Is Teaching Abroad Difficult?

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Teaching abroad is not always easy. In fact, for some people, it can be downright difficult. There are a number of potential challenges that you may face when making the decision to teach overseas.

You may hesitate due to concerns about your safety or the quality of education that you will be able to provide. There might be other concerns such as understanding the language or even assimilating well.

A pile of passports with an airplane over a map

However, teaching abroad is also an incredibly rewarding experience. You will get to know new people and learn about new cultures while helping others learn and grow, too.

So, is teaching abroad difficult? It depends on your perspective! Let’s get into some challenges, fears, and reasons why teaching abroad is difficult. We’ll also touch on some rewards as well!

10 Potential Challenges to Prepare For

Is Teaching Abroad Difficult? - Visa application

1. Difficult Visa Process

One of the requirements of teaching abroad and the first challenge you may face is the process of getting a work visa for the country where you want to teach.

Some of the steps in this process include getting your documents notarized, passing medical and health checks, receiving a letter of invitation from the school to get a resident permit, and much more. There may be even some countries that require you to go to their embassy in person, which can take up time and money.

This can be a lengthy and complicated process, so it is important to do your research and start the application process as early as possible!

You should also be in communication with your liaison at your new school for any questions because they have had to onboard many new teachers and understand the process well.

2. Hard TEFL Courses or Preparation

If you hold a teaching license, usually earned through an education degree, and you have teaching experience, you are highly favored! Many schools will be excited to have you as a candidate because you already meet the educational and experience requirements for a work visa.

However, if you are not a certified teacher, you will likely need to take a 120-hour TEFL course in order to teach English abroad. These courses can be expensive and challenging, but they are worth it if you are serious about getting hired to teach abroad.

3. Safety

One of the biggest concerns for many people is safety. When you are teaching abroad, you will be in a new and unfamiliar place. It is important to do your research before you go to see how safe the country is and know the areas that are safe to live in and which areas to avoid.

Some points to research in the beginning stages are the current state of the government, how friendly the local people are, and the history of the school you want to work at (i.e. how long has it been operating, does it have a permit with the local government, accreditation, etc.).

Another key factor to check is the availability of expat communities established in the city your school is located – hint: the more the merrier!

Is Teaching Abroad Difficult? - girl stressed at a table

4. Job Stress

Another potential difficulty is job stress. Teaching can be a demanding profession, and when you are teaching in a foreign country, there may be additional pressures.

You may be working with a co-teacher who comes from a different educational background, which could potentially cause tension in the workplace. Or your boss might not be the most accomodating or understanding.

There are other teaching-related job stresses such as finding English materials to teach, which could be more difficult in the rural areas. You might also have short planning times or there may be a lack of substitute teachers if you need to take a sick day.

These concerns can be easily addressed either through email communication or in your interview.

5. Language Barrier

If you are teaching in a country where the native language is not English, you may face some challenges with the language barrier.

In China, most things like menus and bus station signs are written in Chinese characters. Even when there are announcements, those are often spoken in Mandarin.

This can be frustrating if you have no working knowledge of the language.

Though it’s not necessary to know the language, you can learn as much of the local language as possible before you go so that you can better communicate with the people and understand the culture.

You might also want to ask if the school provides language lessons or ways for you to learn for free.

If you are curious about the language and are willing to learn it, the great news is that you are getting a language immersion experience where you can practice anytime, anywhere!

6. Cultural Adjustment

Another potential challenge is adjusting to the new culture. There will be new customs and norms that you will need to learn and understand.

For some places, women might need to wear head covers and for others, you might need to take your shoes off before entering the house. It is important to be respectful of the culture and try to adapt to it since you are living in a host country.

Cultural manners are also different across the world as well. In China, there is a ton of spitting and hawking all around and there isn’t really a sense of personal space.

For me as an American, this is not normal behavior, but I learned to adapt (or ignore) some of these tendencies I didn’t really like.

Read next: 25 Pros and Cons of Moving to China

7. Religious Adjustment

In some countries, religion is a very important part of daily life. If you are not religious, you may find it difficult to adjust to living in a country where religion is such a central part of the culture.

On the other hand, you might be in a country where you can’t be outspoken about your personal religious beliefs and this could be a deal-breaker for you.

Is Teaching Abroad Difficult? - unfamiliar foods

8. Unfamiliar Foods

Along with adjusting to the culture and religious leanings, you may also have to adjust to the food. There will likely be foods that you are not familiar with and do not like.

While traveling around China, I saw tons of vendors with creepy crawlies like centipedes and spiders in the Beijing night market-eeks!

Though the food may not be that extreme, it is important to be open-minded and try new things.

Personally, I truly learned to appreciate durian (the notorious smelly fruit), donkey meat, and trashcan bread. But I also found some of my favorite Chinese dishes in day-to-day living.

Embrace the difference as part of the fun of teaching abroad is trying out new experiences!

9. Different Climate

The climate in the country where you are teaching may also be different from what you are used to. If you are from a cold climate and you are teaching in a tropical country, you (and your hair) will need to get used to the heat and humidity!

You might find that you like the new climate more. If so, this is an easy challenge to overcome.

However, if the weather is different or makes you feel worse, you’ll need to research some methods to acclimate to the new weather.

10. Homesickness

One of the biggest challenges for many people who decide to teach abroad is homesickness.

When you are teaching abroad, you will be away from your friends and family for an extended period of time. Loneliness can definitely creep in, especially if you are placed in a rural location or a community that is hard for foreigners to breakthrough.

If you are an introvert, you may also feel hesitant to go out and meet up with new people as well–I know I did!

It is important to have a support system in place both while you are teaching and when you return home.

Find an expat community so you can relate to other people who are also living in a country that isn’t their home. You’ll also want a community of local friends so you can learn more about the culture, food, and local places.

When you return home, you won’t be the same person who left. Your friends and family will have also lived their lives while you were away.

Even though you’ve had an incredible experience (and you should definitely talk about it), you’ll also need to catch up on the lives of your circle at home, too.

7 Fears That Might Make you Hesitate to Teach Abroad

Fear is a normal feeling to have when you are contemplating a long-term move to a new place. Although these are valid fears and may make teaching abroad difficult, they shouldn’t prevent you from considering a move.

Here are 7 fears you might be thinking about:

Is Teaching Abroad Difficult? - rack of books

1. Poor Quality of Education

One of the main reasons people hesitate to teach abroad is because they are afraid that the schools will not be up to par. However, this will depend heavily on the teachers working in the school and whether the school has a plan to have an adequate curriculum.

Many international schools do have a good quality of education, which might be even better than that in your home country, and they usually have access to great teaching materials and English books for teaching.

When you’re sitting down for your interview make sure to ask about the school’s methods of getting books and/or the curriculum, the teaching strategies the school is focused on, and the culture of the workplace.

2. Lack of Support From the Administration

Another fear people have is that they will not receive the support they need or that they might have disagreements with the administration.

When moving to a new place with a different culture than what you are used to, you might be on a different page than some of the people you work with.

Although these are possibilities, the administration is generally supportive of the foreign teachers they hire and want these new teachers to be successful.

Is Teaching Abroad Difficult? - Girl signing another contract

3. Lack of Job Security

Some people might fear they will not have a job at the end of their contract, which can be anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. However, this is usually not the case and most jobs are given to returning teachers.

Teaching abroad, especially if you’re teaching English, is a job that will always be around. If you start teaching abroad and truly invest in your students and your job as a teacher, you will be offered another contract.

First, schools save so much more money rehiring teachers they like rather than going through another hiring process and second, they want to keep great teachers!

4. Communicating with Students

One of the greatest fears people have for teaching abroad is they will not be able to communicate with their students and the class will then burst into crazy energy.

Although this is a very valid fear, you can teach students without speaking the language using various teaching methods such as total physical response, repetitive phrases, songs, and more!

Even though you won’t be able to communicate with students who don’t speak English at first, there will come a point when students start understanding English.

You will also most likely be picking up common phrases, too, so as you and your students learn together, understanding will happen.

5. Poor Living Conditions

Another fear that people have is that they will not be able to find good housing or that it will be too expensive. I personally thought I would be moving into a concrete box with a dirt floor, but I was pleasantly surprised!

Ask the school to see if they have furnished housing for you and if they will find your apartment or expect you to find it yourself.

Many schools will have a housing stipend for you or they will actually pay rent for your housing while you pay for water and electricity, which is the structure my school had in place.

Is Teaching Abroad Difficult? - ladies crossing the street in asia

6. Failing to Adapt

Some people are worried that they will not be able to adapt to the new culture such as being immersed in the cultural norms, trying new foods, and learning a new way of living.

But this is actually one of the best parts of moving to teach abroad. As long as you are open-minded and respectful, you will start to adapt to this new way of living.

In fact, teaching abroad will stretch you in unimaginable ways for your own personal growth and you’ll return with a global perspective.

7. Not Being Able to Find a Job After Returning

One of the most common fears is that people will not be able to find a job when they return home. This is usually not the case though and most people are able to find a job within a few months of returning.

In fact, having the experience of teaching abroad on your resume will make you marketable as you’ll have international knowledge, have gained professional teaching skills, and have shown that you can adapt to new changes.

Read Next: 30+ Job Options After Returning from Teaching English Abroad

5 Reasons Teaching Abroad Might Not Be a Good Fit for You

Is Teaching Abroad Difficult? - open planner

1. You Need a lot of Structure

If you need a lot of structure and stability in your life, then teaching abroad is probably not for you. Change is a way of life when you move abroad to teach.

You’ll be meeting new teachers when contracts are finished and you might have new students show up every few months.

In terms of stability, you will not be working towards owning a home or buying a new car as you would in your hometown. On the other hand, with budgeting and planning, your savings account may increase significantly when you return home.

2. You Are Not Open-Minded

Teaching abroad is a great way to learn about new cultures, but if you are not open-minded (as mentioned before), you will not be able to enjoy this experience.

For example, the typical food you grew up eating may not be an option when you move to teach abroad. Or there might be different cultural manners you may need to be aware of, such as not sticking your chopsticks up in your bowl of rice in China.

You will need to break free of the societal norms that you grew up with so you can start enjoying new ones.

3. You Don’t Like Kids

If you do not enjoy being around children, then teaching is probably not the right career for you. While not all jobs teaching abroad will be working with young children or teens, you may have a harder time finding a job working with adults.

Is Teaching Abroad Difficult? - girl traveling abroad

4. You Only Want to Travel

Teaching abroad will provide many opportunities for travel, but this should not be your primary reason to move abroad to teach. As a teacher, you will be expected to come up with lesson plans, show up to class, and make sure your students are learning.

If that doesn’t sound like the life you are imagining when you move abroad, you might need to find another option.

5. You Are Looking to Make Money

Let’s be real: teaching abroad is not a lucrative job. The stable monthly income and low costs of living certainly help with growing your nest egg, possibly paying off student loans (that’s me!), or funding your travels, but you are not taking home thousands of dollars every month.

If your goal is to teach short-term to build up your bank account long-term, this may not be the best job option for you.

7 Top Rewards of Teaching Abroad

There are many potential challenges and fears you may face when thinking about teaching abroad. However, there are also many rewards.

Teaching abroad is a great way to see the world, meet new people, and learn about new cultures. With preparation and planning, you can have a great experience teaching abroad!

Is Teaching Abroad Difficult? - teacher hold the globe teaching 4 kids

1. Experience

One of the best things about teaching abroad is the life experience that you will gain. You will learn new things about other cultures, how to navigate different situations, and hopefully have some silly stories to tell.

You’ll also gain professional teaching experience with lesson planning, implementing ESL strategies (if you plan to continue teaching), and classroom management skills. This will definitely help you with getting a job in education after you return home.

2. Growth

Another great thing about teaching abroad is the opportunity for personal growth. You will be out of your comfort zone and will need to learn how to cope with different challenges. This can help you to grow as a person and become more independent.

You’ll also grow in unexpected ways as well. You might be more open to trying different foods, traveling by yourself, or even implementing cultural norms into your life like taking off your shoes before entering a house.

Is Teaching Abroad Difficult? - group of students on a service trip with young girls

3. Make a Difference

Teaching abroad is a great way to make a difference in the lives of others. You will be able to help people learn and grow, which is an incredibly rewarding experience. You might make a direct impact if you are teaching in an impoverished area.

You could also make a difference if your school implements ways for you to make short-term service trips abroad. This would be a great opportunity if you are teaching secondary students and want to expose them to community service.

4. Travel Opportunities

One of the best things about teaching abroad is the ability to travel. You will likely have a lot of opportunities to explore your new country and also country hop from where you are as well.

Most of the time, it’s much easier and more cost-effective to fly within continents (i.e. China to Thailand, etc.).

This would also be a great opportunity for your family to visit you as well and then you can play tour guide for them.

I had my family come to visit after my first year of teaching and we visited Beijing where I was able to use my very basic Chinese to get us around-but they were pretty impressed!

5. Educational Opportunities

Depending on the school you work with, they may offer you incentives such as paying for more education.

The school I worked for offered to pay for my Master’s degree after a 2-year contract with them. This was so helpful for me as I was working in an environment where I wanted to pursue my Master’s degree.

When it was time for me to return home, I only had 1 more class to complete for my Master’s program. So I gained professional teaching experience and a graduate degree at the same time!

Is Teaching Abroad Difficult? - Pafoua's lifelong friends

6. Lifelong friends

Another great thing about teaching abroad is the friends that you will make. You will meet people from all over the world and form bonds that will last a lifetime.

In an expat community, you’ll find friends who are willing to travel with you, go out to grab dinner, and throw birthday parties together. With your shared experience of living abroad, you’ll always share a bond.

You’ll also gain new local friends that will help you navigate your new life. They will then become your go-to person for all things cultural.

My language teachers and classroom co-teacher became my friends and we spent time together at each other’s houses, celebrated national holidays together, and much more!

7. Love abroad

While not everyone will find love while teaching abroad, it is definitely a possibility! You might meet someone on your travels, teach with an amazing teacher you also find attractive or even start dating online.

N and I found each other through eHarmony and started a long-distance relationship, both in distance and hours. We made it work and now we’re married!

I also have friends who have met abroad and are now married as well as those who are engaged to locals.

Is Teaching Abroad Difficult? - teacher looking outside the window (possibly contemplating the difficulties of teaching abroad)

So, is teaching abroad difficult?

It can be, but it is also an incredibly rewarding experience. If you are considering teaching abroad, make sure to do your research and be prepared for potential challenges. But don’t forget about the rewards, too!

Teaching abroad is definitely worth the effort!

What are your thoughts on the difficulties of teaching abroad? Did I miss anything here?


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