5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Teaching English Abroad

by Nick & Raychel
Man looks at the beautiful Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
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What I wish I knew before teaching English abroad

1. It’s more than a gap year job

I think this is the most common misconception about teaching English abroad – that it’s a way to travel, get a cool experience, and get away from home for a bit. Although these are all true, it is so much more than that. Being a teacher, in any capacity, is a lot of work – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The days are long and the weekends can be busy too – whether it be parent-teacher meetings, preparing for an event, curriculum meetings, writing exams, lesson planning, the list goes on…

Becoming an ESL teacher is becoming a teacher. It is not simply a gap year experience.

2. Children need consistency

If a one year contract sounds too long for you, then maybe you should reconsider. There are too many teachers who are only trying to fund their travels for three months and then leave. This is so wrong on so many levels and we’ll tell you why.

Children need consistency, and the classroom is a mess when they don’t have it. They will perform better when they have a solid teacher they can trust. No two teachers are the same, and kids will react differently to their tactics, rules, and even their tone of voice.

Having a new teacher every 3 months would be very confusing for very obvious reasons. Of course, sometimes life gets in the way. That said, be prepared to commit.

3. It gets real. Real quick.

Teaching in another country is no joke. Cultural differences and language barriers can make working with the kids and the parents really difficult. There are different forms of discipline and different sets of values that come with each country.

The truth is that you might not always agree with the parents and/or the faculty.

That’s not to say you won’t get along with people, or that everybody will have a different way of thinking than you. Many parents will respect your values and put their complete trust in you. Others will not. You will need to accept and respect the differences, and sometimes you will need to stand for what you believe is right.

In some countries, it’s not odd for families to involve the teacher in home problems. You may hear a lot of stories that are not for the faint of heart. Therefore, you must have thick skin, good morale and genuine compassion.

4. It’s not as rewarding as you may think

You’ll hear it a lot – “wow, that must be so rewarding”. Yes and no. Sometimes you can feel really underappreciated. There will be days where you will work long hours for little pay and feel completely unsupported. Sometimes the improvements are slow and ignored by others.

Yes, teaching kids can be rewarding – but it doesn’t feel like it every day. You won’t end every single day smiling from ear to ear. Like any job, it has ups and downs.

5. It will change your whole life

It’s hard not to get attached to the students because they really can be so incredible. You will have a whole new outlook on the country you’re visiting and an amplified appreciation for their youth. It won’t be easy to leave. In fact, you may just want to stay forever.

Teaching ESL is such an amazing job that we both have loved so much. If you’re up for the challenge, it could be a career that you fall in love with too.


Want to teach English in Cambodia? Find our tips & tricks on our Youtube channel:


Read more: How to Move to Cambodia & teach English
Read more: Tips you NEED to read before moving to Phnom Penh

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