Avoiding the Culture Conundrum: 6 Tips to Get You Ready to Teach Overseas

Avoiding the Culture Conundrum
6 Tips to Get You Ready to Teach Overseas

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 2,576 views |

Are you considering teaching English overseas?

Here are six things to think about before boarding the plane.

Six Tips to Make Your Overseas Teaching Experience a Success

  1. 1

    Learn How to Teach, Not Just Speak the Language

    There is a big difference between speaking English and being able to teach it. So much of language is hardwired in our brains we can’t even articulate what’s there. We don’t often think about compound complex sentence structure or adjectival clauses when we are speaking English. But when you teach overseas, you may have to explain those very things. It is worthwhile, then, to take some time before you travel to learn what teaching English as a second language is really like. There are plenty of online courses you can take on the subject, and many colleges and universities have programs for those who want to become ESL teachers. Even more effective than that, however, is simply teaching. Opportunities for volunteer ESL teachers abound in the U.S. through government services and organizations. Devote some time to a program like this, and you will find that experience is a fantastic teacher. If you aren’t sure about any programs near you, contact a local school or university ESL program. Odds are the teachers there are looking for conversation partners for their students and would be glad for you to reach out to students that way. You’ll learn what it’s like to teach without ever having a classroom.

  2. 2

    Ask Yourself Why You Want to Teach Overseas

    There are plenty of valid reasons to teach overseas. Do you want to see the world? Are you looking to serve an underprivileged people group? Are you just looking for adventure? Whatever your reason, it is a good one. And just because you are seeking one goal from overseas teaching doesn’t mean you won’t achieve the others as well. But the reason you teach overseas will influence the best choice for your destination as well as the organization you work with. Teach America is an organization that gives Americans the opportunity to serve underprivileged people through English instruction. That may be the choice for you if that is your primary reason for going overseas. Colleges and universities all over the world hire native English speakers to teach classes at their schools. If you want to really immerse yourself in a foreign culture, that may be the best choice for you. If you want to see the world, you may choose a high paying position in order to fund side trips and travel. If you are looking for teaching experience and intend to return home to teach at a school there, consider teaching for an American school overseas. No matter what your reason for teaching overseas is, if you know what it is you are more likely to make the best choice about where you will go.

  3. 3

    Study the Language of Your Host Country

    You may already be fluent in your host country’s native language. If so, that’s great! If not, before you travel is the time to start learning. When you arrive overseas, immersion may be the best teacher, but you will also have plenty of other things to think about – setting up your home, setting up your classroom, preparing to teach, and learning how things work in your host country. If you already have some language skills, you’ll have a leg up on interacting with the community and your students. Try a program like Rosetta Stone to get started on language learning while at home. And if possible, continue formal language studies once you arrive at your overseas destination as well.

  4. 4

    Think about Your Support Network

    When you leave everything you know behind, you are bound to have some struggles with culture shock. Studies show you can expect a honeymoon period with your host culture (where everything is exciting and appealing) followed by a six month adjustment period where you struggle to find a balance between what you left behind and the culture you are now in. It is okay to struggle. But before you end up slogging through culture shock, think about who your support network will be. In the age of digital communication, keeping in touch with friends and family back home is easier than ever. Depending on where you are teaching. You may not have consistent internet service or cell reception, so find out about that before you go. Who will you have regular contact with either through email, chat rooms, or phone calls? Who will you talk to when the going gets tough? Will there be other expatriates in your community that you can talk to? Do you have any contacts in the host country already? Are there any friends of friends nearby who you could develop a friendship with? Think about these things before you go. When you need a friend to go to in tough times, you’ll know who you can count on.

  5. 5

    Bring What You’ll Need and Get the Rest There

    Depending on where you go, you may have great access to English materials, or they may be scarce. Save yourself some travel trouble by planning on getting whatever you can while you are overseas rather than dragging it along in your suitcase. Digital books and other materials are a good choice, too, since they don’t count toward the weight limit in your luggage. What you may want to purchase before you go are the little items that teachers love and that you may not be able to get oversea – reward stickers, book marks, or little prizes for your students such as personalized pencils and pens. Oriental Trading Company has a big selection of teacher gifts that you might want to check out before you travel overseas. These don’t take a lot of room in your suitcase, so it’s worth it to take some with you. You might also consider purchasing some small trinkets to give as gifts to peers if that is an appropriate custom in your host culture. Keychains and magnets particularly those with your home country’s name or flag on it are good items to bring. You might also like to bring a few postcards and photos with you to use in your class or to give as gifts.

  6. 6

    Know It Will Get Easier

    Teaching overseas isn’t easy. You leave your home, your family, your culture, and even your language behind. It is a lot to take in all at once. And though at first it can seem like the most challenging experience you have ever been through, it does get easier. Learning the customs of your host culture and getting to know some people there are big helps as is increasing your knowledge and fluency in the host country’s language. These things take time, but if you can hang on for those first tough six months, you’ll find that everything gets easier. And you will most certainly have the experience of a lifetime.

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