When I was 20, I took a one-way flight to France to spend eight months teaching English.
What I didn’t realised what that those eight months in France would shape my future, giving me a taste of the European way of life, as well as the bite of the unstoppable travel bug which I still have to this day.
Teaching abroad is a great way to earn money, experience a new country, meet new people, and further your career. In fact, there are so many positives to it that I don’t know why more people don’t do it! It’s a great contender for those “how to make money while travelling” searches you type into Google – one that’s much more realistic than becoming a digital nomad or Instagram Influencer (still crossing my fingers on that one!)
My own experience of teaching English in France stems from my studies at University. I got my degree in French Studies with Italian at Warwick University, which is near the city of Coventry in the UK. I loved my four years on campus, but by far the highlight was my year abroad.
My degree was split 75% French and 25% Italian (for all my American readers, that means I majored in French). It was compulsory for me to spend at least eight months in a French or Francophone country – I could choose anywhere from Quebec in Canada, to Martinique in the Caribbean, to La Reunion off the coast of Madagascar. Or, France. I bet you’re thinking why didn’t I choose one of the more exotic options? Well, I wanted the true ‘French’ experience. And so I headed to Pau, a city in the southeast of France, where I would spend a school year teaching English to students in three écoles élémentaires (primary schools) around the city.
My experience of teaching English varied depending on the school I worked in. Technically, I was a ‘language assistant’, not a fully trained teacher, so I was supposed to offer support to the teachers in the lessons. In two schools, I did exactly that, helping with pronunciation and spelling, leading the songs we sang or the games we played. But it wasn’t always the case.
Twice a week, I took a class in one of the lower-income areas of the city. These kids didn’t know a word of English besides ‘hello’ when I started working there. On my first day, their teacher handed me their exercise book and said (in French), “here you go, they are all yours!” I went home that evening and drew up a plan of what I wanted them to achieve by the end of the year, and spent my evenings lesson planning, researching games and activities to make my classes interactive. By the end of the year, those kids were speaking the same level English as I could speak French aged 13. That sense of fulfilment is a feeling that will stay with me for life.
Outside of class, of course I had experiences that I spent my weekends exploring the nearby towns and cities of St Jean de Luz, Biarritz, Toulouse and Oloron-Sainte Marie. Due to the proximity of the coastline and mountains, I would spend one weekend on the beach and the next skiing in the Pyrénées mountains. In half terms, I explored further afield in France, heading to Paris to meet friends or to Italy to brush up on my Italian. We even spent a long weekend in San Sebastian in Spain!
But it was the little moments I remember most fondly. Walking to walk and seeing the accordion player busking, buying a baguette in the local boulangerie and the storekeeper correcting me (“c’est une ficelle!“), sitting in the park with friends, and of course, drinking a few too many vins de Jurançon in the local Irish pub. I learnt a huge amount: of French, about living alone and by yourself, and about myself. Before I knew it, I was off to Naples in Italy, before graduating from uni and deciding to travel more and more… and here we are today!
When writing this post, I wanted to share with you not only my own experience of teaching English in France, but also others’ experiences further in the world. I truly believe it’s one of the best ways to travel (and save money at the same time).
Read on for more experiences of teaching overseas…
Teaching English in Kobe, Japan
“I taught English in Japan for almost three years and loved it. I arrived in Kobe on a working holiday visa with no job lined up and within three days, I had a job and an apartment. The following week I found myself in a classroom, with my heart pounding, faking my way through lessons, terrified that my students would discover what a fraud I was. I was a terrible teacher to start – I had no idea what I was doing – but eventually I learned how to teach.
Japan is a fascinating country to live and travel in, and teaching there was an incredible opportunity to learn more deeply about Japanese culture than I ever would have as a casual traveler. I chanted in Buddhist temples, drank chuhai under cherry blossoms, lit fireworks at summer festivals, soaked in outdoor onsen, ordered by pointing to the plastic food displays near the doorways of restaurants, and so much more. My students were often (too) quiet, but were also extremely welcoming and loved to share about their culture.
Few people spoke English, and my Japanese was dreadful, so getting anything done was challenging. I used to get my haircut by going to the barber nearest my apartment and saying (pointing to my head) “Here, short”. The haircuts were pretty bad, but what could I do? When I eventually returned home and got my first haircut, the barber kept asking me all these questions about length, the hairline, the side burns, etc., and I was so taken aback, all I could think was, “Just cut my hair already! Why so many questions?!” I guess I had adjusted to life in Japan!”
James writes at Travel Collecting – read his post about where to see Cherry Blossoms in Osaka here.
Teaching English in Hanoi, Vietnam
“After graduation, I decided that I wanted to work as a teacher somewhere in Asia and the opportunity came by – I got a chance to teach in Hanoi, Vietnam for 3 months.
I was working in a kindergarten with two groups of little kids, aged 4 and 5 accordingly. The kindergarten had a new project called “International classroom” the terms of which was to spend 3 hours with each of two classes. During these 3 hours I taught English through games and songs, and taught other subjects such as Math and Science in English while preparing all the materials myself. The classroom looked more like a playground with a lot of toys and small chairs to sit on. While I had two teacher assistants in each class, they were not really eager to help and only stepped in when the kids became too uncontrolled and I couldn’t handle them anymore.
Along with that I found a part time job in the evening where the kids were a bit older, aged 6 to 9 but placed in one class. In the classroom they had actual desks, and study materials provided which was easier for me. There I had one teacher assistant who was very helpful and proactive – so it depends on luck.
Hanoi as a city to live in has a lot of benefits – great food, parks, entertainment, cafes and bars. However, the traffic is insane and the air is very polluted because of construction dust and exhaust fumes. People get around mostly on motorbikes, and I should say having your own means of transport is very convenient. The best places are about 1-2 hours outside of Hanoi where you can enjoy the genuine beauty of Vietnam!”
Jim and Inna write at Executive Thrillseeker; you can visit their website here.
Teaching English in Albania
“A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Albania to volunteer at a children’s camp. I taught English language and culture for 5 days. Our days consisted of lessons, chores around the camp, sports, beach trips and evenings of story telling, music and films.
Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe, so the children enjoyed learning what they see as a ‘world language’. Learning the language allowed them to improve their lives, furthering their education and opening doors to travel opportunities. It was incredibly rewarding to be able to help them with these goals.
I was nervous at first as I had never done something like this but it wasn’t long before I got the hang of it. Most of the children had a grasp of English already so the main idea of the camp was to improve their conversation skills by talking with English natives. The lessons were taught mainly by word games and storytelling.
The funniest moment there was when one of the Albanian adults, who helped look after the kids there, thought he understood the concept of sarcasm. Instead what he actually did was just lie to us. For each person he met, he invented an elaborate back story for himself. A different name, a different job, a different home town. We were all very confused until he told us he was being sarcastic! We all laughed before attempting to explain sarcasm again!”
Amy writes at The Travel Fairies – visit her site here.
Teaching English in Barcelona, Spain
“Teaching English in Barcelona was one of the most eye-opening, fascinating and demanding experiences that I have done while travelling. I spent two years in the city from 2015 to 2017, teaching English to students of varying age and ability. The best thing about teaching was watching students develop and progress their level of English over the year. It was rewarding to know I had helped them achieve their goals and had a role in them becoming more confident with their English.
This wasn’t without its difficulties. Teaching kids was stressful. Spanish children are hard to control at times and they were very cheeky. One day, I walked into class with a new, shorter, haircut and a few of the students decided to point and laugh at my new hairstyle! The joys of teaching! Planning lessons can be a pain too, especially as you don’t get paid for it and you’ll likely have multiple classes to prepare for.
Overall the experience was a fantastic learning curve and one I would recommend if you want to live in a foreign country and understand their culture and language.”
Tom writes at The Travelling Tom – visit his blog here.
Teaching Spanish in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
“I’m Spanish, but I’ve always loved Brazil, the Portuguese language, and especially the Brazilian accent. I learned Portuguese for several years, and after studying some courses, I started working as a Portuguese-Spanish translator. Of course, my love for Brazil took me to Rio and, let’s say, “settle down”.
Besides my online translation jobs, I thought that it would be interesting to teach Spanish in Rio, so I started looking for students. Working legally in Brazil as a foreigner is not easy at all, so no Language Institute gave me a job. However, I’d been in the online world long enough to make this work. I posted several messages on a few classified sites, and I had my first student. After that, another student, and so on. All classes were on-site with Brazilian students, and I taught Spanish for nearly a year.
Teaching Spanish to a Brazilian is very gratifying because Portuguese and Spanish are relatively close, so good students can make huge progress in a short time. Overall, it was a great experience, and even though I’m more focused on translation and other online jobs now, I’d love to work as a Spanish teacher again in the future.”
Miguel writes at Travels Auro – visit his blog here.
Teaching English in Dongguan, China
“I came to China some 6 years ago. I didn’t actually want to be an English teacher in the beginning, despite the fact that I knew a large number of foreigners living in China were English teachers – it is something that is highly looked for here in China. And their salaries were quite good.
But I was afraid, I was a bit shy to stand in front of 40 and more children and teach them. That was until one day when a friend told me about a kindergarten in the nearby Dongguan city which was urgently looking for an English teacher. I decided to try, and I told myself that I felt too scared, I would just leave.
My first classes with 3 to 6 years old kids were surprisingly funny, and I adapted myself quickly- I soon discovered that the little children are actually very different than people who could be “testing you” and “making a press on you”. So I soon liked my English teaching job, and became friends with the children.
Now it is my fourth year of teaching English. I have taught in more than 12 kindergartens. In fact, the kindergarten children don’t learn that much English just from the short kindergarten lessons, since the whole environment before and after the lessons is 100% Chinese speaking. But at least my goal is to make the children happy, to create a nice memories from my English classes, which could stimulate them to study more seriously later when they grow up.”
Krasen writes at Journey beyond Horizon – visit his blog here
Teaching English in Melbourne, Australia
“Just a couple of years ago, I made the decision to fly around the world and take one of the British working holiday options, a one year stay in Australia. I packed my bags and headed for Melbourne, Victoria.
I had a background in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and I wanted to bring that experience with me Down Under. There are some strict rules with the working holiday visa, though, such as not being able to work for the same employer for more than 6 months.
It was hard to find work as a TEFL teacher in person at first. So, whilst job-hunting, I started tutoring online through internet classes and offered after-school support to students learning English. My students were usually based in South East Asia, which worked well for me because of the time difference.
After around 6 months, I finally found work in person at a language school in central Melbourne. My students were adults studying on a pre-university course. They came from all over the world and were on student visas. Working at the language school gave me steady work and it was a great way to integrate and make friends.
The biggest challenge for me was that my CV needed a fair bit of adapting in Australia. I’d definitely recommend calling in the help of local friends who work in recruitment to give it an overhaul and highlight relevant experience. Australia is a great place to work once you find the right position, and I ended up staying for two years – I loved Melbourne!”
Danni writes at Livein10countries – visit her blog here
Have you ever wanted to teach overseas or had an experience like those described here?
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
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