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Important Things to Know About Teaching English in Foreign Countries

written by: Louanne Piccolo•edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas•updated: 9/10/2012

Every year, hundreds of people decide to try English teaching in foreign countries as a way to travel the world and work at the same time. Although it can be exciting and fun, there are also other factors like cultural differences, accommodation, insurance and legal paperwork to take into account.

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    Teaching English as a Foreign language can be a rewarding experience. Teaching is popular for students who want to work during the summer months, for people who are looking for a career and life change and for some who are looking for a way to work while travelling.

    While teaching English abroad offers all of these options, the decision to do so shouldn't be made without some detailed information on the country and its policies towards teaching, visa requirements and other legal issues, as well as accommodation options and in-depth cultural information.

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    Cultural Differences

    Teachers need to be aware of cultural issues when teaching in a foreign country. Students might accept certain behavior from a foreign teacher, that they would normally find offensive but it shows respect for students and their customs if a teacher reads up about the culture of the country he is teaching in and behaves accordingly. When teaching abroad, teachers should:

    Be Aware of What is Considered to Polite or Rude Behavior: In some countries, students will not want to address a teacher by his first name. Likewise, different countries have different styles of communication. In Japan and the Middle-East, it is considered rude to argue a point of view in the hopes of changing someone's mind or opinion. In Africa, prolonged eye contact can be considered disrespectful.

    Dress Appropriately: While it is alright to wear jeans to class in Western countries, it may not be the case elsewhere. In Muslim countries, female teachers should avoid flashy clothes like short skirts or revealing necklines. In some countries, certain colours may not be acceptable. Formal or semi-casual wear in muted colours are always a safe choice.

    Be Careful of Cultural Taboos: Some societies will openly talk about their salaries or religion, others about their private life and feelings. Planning a lesson around a topic that is taboo is not only a waste of time but is guaranteed to make students lose respect for a teacher.

    Explain Teaching Methods: Every country has its own acceptable teaching style. Students may not understand a new method or want to change the way they learn. If a teacher explains what he is going to do and why, students will be more co-operative.

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    Practical Issues

    Make sure you travel with up to date legal and practical information. It is difficult to predict problems that may arise unless a teacher has some understanding of the workings of a country and its educational system. Before taking the plane, a teacher must:

    Understand Visa Requirements: Every country has different laws concerning foreigners and work. Most countries ask for non-tourist visas for long-term stays. Consulates provide this information.

    Inquire About your Accommodation: Teachers who have found jobs and housing from their own country must be sure of the type and price of accommodation that has been arranged for them. Some schools deduct money from pay for housing; others expect teachers to find their own accommodation and some give help and advice.

    Understand the School Calendar Year: Southern Hemisphere schools have different school years to Northern Hemisphere schools. An American teacher, hoping to work in South Africa in September, will be surprised to learn that the school year ends in December and that there aren't any teaching jobs available.

    Research Cost of Living and Salaries: It's important to know how much an acceptable monthly salary is and how many teaching hours are required for that salary. Teachers must calculate the value of a salary and compare it to the cost of living in the country they want to teach in to understand if their choice is possible or not.

    Learn What Teaching Qualifications you Need: Every country has different requirements for TEFL or TESOL certification. To complicate matters, every school has different ideas about what they want from their teachers. There are a lot of forums, like Dave's ESL Café, where teachers can find this type of information.

    Make Sure you Have Medical Insurance: Every traveller should have an emergency medical insurance and know how and where to make claims if there is a problem.

    Teachers should relax and have fun while teaching. A teacher who is enjoying himself will have students who want to learn and, students who want to learn are the best students there are.