What to Do: Teach English As a Second Language (ESL)

There are many ways to travel. Teaching ESL within a local community and really connecting with the people and the culture through education taught Alisha Robertson more about her location and herself than any other experience. She shares with us what inspired her to teach ESL abroad and gives advice if you wish to pursue this path as well.

[singlepic=1859,275,,,right]Teaching English abroad is one of the most amazing travel experiences. I always recommend taking this approach into consideration when someone is pondering the idea of long-term travel. Teaching ESL allows you to connect with the local community in a way that is much different than being just a traveler. You are also able to make money for your travels while giving back, and you truly get to experience life as a local.

For a year I had the opportunity to teach Business ESL in the northern part of Chile in the coastal city of Iquique and in the Middle of the Atacama Desert. During this time, I was able to meet some of the most amazing people, and build friendships with many who I still keep in touch with today – friends who I will always consider a part of my extended family.

When I decided to move away and told my friends, family, and co-workers the questions were endless. Where are you going? Isn’t that dangerous? How long will you stay? How did you find your position? Where will you live? and the list goes on and on. Now that I have returned, I find that the questions are still endless, and many are interested in how they too can sustain their travels through teaching abroad.

[singlepic=1860,275,,,right]Many who decide to teach English abroad partner with the numerous companies out there that specialize in placing ESL teachers with schools to organize their travels and employment. Whereas that may be the best option for many, I took a non-traditional approach. I conducted my own research, solicited my resume, contacted language institutes in the areas of my choice, negotiated my employment, and arranged all of my travel. Although the approach you take all depends on what you are comfortable with, I always like to also let hopeful teachers and travelers know that it can be done on your own as well with a little bit of planning.

Planning can seem a bit overwhelming when you are not quite sure where to begin. I had no specific plan when I first made my decision to move and teach. Oddly enough, I started answering many questions for myself that people ask me today.

How did you decide to incorporate teaching ESL during your travels?
I actually made my decision to start traveling about a year prior to my departure. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to save the amount of money some recommend you save for an around the world trip, so I started brainstorming on how I could sustain living abroad and traveling. I also knew that I wanted my own personal travel experience to be about learning and connecting with the culture where I would be living as opposed to traveling to many various places. So, at this point, I had decided that I would go on a volunteer mission or to teach English.

How did you get certified to teach ESL?
Once I decided that I would consider teaching, I thought it only appropriate for both myself and to my future students for me to ensure that I would enjoy teaching, and that I would be able to offer them the level of education that they would be paying for. Therefore, I started volunteering with my local literacy council as an English as a Second Language tutor. I then eventually started assisting with ESL classes, and because of my volunteer service with them, they provided my training for my ESL certification. I continued volunteering with them as a certified ESL teacher until my departure to teach ESL in Chile.

[singlepic=1862,275,,,right]How did you decide where to teach?
One of my personal goals for my trip was to become fluent in another language. Being from Texas, the most beneficial language for me to learn was Spanish. I had already traveled through most of Central America, so I narrowed down my possible countries to teach in to anywhere in South America or Spain. Then there were other things I took into consideration such as safety, cost of living, and culture. I have always had a love for Latin culture, so South America was really what kept tugging at my heart strings. As I researched, Chile was known to be the most economically stable and safest South American country, so my decision was made. To Chile I was going! My advice to those in the process of choosing where you will teach is to really think about what interests you and what your goals of the trip are. If you plan on trying to save money so you can continue traveling, it is wise to think about the cost of living and traveling in some areas in comparison to others.

What were some of the frustration you encountered? How did you cope with them?
The biggest frustration initially was not speaking the language and adjusting to the pace of life. Coming from corporate America where the sense of urgency is a bit ridiculous to a country where a favorite word is mañana, and being on time is not always important, it took a bit of adjusting.

[singlepic=1861,200,,,right]What were some of the rewards?
The rewards were endless. The relationships, the thankfulness of the students – I taught mainly adults that were learning to improve their career so they were always eager and motivated, the realization of the connections one can make with someone so different than themselves, and most of all the openness I received from all that I met, and how I will always have a home away from home in the country where a gave a piece of myself.

How did you incorporate your business skills to this new experience?
I was able to incorporate my business skills in the initial process of this experience by using my Human Resources and recruiting background to help acquire my position. Once I arrived and got started there are many aspects that you don’t realize where business skills are definitely transferrable. Presentation, communication, organizational, team building, and planning skills are among the some of the most prominent.

Would you recommend teaching ESL to everyone or is it for a particular type of person?
Teaching may not be everyone. If you are looking to do a lot of traveling on your venture, then teaching may not be the option for you as you will in fact be working, and your freedom is a bit more limited. Also teaching children and adults are completely different experiences. If you do not have a teaching or mentoring background, I would highly recommend doing some volunteer work in your local community with adults or children to see if this would be the best choice for you.

Any advice?
One thing to remember is that this is an adventure and an experience. Try not to become too overwhelmed with things not going how you planned or how you thought they would be. In a foreign country, there will be obstacles and surprises. Prepare yourself to have patience and flexibility.

Alisha Robertson is an avid traveler passionate about education involving social entrepreneurship, long term travel, volunteerism, and helping others learn about other cultures. She has recently launched Small World Pursuits – an educational blog about broadening horizons, traveling and working abroad, volunteering, and connecting with cultures from around the world. To keep up with her ventures and planning, you can also follow her on twitter @alishaamr. She will also serve as co-host for Meet, Plan, Go! in Dallas.

Other comments

7 Comments on "What to Do: Teach English As a Second Language (ESL)"

  1. Tweets that mention What to Do: Teach English As a Second Language (ESL) | Briefcase to Backpack - Travel Advice for Career Breaks or Sabbaticals -- Topsy.com on Mon, 9th Aug 2010 11:32 am 

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Janice, BriefcasetoBackpack. BriefcasetoBackpack said: Ever considered teaching ESL during your travels? Here are some great tips from @alishaamr http://su.pr/1aEGyb […]

  2. Sherry Ott on Mon, 9th Aug 2010 1:03 pm 

    Alisha – this is great information. You really approached your ESL work in such a logical way! Thanks for sharing all of these tips. Having taught ESL abroad, I think it’s one of the best ways to really get to know the culture and is one of the best ways to do slow travel and have the perk of making some money!

  3. John Bardos - JetSetCitizen on Thu, 19th Aug 2010 6:57 am 

    Great post!

    I believe that teaching English is the fastest and easiest way to begin a life abroad. Most schools will help you get set up in your new country and you won’t need much savings.

    Also, as Sherry said, committing to one job for any reasonable time will help you learn more about the culture and make some real friends.

  4. Alisha Robertson on Sun, 22nd Aug 2010 12:52 am 

    @Sherry and John, absolutely teaching English is a great way to meet people, learn about local culture, and sometimes most importantly for many is that you do not have to save a huge sum of money before your trip. Teaching allows you to make money as you travel. I am thankful to be able to share my experience with others through Briefcase to Backpack!

  5. The Contemplation of Labor Day | Small World Pursuits on Wed, 1st Sep 2010 1:13 am 

    […] madness that I am so accustomed to now. This was an old-fashioned pocket planner that I used while teaching in Chile. I actually used a pencil and wrote down my very important “to do […]

  6. Connie on Thu, 9th Sep 2010 6:24 am 

    Teaching ESL while traveling is one of the best decisions of my life! I enjoy teaching English and it’s a great way to learn more about a country, culture, people and language than just a 2 week holiday. Thanks for the great post to help encourage others to do the same!

  7. TESOL on Wed, 30th Mar 2011 3:25 am 

    I personally like this choice of profession. Teach and travel. There’s is nothing more exciting than travelling and on top of that if you can blend your career with your hobby, nothing like it ! The best part of ESL job is that you connect with array of people having different background. You are not only a teacher but the culture from different part of world also teaches you many other learnings. 🙂

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