A Beginner's Guide to Teaching Abroad



Do your thoughts ever drift across the ocean? To some faraway place where everything you see and do will be new? 

My husband's sure do! He LOVED our time teaching abroad so much that he is always talking about going back someday. And I have to admit, I'm pretty tempted myself. 

The American College of Sofia (a high school), where we worked for two years. 
You can see my classroom windows on the upper left! 

Teaching abroad provides you with a chance to see the world, but it also gives you a chance to grow a lot as a teacher. Working with a totally different group of students in a brand new context can't help but push you to grow professionally in tons of new ways. 

It’s not as hard as it seems. By using one of the many international search agencies, you can get your materials out to almost  all the international schools with positions that match your background. Soon enough you’ll be at one of the international job fairs interviewing with all the most interesting ones and hopefully choosing the job and country you like best. Many schools will cover your travel expenses, provide you with housing or a housing stipend, and help guide you through the process of transition to their country.

In this post, I'm going to share the story of my own experience moving abroad, and give you the information you need to dive in and do it too! Feel free to leave your questions in the comments if there's something I miss, and I will do my best to answer. 

Pausing for a moment after shopping for fruit and flowers in downtown Sofia. 

My husband and I applied through Search Associates, communicated via e-mail with several schools before the fair, attended their job fair in Boston, interviewed with many schools, and received offers from one in Sofia, Bulgaria and one in Vienna, Austria. We had just one day to choose between them.


We spent two years in Bulgaria, during which time we learned so much! My husband got certified in ESL and I learned about the IB system and became a blogger. Together we traveled around Europe, visiting more than twenty countries during our vacations. 

I began writing professional articles and my husband presented at a conference in Germany. I advised the cooking club and literary magazine and helped coach softball, all new experiences for me, and my husband became dean of his grade level. By the end of our second year I had started a new faculty orientation program and put on a professional development day on the subject of teaching with technology. Being abroad in a new teaching environment, with Bulgarian students who were both the same and very different from our American students, helped us grow as teachers. And seeing the world changed our lives. 

Hanging out in Edinburgh. 

The Search Process

There are several agencies you can use to get teaching jobs abroad. Here I will briefly describe two of the largest. Though my personal experience is with Search Associates, I believe they all run with a similar system. Once you are accepted as a candidate and pay a user fee (around $250), you file your materials (cover letter, statement, C.V., references) and then the agency contacts you with relevant openings.  

You decide if you want the agency to send your materials to schools they contact you about.  Usually if so, you write an e-mail explaining your interest and why you believe you are a good fit. Then hopefully you continue to communicate with them building up to an interview at the job fair hosted by your agency.


Agency #1: Search Associates



Description: Search Associates runs twelve international job fairs around the world. Someone on their team will be assigned to you, answering any questions you might have throughout the process. You simply register, upload your materials, and start shopping through the openings matched to you through regular e-mails. We chose Search because many of the schools they work with do not require teachers to have certification, and we have master's degrees in our fields but not in education.


Agency #2: International Schools Services


Description: Once you register your application with ISS, you can attend one of their four international job fairs. ISS is also featuring a new service called the iFair, in which they match candidates and schools for virtual interviews.

The international hiring season is EARLIER than the domestic one. Schools begin searching around winter break and hire through the early spring.

It’s important to go into job fairs with an open mind. You may find yourself in love with a school in Paraguay even though you thought you wanted to move to Japan. Being open to many countries vastly increases your chance of finding a job. Be prepared to do a lot of country research during the job fair – you may find you need to decide whether you’d rather live in Sri Lanka or Mexico, France or China, in just twelve hours.  

Traveling to a spa in Bulgaria with the new American faculty on our way to get work visas in Greece.


Preparing to Go

As you get ready to work abroad, all research is good research. Listen to Rick Steves podcasts about your country and its neighbors. Make vocabulary flashcards. Watch documentaries. Look for expat blogs and websites hosted in your country. Find out what discount airlines fly from the nearest airport. Study a bit of history, a bit of fashion, a bit of the culinary arts. 

The more you know, the better! 

But don’t worry, you really don’t have to know it all. I was working full time and planning my wedding right before we moved, and I was only able to learn the alphabet and basic greetings in Bulgarian, and listen to a lot of travel podcasts while working out. 

Oh, and be sure to do the paperwork. Visas, passport, the whole shebang.

The Transition 

We got a storage unit for all of our things, since we only planned to be gone for two years. Your parents’ basement could also work. We spent the whole summer prior to our move abroad taking courses and traveling in the UK. We shipped some things to Bulgaria and some to the UK, then packed everything else we could into our luggage. 

Exploring Oxford


I think it helped that we had already been abroad, using different money and getting over the time difference and such, before we actually arrived in Bulgaria. And even then we built two weeks in before the start of school to travel around Bulgaria and over into Turkey. 

It was great not to have to jump into work right away.

Homesickness 


Unless you are one of the magical few, you will get homesick. 

Bulgaria was, at times, an incredibly difficult place to live. We had to work hard at having a good experience. Traveling, connecting with our students, watching American t.v., going running, searching out great food – all these things helped us over the hard times. We intentionally tried to connect with our fellow international faculty too – starting a tradition of Sunday night potlucks and helping organize lots of parties and get-togethers so we could all share our experiences. Thinking through some coping strategies in advance and planning to reach out to those around you when you struggle is pretty important.


Discovering an AMAZING cookie bakery in Sofia helped make it feel like home.  
Sometimes it's the little things. 



Oh, the Places You'll Go

By living in a country near a region you are interested in exploring, you make it so much cheaper to explore the world. We could visit places like Morocco and Vienna for just a hundred dollars, ride the night train to Serbia, drive our car across the border to Turkey and Greece.

We ate Thanksgiving dinner at The Hard Rock Café in Amsterdam, spent several weekends in Barcelona, watched the sun set on Santorini. Life in our chosen country was relatively cheap, and housing was provided, so we spent our salaries on travel.

At surf camp in Morocco after spending several days exploring Marrakesh. 


As all teachers know, it’s easy to bring work home with you and spend every weekend doing it. But while teaching abroad, the world beckons. We tried to get out of the country at least once a month, if not more. By the end of two years, we had visited more than twenty countries.

Don’t be intimidated as you plan your travel. I moved to Bulgaria with only a few words of Bulgarian, and learned the ins and outs of the various metros, airports, taxis and buses as we traveled around Europe. Better to make some mistakes along the way than never to go!  

We liked Paris so much we ended up going there twice. 
And then going back years later with our three year old son! So I guess that's three times.  

Oh, the Ways you Can Grow

Teaching abroad will provide you with so many opportunities to try new things. Whether it’s teaching a new course, examining your own knowledge of English and grammar, coaching a new sport, joining with students on adventures in your new country, growing professionally, picking up a new hobby, or something else, there’s no doubt you’ll  dip a toe (or a whole leg) in new waters when you teach abroad.

Here are a few things I did for the first time during my two years abroad:
  • Published professional articles with Independent Teacher Magazine
  • Advised the cooking club (and learned how to cook!)
  • Started a new faculty orientation program and made a recruitment video for it
  • Went to surf camp in Morocco
  • Hiked with my students on Mount Vitosha in Bulgaria
  • Coached 8th grade softball
  • Learned advanced yoga
  • Joined a Bulgarian folk dancing group and performed in a dance concert
  • Helped make Thanksgiving dinner for 100 Bulgarians
  • Developed and ran a professional development day for the whole faculty on teaching with technology

Abroad you will have many opportunities to try new things, and all you have to do is say yes. You will learn something new every day, even if it’s just how to say thank you in Hungarian.





I hope this post has helped you feel ready to get started on your journey. Stay in touch with me and get creative professional support for your classroom experiences abroad OR at home by subscribing below and you'll also get fifteen fun activities you can use in class to help students review their reading and get ready to rock discussions.






2 comments

  1. Great post, Betsy!

    My journey to teaching abroad was a little different, but I second you on the opportunities teaching abroad will open up for a teacher. 11 years after applying to a one-year contract in Japan, I'm still abroad. And just signed a contract with a new school in a new country!!

    Deciding to teach abroad was the BEST decision I ever made- well, besides becoming a teacher :) But that's a whole other story...

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    1. Jennifer, thanks for adding your story here! I love that you have found a wonderful new place to continue your adventures abroad! My husband was getting really tempted to have us apply for jobs at your school, I had to tell him you were moving on. :) :) :) He loves the Czech Republic. I hope you LOVE wherever you are going next!

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