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Teach English Overseas: A Personal Story
by Beverly Gallagher

Being part of that aha! moment, receiving a thank you card from a classroom of kids, and learning my students' English skills helped earn them a promotion, are just some of the memories that have kept me involved in the field of ESL/EFL for almost 20 years.

For a contemporary nomadic woman excited about delving into the intricacies of another culture with the goals of sharing and self-exploration, to teach English overseas is a rewarding option.

There are advantages and challenges for women who want to teach English overseas.

One of the advantages is that teaching is traditionally a profession occupied by womenin many parts of the world. A teacher is considered an expert in a particular field which brings respect and admiration as well as responsibility. Students look to their English language teacher for answers as basic as the difference between "no" and "not," and for feedback that highlights both areas for improvement and strengths.

One of the biggest challenges if you teach English overseas is that you often have toerr on the conservative side. You need to think about how you dress, what you do in your extracurricular time and how you interact with others - especially if you arrive alone and if you're single.

On the other hand, if you demonstrate professionalism and show an interest in the local culture, because you are a single woman, people will go out of their way to take care of you and to make sure that every moment of your stay is enjoyable.

I'm currently teaching in Costa Rica. Since arriving, my new bosses, fellow teachers and students have helped me find a great place to live, advised me on opening a bank account, invited me on outings, and have even taken me grocery shopping. There is a word people use here: chinear, which means to take care of someone, but not necessarily spoil. When I thanked everyone for their help, I was told with a smile that they were happy to chinear.

Qualifications to teach English overseas

Years ago any responsible English speaker could land a teaching job. As the field has grown more professional, this is no longer the case. As most English learners pay quite a bit of money for classes, this is a welcome transition. To be a good ESL/EFL teacher, you need to know more than just the language.

Also, employment conditions, such as contracts, number of teaching hours per week, class sizes, pay scales, housing, transportation, and health coverage, vary greatly around the world. You are more likely to receive favorable employment conditions if your teaching qualifications are competitive.

When negotiating a teaching contract, clarify as many details as possible in the beginning. Will I get paid for any prep time? Will I get compensated for any expenses such as travel, supplies, and photocopies? If the school/company requires that you teach from an assigned text, you probably won't get paid for prep time.

However, if you are teaching private lessons to executives, you may need to create many tailor-made materials. Make sure you calculate the amount of time you'll be in the classroom with the amount of prep you'll need to do. If you have to travel from class to class, this may also add several extra hours to your day.

In Japan, teaching conditions varied greatly. I taught eight, 90-minute classes per week at a university. My contract included housing, utilities, paid vacation (about 3 months a year including summer and winter break), and one, round-trip flight home per year. In contrast, I knew other teachers who worked in language academies five days a week, eight hours a day for less money and none of the above benefits. I found this position at www.ohayosensei.com.

Depending on your background, the quickest way to gain a competitive edge to teach English overseas is to complete a certificate program in TESOL. More and more on-line certificates are being offered; though, most employers prefer that the coursework be completed on-site.

Most importantly, before investing in a course to teach English overseas, make sure it is accredited. Visit www.tesol.org for details. TESOL certificate programs also have job placement services which are a great help if you're moving abroad for the first time.

There are not many careers where you can look at a job board and choose your next travel destination. There are also few careers that offer such a high level of job satisfaction.

Teaching English has given me the freedom to explore the diversity of our world, to meet many fascinating people and to learn more about who I am. I wouldn't have done it any other way.

Acronyms you may come across in your research

EFL (English as a foreign language) is an English language program in non-English-speaking countries where English is not used as the lingua franca.

ESL (English as a second language) is an English language program in English-speaking countries where students learn English as a second language.

ESOL (English to speakers of other languages) is an ESL class within adult basic education programs. ESOL is also a general term for ESL/EFL.

TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language) is the teacher education programs in EFL.

TESL (Teaching English as a second language) is the teacher education programs in ESL.

TESOL (Teaching English to speakers of other languages) is the specialized training needed for a career in ESF/EFL. It is also the name of the association, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is an exam administered worldwide to international students applying to U.S. institutions of higher education.

CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) is administered by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate and Royal Society of Arts, based in England. This is a specific, brand-name TEFL certificate course.

Beverly Gallagher is an adventurous solo traveler from the West Coast of the United States who has spent the past 20 years teaching English abroad. She is also a freelance writer.

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