Career for a Year: Teaching Abroad
Looking for an entry-level job that involves hiking in the
Andes? Here's what it takes to land a position teaching abroad.
Landing an international teaching job may seem like an art, but
there is some science to the process.
Recent college graduates face a nebulous future, but with
uncertainty comes possibility. The years just after college
are the best time to take advantage of one-year career
opportunities that can ease the transition between the
hallowed halls of academia and the buzzing world of work.
Teaching abroad is an adventure that attracts an average of
3,000 Americans every year. About 450 international schools
pepper the globe from Paris to Katmandu, offering both a
chance to live abroad and an opportunity to gain teaching
experience. The staffs at these schools are mostly American
(75 to 80 percent) and teach a mix of British and American
expatriates and local children. Most classes are conducted in
English, and the curricula are similar to what you would find
in American grammar schools.
Undoubtedly, most who apply for these jobs are motivated by
the allure of living and working abroad. Not many entry-level
jobs give you a chance to go hiking in the Andes for the day
or take a weekend trip to a Prague music festival, and no
vacation abroad can provide the kind of in-depth
international experience that you gain from living in a
community. Not only do the schools provide proximity to
appealing destinations, but they usually make it financially
viable to visit these locales. Many schools hire recent
college graduates as interns and provide the recruits with
room and board; others pay well enough to allow for travel or
Teaching abroad also offers the excellent on-the-job benefit
of flexibility. Because the main language at most schools is
English, teachers can teach classes related to their fields
of study, rather than sticking to English as a Second
Language (ESL). "One of the best aspects of my job is that I
teach a subject related to my degree," says Rebecca Berman,
an intern at the American School of Milan. "I appreciate the
chance to utilize some of the knowledge I gained in
While teaching at an international school clearly has its
perks, it is not a free ticket to a year of weekend getaways
- these jobs are hard work. Interns may be assigned to assist
other instructors or to teach a partial course load on their
own. In addition to teaching and tutoring, interns often
coach sports or assist with extracurricular activities.
"Schools are looking for versatile individuals," says John
Magagna, founding director of Search Associates, a service
that matches applicants and schools. "They want someone who
can coach a sport, sponsor the French Club, or advise the
school newspaper." And if you're working at a boarding
school, you may also have dorm responsibilities.
When you're seeking an international teaching position, the
best strategy is to start early and look at all your options.
"Be flexible about where you're willing to go," says Magagna.
"There are some great schools in areas you wouldn't think of.
The more flexible you are about location, the more likely it
is that you will get a job." You will also improve your
chances by being open to teaching a variety of
Several companies facilitate meetings between schools and
candidates. These organizations, including Search Associates
and International Schools Services, sponsor job fairs where
school representatives and candidates can meet and assess
each other's needs and interests. For a small fee, you get a
chance to meet with school representatives, sell yourself in
person, and possibly even walk out with an
offer--representatives from many international schools hire
on the spot.
If you decide to take the independent route, you'll need
motivation and ingenuity to land a teaching job abroad. Most
schools require an interview, and an independent applicant
far from the school may have trouble arranging a meeting.
Start as early as November for a position the next fall, and
be persistent about following up your application with calls
and letters. Once you pinpoint the schools that interest you,
send cover letters and resumes to start the process. Express
your eagerness to meet with a school representative face to
face, and try to set up an appointment as early as
possible--before your application gets lost in the hiring
frenzy of the job fairs.
Landing an international teaching job may seem like an art,
but there is some science to the process. Be sure to
emphasize any experience you have had with children. If you
don't have teaching experience, focus on other activities
related to kids, such as tutoring, volunteering, or working
as a camp counselor. Given the rigors of living in a foreign
environment, you should also highlight experiences that have
developed your adaptability, like previous travel experience
or working as part of a team.
Once you make contact with a school representative, find out
as much as possible about the school and the position. If the
job is an internship, it's especially important to know what
degree of autonomy you will have: will you teach your own
classes or work as an assistant? Are there other interns or
young people on the faculty? Will you live at the school? If
not, will the school assist you in finding housing? Ask as
many questions as possible, and talk with a current faculty
member to get a balanced idea of day-to-day life at the
Finally, use your interview to emphasize your enthusiasm for
teaching and working with young people. The qualifications
amount to a tall order, but the upside is worth the effort.
As Berman says, "What could be better than living in an
exciting international locale and gaining substantive work
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