10 Things I Learned About Myself While Teaching English Abroad

By Stacey Linehan

A year ago this month, when I packed my entire life into a suitcase to teach English in Spain, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I expected to have a fun adventure.  I knew that I loved Europe, and I knew that I would probably enjoy living there, so I figured why not, if I can manage to survive for a few months, it’ll probably be worth.  What I did not expect was a completely trans-formative experience.  But after returning home to the US from a year abroad, as cliche as it sounds, I honestly feel like a new person.

So, I thought I would offer up a quick list of 10 things that stuck with me after teaching English in Spain.

teach english in spain

1) Just go for it because anything is possible

Before my first year teaching abroad, if you had told me that I would be traveling by myself, let alone going to live and work in another country on my own, I would have laughed thinking of it as some far fetched idea only obtainable to those with money saved up and lots of experience. Sure, lot’s of people go abroad to study or teach, but me? I never would have imagined. I went out on a limb and applied for a program I had heard about at a university fair. At first it was something I applied for just to keep my options open, then it became a fascination as I waited to hear back. Once approved for the program I was quite busy scurrying around getting a passport, visas, and plane tickets all taken care of. It had become a reality, a reality which has helped build and shape my character today.

2) I am even more independent than I thought

My plane ride was full of nervous jitters and anticipation. I was wondering where I was going to stay once I got there, if I had packed too much, if I had packed enough, if I was going to be able to communicate with other people, if those people would be friendly, my mind was racing faster than I could land. Once I landed, I ate a croissant, drank some water and relaxed for a moment in the airport before starting my next journey by train than by bus to the village where I would be teaching. I stayed only two nights in the only hotel in the village before finding an apartment. I searched for places on the internet but had more luck talking to people in the street. They were not hesitant to give me phone numbers of people renting houses or apartments and after visiting 5 of them, I picked my favorite and the next day I was all moved in.

3) To a Small Spanish village, I am all of America

It was hard for my students to understand that America is huge and that just the state of Texas alone is bigger than their entire country. What does that mean for me? It means a lot of questions I don’t know the answers to. I’m from Boston and although I have traveled a lot internationally, I’ve never been to Alaska or to Colorado, or even to California. That doesn’t stop students from asking me my favorite beach there or what is it like to walk around in Hollywood?

Which brings me to my next point.

4) It’s okay not to know everything

Sure, I am supposed to be a cultural ambassador for my country but hey, I’m only human right? I’m young and still learning and it is important to let students know that. Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know something in the moment but ALWAYS check back with your students. They will be more impressed with the fact that you took the time to look up their interests during your own free time and that you came back to them with answers. After all, following up with students is one of the most important aspects of teacher, it builds trust with your students and shows them that you care.

5) Sports are international

I play basketball and had no idea how much that would save me in Spain. I asked around if anyone knew where I could play some pick-up ball and next thing I know I am trying out for a semi-professional woman’s team in Spain and guess what? I made the team. Could it get any better? It did, we were paid. Now, I wasn’t getting paid anything over the top but I was getting paid something and earning it playing basketball, the sport I have always loved. I was the only American on the team which was an excellent way for me to practice my Spanish.

6) Making friends is not as difficult as I thought

Traveling alone to a country where you don’t know a single soul can seem like a very lonely thing to do, but it doesn’t have to be. Traveling, you will come across other travelers, some traveling for short periods of time and other who have been on the move for years. Talk to these people, their stories will comfort you and help you realize that life doesn’t have to be lived in one place. My advice for making friends is don’t be shy and if you are shy, pretend not to be. Once you are working you will meet colleagues and things will branch out for there. Join a gym or a club and don’t be afraid to try anything that sparks even the smallest flame of interest.

 7) I can make a life anywhere

It is easy to get caught in the comfort of our daily routines and not want to move. Don’t get comfy, get up, and create or find a new comfort. If I can do it, you can too. You will never know how much you could love the things you don’t try.

8) I am a wizard at booking last minute flights and hotels for spur of the moment trips

Traveling in Europe is a lot easier than I thought it would be. There are trains, buses, and cheap flights that can take you from one country to the next in a flash. You can have breakfast in Spain and lunch in Ireland if you want.

9) I can impact the lives of my students

Almost three years later, I still keep in contact with a handful of students who have told me that I have inspired them to travel and thus really got them to practice their English. Since English was a mandatory class in my school, many students didn’t really want to learn it. When I stepped in and showed all the possibilities that open up as a result of knowing another language, especially English, many students finally saw the big picture and were working harder both in and out of the classroom.

10) Smiles are universal

When in doubt, smile and nod. People can see your pleasantness though the smile and this outshines nervousness and uncertainty. People will be more willing to help you when you are grinning and not sulking.

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Transitioning From Teaching English Abroad to Graduate School

Transitioning From Teaching English Abroad to Grad School in Holland

Madison MacNichol 

So many changes must be made in this life. Some are simply slight adjustments while others involve a total life overhaul. Although changing light bulbs, finding a new grocery store or alternate routes to work can be an annoyance from time to time, it is the later category of changes that most affect us. If we are forced or choose to change jobs, move cities, enter or leave a relationship or quit an addiction these are things we remember and usually have quite strong feelings about. They mark us and further shape us as people.

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Photo Tour: Teaching Abroad from Thailand to Latin America

A lot of people dream of traveling the world.  Unfortunately, many don’t ever make it happen.

Teaching abroad is a great way to turn that dream into a reality though, and many people have used LanguageCorps as a way to kick-start their around-the-world adventures.

All LanguageCorps onsite programs begin with a four-week TESOL or TEFL Certification Course, on location in your destination country, followed by job search assistance to secure a paid teaching position.  From there, it’s really up to you how much time you spend abroad teaching.

Interested in Teaching English Abroad

TESOL 101 - Intro to Teaching English Abroad

On average, LanguageCorps participants spend 6-12 months on location (though many stay longer than that, and short term commitments are possible too), and after fulfilling their contract, many people then take some time to finally knock off those travel bucket-list items!  Traveling during school breaks is also very common, as EFL teachers are often-times the benefit of flexible hours and significant chunks of downtime.

Sydney participated in our Thailand program in 2011, and sent us an inspiring photo-gallery for last-year’s media contest.  We already shared a few of her photos with you, but Sydney covered a lot of ground during her time teaching English abroad, and we thought it would be fun to take a minute to dig deeper into her impressive gallery.

Check out Sydney’s photos below!

Student Appreciation Day Thailand

Student Appreciation Day While Teaching English in Thailand

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How to Finance Teaching English Abroad

The global market for English language learning reached $35.5 billion in 2013, and $33.7 billion of that represents classroom and print educational environments, according to Ambient Insight. Government policies promoting English education and the need for language skills in business are among the factors driving the market. To help meet this demand, there are more than 250,000 native English speakers working as language teachers abroad, according to the Diversity Abroad Network.

For many Americans, teaching English abroad is a great way to travel while getting paid. If you’re considering teaching abroad, you might be wondering about how to finance your plan. We have some ideas to get you started:

Create a Budget

The first step is estimating your budget, so you know how much money you have to work with and how much you’ll need. Start by comparing the cost of living of your current hometown to almost 2,000 global cities at Expatistan.com. Generally speaking, Asia is going to be the most lucrative region to teach English abroad at this point.  In countries like Cambodia, China, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, where demand is consistently strong and the cost of living is very low, teachers can typically comfortably cover living expenses while still having money leftover for savings, travel, etc.

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I Learned More During TEFL Certification Than in College

Are you wondering if TEFL Certification is actually worth it?   

Let’s say you’re a recent college grad interested in teaching English abroad.  You’ve just spent four years (and a boat-load of money) on an undergrad degree.  Maybe your major was even education or a related field.  Is more training REALLY necessary to get an EFL job overseas?

It’s a fair question, and one that we get asked a lot.  So, in short, is teaching abroad without any training impossible?

No, it’s not.  But we wouldn’t recommend it for most.

Finding a Job

If you poke around online for long enough, you might be able to find a school willing to take you on.  But odds are, it’s not going to be an employer that you actually want to work for.  They probably have a high enough turnover rate that they’re desperate, and thus will hire just about anyone.  Without training and credentials, you have no leverage, and unfortunately, that’s how people get taken advantage of.

A quality TEFL certification program (also known as TESOL)  will go into greater detail than any undergrad course.  You’ll dive deep into the methodology of teaching English as a foreign language, from grammar and sentence structure to lesson planning and in classroom exercises for all age levels.  Apply yourself, and you’ll emerge from training with not just a certificate, but with the practical skills required to successfully lead your own EFL classroom.

Practice Teaching

A good certification course will also include a practice teaching component, allowing you the opportunity to spend at least six hours in front of a live classroom putting your new skills to use, under the supervision of an experienced TEFL instructor.  Not only will your job prospects be stronger with a certificate in hand, but with some in-classroom experience already under your belt, you’ll have the confidence it takes to succeed as a first time English teacher.

But don’t take our word for it!

As an example of the value that certification can add to your experience abroad, check out the following email that we received from a recent LangaugeCorps participant.  Katelyn took her TESOL certification course with LanguageCorps in Peru, and is now enjoying her experience teaching English abroad before she returns home to get married.

She goes to so far as to say that she learned more in a month of TEFL training than she did in four years of college.  And while everyone’s experience is different, I don’t think Katelyn is alone in her belief that when it comes to teaching, theory is great, but there is no replacement for practical, real-world training and experience.

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru – Photo by Sydney

Check out some of her note below:

“I very much enjoyed my course. My TEFL trainer was one of the most amazing people I ever met in my life.

I stayed down here in Cusco, and received a few job offers following training. I settled on a job at a brand new English school, and I absolutely love it, it was a very good decision. They just started their English program, so I’m one of three teachers and it’s a very warm and friendly environment.

I love my boss, she is amazing. All my students are private clients, which I think works out really well for both me and the students. I plan to return to the states at the end of February because I am wanting to go home and get married, but me and my fiancé are planning to go abroad next winter to escape the cold and teach English again!

Honestly, I was more excited about getting my TEFL certificate than when I graduated from college. I learned more in one month about teaching a language than I did in 4 years with my foreign language education degree. It was an awesome experience, I’ve made a lot of friends here, and my number one goal, which was to improve my Spanish, has definitely been accomplished.

I am extremely happy for the experience!”

Interested in Teaching English Abroad

TESOL 101 - Intro to Teaching English Abroad

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Photos of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Barcelona has always been one of our most popular TESOL Certification locations.  And with good reason!  Who wouldn’t want to live in this fantastic city?  From the mesmerizing architecture and design of Gaudi, to one of the best food and nightlife scenes in the world, Barcelona is truly a one of a kind city.

A LanguageCorps Spain participant recently sent us over some photos from a stop at “La Sagrada Familia“, one of the most famous landmarks in a city full of famous landmarks.  This Roman-Catholic masterpiece was designed by Antoni Gaudi, and although construction commenced in 1882, the project has yet to be 100 percent completed.

That doesn’t make it any less impressive though.  From the incredible stained glass windows, to the dizzying views from the rooftop balconies, La Sagrada Familia is an absolute must see if you ever find yourself in Europe.

Check out the photos below for yourself, and if you think that teaching English in Barcelona might be the move for you, feel free to get in touch anytime!

La Sagrada Familia Altar

Amazing Gaudi Architecture 

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You Need to See This Time-Lapse of Vietnam

Brandon Hurley, one of the winners of our 2014 teach abroad Media Contest, recently shared this excellent time-lapse video of Ho Chi Minh City with us.

Brandon’s video does a great job of capturing the look and feel of one of the most exciting cities in Vietnam, and we’re really excited to share it with you!

Check it out below, and bask in the (sometimes chaotic, not always pretty) awesomeness that is Ho Chi Minh.

Want to Learn More About Teaching English Abroad?

TESOL 101 - Intro to Teaching English Abroad

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Winners of the 2014 Teach Abroad Media Contest

Another year has gone by, and we are pleased to announce the winners of the annual LanguageCorps teach abroad media contest!  We want to sincerely thank everyone that sent in their photos, videos and writing.  We were once again blown away by the quality of the submissions we received, and picking three winners was very difficult.

While there were plenty of submissions that could have have just as easily made the cut, we felt like the work below provided great examples of the diverse range of experiences that our participants share during their time teaching English abroad.

But enough talk, let’s get to the winners!

1. Video Contest:

Brandon Hurley – Cambodia 2014/2015

Thanks for a really fun video Brandon!  Check out more from his experience teaching English in Asia on his YouTube Channel.

2. Photo Contest:

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Why Did You Teach English with LanguageCorps?

The following is a piece by Caroline Spall, winner of the 2014 LanguageCorps writing contest.  She waxes poetic about why she decided to teach English abroad with LanguageCorps, what freedom means, and more.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

When I was younger, we lived by the sea.

In those days, as the sunlight seeped down the street signs and lit upon the palms bent over the alleyways as it does only in the death of the afternoon, my brother would hang onto the bars of the old umbrella clothesline behind the empty apartment building at the end of our street and I would spin it as fast as I could.

To be young, I have heard, is to live free of the concept that you will one day be less free than you are right now.

The twilight would rust and fail quietly in these days. We would walk back up the street the way we came as the moon draped our cleft of the universe in red wine, and everything was slow and warm; men biked down the middle of the road in their business clothes, a baguette in one hand and loafers in the milk carton strapped to the handlebars. We would sneak cherry tomatoes from our neighbor’s garden sprawling into the sidewalk as we passed. We would crow Hello! to Penny Lane, the three-legged street cat as she sniffed at our feet. We would spray the garden hose between each other’s toes, crusted with the salts of the Earth. These were the urban sundowns of my youth.

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Happy New Year From LanguageCorps

Some of you might have already celebrated, but no matter where you are, we wanted to wish you a happy new year from everyone here at LanguageCorps!  Stay safe and enjoy yourselves tonight, and we wish you the very best for 2015.

For LanguageCorps, it’s been another great year of helping people teach English abroad. We look forward to adding some new locations in 2015, and we will continue to strive to bring our participants the best possible TESOL certification and teach abroad experience that we can.

Of course, new years can also be a time for reflecting on the year that’s passed, setting goals and making resolutions for the year to come.  So if you think that teaching abroad might be the change you’ve been looking for, we’re always happy to help.  Give us a shout anytime – we’d love to hear more about your goals and plans!

So, happy new year everyone…here’s to a great 2015!

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