For some, teaching abroad is a chance to fulfill a lifelong goal of living in an exotic foreign country while making all of your friends insanely jealous by your Instagram feed, and for others it is the only way your post-election outburst “I’m moving to Canada” can become a reality. (“Canada” means any country that will accept American refugees). If you’re a certified teacher, the move overseas can be quite simple (and rewarding), but how does someone with a Bachelor’s in Philosophy make that same transition successfully?
No matter your degree—BA in Communication Studies, MS in Economics, or Ph.D. in Poetry—as long as you’re a native English speaker, you can teach English abroad. But you need to be aware of a few things.
1. Everyone Knows You Can’t Do Anything With a Philosophy Degree: False. You can teach abroad. The beauty of your Bachelor’s degree is that you are a native speaker. So don’t be scared to apply for as many jobs as you find on Tefl.com orDave’s ESL Café, regardless of the company’s requirements.
I worked at a language center in Tokyo, and this is what you need to keep in mind—we set job advert requirements according to what our dream candidate would look like. But dreams don’t always come true so we had to come back down to earth because, let’s be honest, we needed to hire a teacher in “X” amount of time. Why? Because folks teaching abroad come and go, and when one decides to go back to their native country, their spot needs to be filled. In most instances, we didn’t have time to wait around for our dream candidate so we looked at who applied at that time, and if you had a professional-looking resume, a college degree, were a native speaker, had any amount of experience (tutoring or teaching no matter how recent or long ago), and wrote a cover letter to our actual company that showed an engaging and enthusiastic personality, you would likely get a Skype interview. And chew on this, if you fulfilled the requirements in the previous sentence, you were likely automatically in the best 10% of all applicants.
2. The Golden Teaching Certificate: If you are one of the chosen and have earned a teaching certificate from a university, I envy you. This is the thing; your earning potential could be double mine. With a BA and a university-recognized teaching certificate (not a CELTA, TEFL, or TESOL certificate), your starting salary at an International Language School in Tokyo would be almost double mine, even though I have a MA. Why? Who knows, I never researched it. But what I did have to listen to were all my 30-year-old friends with Master’s degrees and college teaching experience complain about only making $2,600 a month while their 22-year-old colleagues, who recently graduated with a teaching certificate, earn $4,900 a month, plus have their housing paid for, and were reimbursed for one round-trip flight home per year. Certificates really are your golden ticket.
3. University Teaching Opportunities, or Not: If you seek a full-time teaching position in your field at a foreign university, in my experience, you have 0% chance unless you have your Ph.D. Sorry MS in Economics person, you’ll have to teach conversational English or IELTS, TOFEL, or TOEIC courses with the rest of us. I have two masters’ degrees and 10 years of university-level teaching experience. In the U.S., I had no problem landing university adjunct gigs, but in Tokyo, I heard crickets every time I queried about opportunities teaching Composition or Literature.
This does not mean you can’t teach conversational English classes at a university, because you can. But these classes are often contract-work through a third-party English language center (not the university).
So that’s it… now that you know you are eligible to apply for every single English teaching job abroad (unless you have a felony, then South Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East are out), my next posts will cover strategies for a successful resume and cover letter, and what schools and companies to apply to (and to steer clear of).