There are very few jobs that offer you the opportunity to work overseas, travel and experience another culture for a period of time. Teaching is one of them. Whether you are on a teacher exchange, working for one of the many international schools around the world or teaching ESL in Asia, teaching abroad can be one of the most rewarding and exciting times in your life. In addition, five or ten years working in a country with a low cost of living will allow you to save enough money to travel all those places you have wanted to see, or maybe even retire early. It’s all about priorities! Whether you want to teach overseas for a year or two, or turn it into a longer stint that sets you up for an early departure from the workforce, this brief article will look at the various options available for those that are interested in pursuing this idea. Teaching overseas can be a great experience, regardless of your age!
Teacher Exchange Programs
If you are already a practicing teacher with at least five years under your belt, a teacher exchange program can provide you with the opportunity to trade jobs and lives with an overseas educator. Your school district will give you permission to participate for one year and will continue to pay your salary while you are abroad. This gives you the opportunity to live in another country and travel without giving up your current position or salary.
In 1995, I was lucky enough to take part in an exchange with a teacher in Scotland. My two sons were in Grade 4 and Grade 8 at the time. It was a wonderful experience for the whole family to live on the coast of Scotland for one year. Twenty years later, my sons are still reminiscing and writing about their year in the small town of Kinghorn on the Firth of Forth. It was such a change from their small home town in the interior of British Columbia.
I am only familiar with a couple of exchange programs, the Canadian Education Exchange Foundation and the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program. I participated in the British Columbia Teacher Exchange Program but it disbanded in 2000 and has passed its responsibilities to the CEEF.
The CEEF is for Canadian classroom teachers who have at least five years experience. Although it is not necessary to trade houses and/or vehicle, it is up to the teacher to find suitable living accommodations for his/her exchange partner. Seniority and benefits in the home school district are maintained while teachers are away. Criteria include being an exemplary teacher, formal approval by the school district and principal, the holding of a full-time assignment and a permanent contract. Most school boards have policies and procedures established for participation in educator exchange programs.
Going on exchange can be expensive depending on the amount you plan to travel. Speaking from experience, you will be tempted to travel and spend more money than you probably do at home. Also, it is up to you to cover the cost of the fare to your exchange location. However, the advantages more than make up for the cost.
CEEF offers interprovincial exchanges for Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island teachers with counterparts from all other Canadian provinces, except Quebec. The current destinations for international teacher exchanges are: Australia, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, The United Kingdom (including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), Colorado, U.S.A. and the Council of International Schools.
The Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program is based in the United States and has similar criteria as those mentioned above. Their current overseas destinations are Czech Republic, France, Hungary, India, Mexico, Switzerland and the United Kingdom
There are many international schools throughout the world, some of which are part of a larger network. For the last six years of my teaching career, I worked for Maple Leaf International School in Wuhan, China. It is one of several large schools in the Maple Leaf System that are located in China. It features the British Columbia high-school curriculum and its a student population is mainly local. It is only one small part of the international schools that exist in that one country alone. Friends of ours just started working in a tiny international school located about an hour from Rome.
International Schools usually follow a curriculum from Canada, the United States or Britain. Students may be local or come from all over the world. International Baccalaureate and AP courses are quite common in many of them. Depending on the school, teachers may need certification from the country that is represented by the school. For example, because Maple Leaf teaches the BC curriculum, each teacher must hold a valid British Columbia teaching certificate.
Unless you can obtain a leave of absence from you current job (if you have one!), you will lose any seniority or benefits when you move to another position in another country. Again, it is a wonderful experience to teach in another country. For new teachers, it is a chance to gain valuable experience and possibly save some money if they are in a place like Asia with a lower cost of living, and for older teachers, it is a great way to wind down to retirement.
Salaries are often comparable to those in your home country and hours of work are probably very similar when spread out over the year.
With a little research and networking, you can find many potential places to work. The following are only a small sample of what is out there.
Council of International Schools
This is one of the largest and most respected international school systems in the world. There are hundreds of CIS member schools located in a variety of countries around the globe. In order to teach in one of these locations, candidates are required to have current teaching certifications qualifications.
Even if you are teaching English as a Foreign Language in these schools, teachers must have a degree in education and a minimum of two years current full-time teaching experience within their certified area. In addition, candidates must be currently teaching full-time within the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canadian or IB curriculum, teaching grades K – 12.
Hiring takes place at their large job fairs that occur several times during the year in major cities around the world. In most cases, you must join the CIS and apply to attend the job fair of your choice in order to be hired at one of their schools.
Other International Schools
There is a comprehensive list of other international schools with links to their respective websites on Wikipedia. I have included the link to this page as part of the list below this article. For more details on these schools you can always visit their site and/or contact them directly by email.
Maple Leaf International School System
I only include this one because it is where I worked! Maple Leaf Educational Systems is a Chinese firm that currently operates 22 schools in China enrolling more than 8,200 students. Its head office is located in Dalian on the east coast of the country.
Maple Leaf’s High School (Grade 10-12) programs and its Foreign Nationals Schools (K-9) are taught in English by British Columbia, Canada certified teachers. Grade 12 graduates receive both the Chinese and British Columbia graduation certificates, a very heavy workload for any student, but even more so when you consider they are accomplishing this in a second language.
As international students who have completed a Western (British Columbia, Canada) high school program in English, graduates from Maple Leaf High Schools are actively recruited by universities in North America, Britain, Europe and Australia.
Currently, Maple Leaf is hiring approximately 100 new teachers each year. Most teachers stay for a two year term and then return to their home countries.
ESL Teaching Positions
These are probably the most common jobs available for teaching overseas but the most likely to come with inherent problems and surprises unless you do your homework first.
It is very easy to obtain an ESL position but not always so easy to find one with a reputable school or company. Work hours can be inflexible with few holidays, salaries can be low, and working conditions are not always up to par. Having said that, there are lots of good ESL jobs available around the world. Just be sure to research carefully any position you decide to apply for.
What is the salary? Is accommodation included? What are the working hours? Am I allowed to work elsewhere at the same time? How much time do I get off each week? Do I have to work every weekend? Do I need a TOEFL or similar certificate? Because many ESL positions are outside the regular school day, many people end up teaching at night and all weekend. This often provides very little time for travel or enjoyment of the area you are in, one of the reasons you have decided to do this in the first place.
There are so many positions out there; it is difficult to narrow it down to a few companies or schools. Obviously, if you teach in Asia, you can live on a very small salary. You will probably make less money teaching in a university than in a high school but the hours will be much less. In general, you will make a lot more money teaching ESL in an international school setting than in a small ESL firm. In China, you can make over $20,000 teaching ESL in some international high-schools but will average half that much money teaching in a small private ESL school. But remember the cost of living is at much cheaper than what it is in North America so you can certainly pay day to day expenses and have money left over to travel. Accommodation is almost always provided and part of the package.
Although it is certainly better to have a job waiting for you, it is definitely possible to find something while you are traveling. In China, I have known many people that have found employment as an ESL teacher while they were on a visitor’s visa. It is not difficult to obtain the correct working papers once you are here and usually the school that does the hiring will look after the paperwork for you. If you are taking off on a world trip and possibly thinking of looking for an ESL job while you are away, I would encourage you to take some sort of TOEFL training before you leave. This piece of paper, although often not necessary with the smaller institutions, will get you into more reputable schools if the opportunities arise.
If this is the route you want to follow, post your resume online, either on your own website or on a education site. This makes it quick and easy for schools to take a look at what you have to offer. I would highly recommend the Educationcanada.com website even if you are not Canadian. It is not that difficult to obtain a position in a Canadian based international school if you are American and vice-versa. If the other qualifications are present, the rest is just paperwork! Many international schools use these types of sites to search for suitable candidates for existing positions.
Teaching overseas is not all fun and games, although we often do say we are just having too much fun! Don’t use this opportunity as a way to solve relationship problems or to escape a bad situation. It takes hard work, stamina, flexibility and tolerance to live in a foreign country. Any problems you are having at home will probably follow you! But if you can put any preconceived notions to the side and “go with the flow”, this is a great way to see the world and get paid for it at the same time!