TESOL or TEFL certs as long as they have a Bachelor in Education degree like BSEd or BEEd. In my case, I have a Bachelor of Arts degree so it was a must for me to get one for visa application purposes!
A TESOL certification course in the Philippines costs about US$500 or roughly 20,000 pesos.
4. Job-hunt online
I was overwhelmed by the the number of work abroad ads available online! But after awhile, I learned that only a few can really be trusted. Many online job application platforms have scammers waiting for their next victim. Luckily I had a few knowledge of law so I got myself prepared.
I mainly used Filipino online platforms Jobstreet and Workabroad to look for employers overseas. I recommend these for first timers. For experienced teachers who have been abroad for a while, I recommend Search Associates, TIE Online and International School Services.
5. Polish my resume
I made sure I had my resume in different formats for different employer needs.
I sent out almost a hundred application to different schools, companies and agencies at the same time. I didn’t wait for the bad news from one employer before applying to the next. That would’ve been the most idiotic thing to do.
6. Ace interviews
It wasn’t easy to secure job interviews so I considered every opportunity as a milestone.
Most interviews were held via Skype but I took it as if it were face-to-face. I had interviews early at dawn and in the wee hours of the night because of time differences. Sometimes I was in my room, in a cafe and yes, in law school! I attended in-person screening and man-pooling in agencies, too!
My first interviews lasted for only 10 minutes or less – a glaring sign that I sucked. But I took every chance to improve my interviewing skills and my appearance. I read tips and guides. I didn’t give up.
7. Consider my options
And by that, I meant the country where I wanted to go. It was so easy to send out applications and then accept job interviews from any parts of the world. I interviewed with a school in Egypt, an employer in Turkey and another in Riyadh without really considering the pros and cons of each location.
There are many factors to consider such as safety, culture, expat community and, of course, money, among others. I realized that I had to concentrate my efforts to the places that I like to be in and that made all the difference! I was able to narrow down my searches into China and Southeast Asia.
I was glad I didn’t make it to China because a job in Vietnam came along! I found out later on that Vietnam is one of the best places to teach in Asia salary-wise with entry-level pay of $2500-$4500 depending on experience. Now that’s what you call a good luck!
8. Read school or employer reviews
In today’s digital world, nothing stays a secret. After narrowing down my choices and acing job interviews, I didn’t just stop there. I researched about the schools and employers I was going to work for. I’m glad I did because I learned horrible stories about places that I rejected some offers right away.
I accepted a teaching job in a Vietnamese public school because I read heart-warming stories from those who’ve done it before. And indeed, it was a great experience! I still look back to those good ole days I spent with my middle-school kids in the suburbs of Hanoi.
Never be too desperate enough to accept just any kinds of job offer! Use the internet. Before anything else, research first!
9. Go through an agency
I couldn’t emphasize this enough for first time would-be teachers abroad: use an agent if you want to teach English abroad. At least that’s how I felt back in the day. Despite thorough research, the idea of going abroad for the first time was frightening! I didn’t know what to expect or how things would go. So, I went through an agency in the Philippines.
Having an agency that could answer my questions and assure me that everything would be fine was a big relief! The agency also continued their support once I got deployed. They were there to help when there were violations of employment contract and what not.
Unless you already have an experience or very sure of what you’re doing, do not do it by yourself!
10. Embrace change
Nothing has prepared me enough for all the emotional and cultural changes I faced in my first days in Vietnam. I was alone in a remote Vietnamese town that spoke another language I hadn’t heard before! But instead of fighting the changes, I embraced it! I learned to ride a bike to school and around while braving the cold winter breeze just the way Vietnamese people do! I used sign language, or more like charades, everyday. I learned to love the people, their culture and most of all, my students!
Though my classmates in law school are now wearing that fancy suit and tie, I have no regrets. I finally saw the other side of the world, experienced new culture and am still teaching in a fantastic location!