Kate & Kris share how to become an English teacher abroad in this interview about their experience living & teaching around the world.
Teaching Abroad Interview
Tell us a bit about yourself and teaching abroad?
We are both from the UK and we teach English abroad; doing so for ten years now. We have worked in Thailand, the UK, Spain, Ukraine, Vietnam, and China. We currently teach in Bangkok.
Why did you decide to move abroad?
It was an accident. We went traveling and then the money started to run low. We decided that we could either go home early or find another way to stay abroad. We found an offer for a course to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL) in Thailand. We had friends who were teaching English (in Spain) and enjoyed it, so we thought we’d give it a go.
Did you find it easy to find teaching positions?
It’s much easier to find positions teaching English than it is to find jobs back home, it seems. There are lots and lots of positions available all over the world. The trick is to make sure you get a quality position, as there are a lot of scams and jobs that exploit teachers out there. For example, we look for schools that invest in their teachers in terms of professional development, who understand that teachers need time to prepare lessons and who provide resources such as photocopying facilities, computers, and a library of resource books.
What is the interview/application process like for these jobs?
It varies. On one end of the spectrum, there are some that seem like merely a formality. You send off your c.v. and covering letter and then they ask to speak to you over Skype (or face to face if you are in the country). They don’t really ask you any questions about yourself and your teaching and just tell you about the position. One interview we had was less than ten minutes. For both of us (we didn’t take it).
On the other hand, there are some hardcore interviews, the British Council is one of them. Their application form is huge and detailed and in the interview, they ask a lot of competency-based questions, with a panel of interviewers.
Some schools want to know a lot about what you know. The interview we had for the job in Ukraine lasted 1 hour 40 minutes!! So it really does depend.
What does your typical day look like?
Right now we work Monday to Friday during the day, but that’s not a typical timetable for a teacher in a language school. We start teaching at 9.30 and teach a three-hour IELTS preparation class (IELTS is an exam students need to take to study or work abroad). We finish that at lunchtime. Three afternoons a week we then prepare lessons, interview students to place them in new classes, and do some admin tasks. Two afternoons a week we travel out to a university and teach English language classes in a civil engineering international program. We finish at about 5 pm.
Are you able to save much money after expenses and travel?
Yes. It helps that we have a lot of experience and we took Diplomas in teaching (the Delta and the Trinity DipTESOL). As with most jobs, the more experience and qualifications you have, the higher your salary. Everywhere we go we try to save one salary and spend one. It’s always worked out so far. Salaries are vastly different depending on the country as well, and the cost of living affects how much you can save. We try to go to places with higher salaries and lower costs of living.
What is the best thing about teaching around the world?
It’s so varied. In one job you might be singing songs with puppets in a kindergarten, in another, you are helping IT professionals to communicate more effectively in an English-speaking workplace. In fact, you can be doing both of those things in the same job! It’s difficult to get bored, and if you do, you can just find a different job and/or move to a new country.
You also get the opportunity to get to know people from all over the world and hear about their lives, challenges, and superstitions. It’s much harder to get that access to local peoples’ lives if you just travel.
What is the most challenging thing about moving abroad?
Being far away from home. You miss things like weddings, babies being born, children growing up, important birthdays, and milestones. We’d like a magic door where you can just go through and be at home, just for the day or the evening, to see friends and family and catch up, and then go back at the end of the day.
Where is your favorite place you have lived in?
That’s difficult. Bangkok holds a special place in our hearts, perhaps because it was the first place we arrived in when we first left the UK. We worked here in our first teaching job, and then came back last year because we held such fond memories of it. It hasn’t disappointed.
But then, we lived in Vietnam for nearly five years. Saigon was a fantastic place to live and teach.
Where is the most expensive place you have lived in?
Spain. Not sure if it was expensive, but the cost of living was much higher than our wage. We had to share a flat with five other people and had little disposable income. Like we said, now, with more experience and qualifications, it would probably be different.
What is the cheapest place you have lived in?
Ukraine. Due to the political upheaval, the currency plummeted when we lived there, which made it very cheap to live. A beer cost about 50p and a night out, including dinner for two, was about $25. We also got a free apartment, which helped. Even though the salaries look low in Ukraine, your cost of living is really low too. You can read more about teaching English in Ukraine on our blog.
What has traveling and working abroad taught you?
To be more patient and to understand that other peoples’ ideas of what is polite, or inappropriate behavior is different from our own. Just because we think something is rude, doesn’t mean that it is for the person doing it. Also, getting angry or annoyed about things is often a bit pointless. It doesn’t get things done. In the words of Frozen, Let It Go!
What are some of your best travel moments?
We were ecologists in our past lives, and are really interested in wildlife. We have been on safari in South Africa, seen wild elephants both there and in Thailand, seen komodo dragons, orangutans and gibbons, and lots of other animals in the wild, and Kris has fulfilled one of his lifetime ambitions to cage dive with great white sharks.
What are some of your worst travel moments?
We got trapped in Bangkok a few years ago when protestors took over the airport. We were on the way to Vietnam to look for work and were left hanging around for two weeks, spending the money we needed. Meanwhile, all the other tourists were just sitting around waiting to leave and no one was arriving. It was a bit depressing.
What advice would you give to others looking to teach abroad?
Part of our blog is dedicated to just that: giving advice to people thinking of teaching abroad, and just starting out. Check it out…
But as a taster……if you are thinking about it, just do it. Even if you do it for a year and then go home and do something else, you will have an experience you will remember forever. Oh, and get a qualification. Don’t think just because you grew up speaking English, that it means you can teach it. They are different things entirely and your students deserve someone who has at least some idea of what they are doing.
Wednesday 7th of June 2017
A lot of good insights! Surprised to hear that Spain is the most expensive. I had the impression from traveling that cost of living is quite low there (I guess I'm comparing to the expensive Asian cities like Hong Kong and Singapore) but I guess everything is relative to what you're earning locally!
Tuesday 6th of June 2017
I totally understand about that Magic Door. If one existed, I definitely would have stayed abroad, but it's just so hard to live away from family and friends. Cheers to you for making it work!
Tuesday 6th of June 2017
This is a great way to travel the world and also give it back to the society. Thanks a lot for the practical information you provided along with it. I am not sure if I have the right skills to become a teacher though. he he
Monday 5th of June 2017
Nice to read some different perspectives on teaching English around the world! I agree about Ukraine being a shockingly cheap country in which to travel.
Monday 5th of June 2017
I'm amazed! I've always wondered how they manage to get into these things and sustain themselves and what it's really like to be living it!